Enter into enough questionable romantic entanglements over an extended period of time and the words I love you might lose some of their potency.
The once magical formula used for confirming that two parties felt similarly about each other doesn’t quite sound the same at 19 as it does at 40. Depending on what impact those words have had on our life to date, we may be inclined to dispense with them altogether. Or to automatically disbelieve and dismiss them should they ever be uttered.
Oddly, those of us whose raison d’être is to swim among words all day are among the most awkward, least fluent partners when it comes to matters of the heart.
We might expound at length about emotions in our work, but our vocabulary shrinks when things get personal. As tongue-tied in print as in we are verbally, we may thus enter into a tacit Wittgensteinian agreement with our partner. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,”becomes the leitmotif underpinning all our exchanges.
We take it in on good faith that our partner loves us as we do them and, well, that’s that.
To love is an action verb.
It takes more than words to love a person, it takes commitment and consistency in how totally we accept them, warts and all. Love is what we do, love is how we behave, love is how we embrace another human’s needs with the express intent of seeking to meet them as if they were our own.
Because, somehow, this other human’s happiness has become essential to ours, as much as ours has become vital to theirs.
And yet, we shy away from claiming their happiness as ours lest they should feel smothered. We shy away from declaring our flame lest they should feel smothered. We shy away from claiming them as our person lest they should feel smothered.
It’s not that we have any doubt about how we feel about our partner, it’s that we would much rather show them than tell them.
Deep down, we still remember, we still know how much the words I love you can hurt when they are forever tainted with deceit, duplicity, pain, and betrayal.
Much as our respective pasts may no longer matter, we still bear scars that haven’t healed yet.
And likely won’t until we rewrite a four-handed definition of love to replace the approximative one we had to come up with all by ourselves.
Love is always taken on trust.
The human heart is hopeful to a fault, even when the odds are stacked against us.
Happening upon another human with whom we can form a mutual appreciation society of two is rare. And forging a deep connection that runs through heart, body, and mind as it brings together shared passions and common goals is even rarer. So rare indeed it might happen once in a lifetime if we’re lucky. And if we’re smart enough to know it when we see it.
So surprised are we that we might take it upon ourselves to educate our partner on how extraordinary this connection of ours is. But no matter how linguistically inclined we might be, we will always stop short of uttering the formula.
We’re reticent to speak our love should we inadvertently let out the tiniest but mightiest doubt that obscures our unwavering belief in its existence.
What if our love is a shared illusion?
But if it were, evidence to the contrary wouldn’t surround us.
Unwilling to sully hope with language, we retreat into double-entendres as we continue to sow clues with every interaction. And because we’re the wordy types, we try and come up with an alternative, post-romantic factual I love you for ever so slightly cowardly people.
“All of me welcomes all of you,” we type, hoping the message will be received in the spirit it was sent, with the open heart of someone who is finally co-producing love on an equal basis with someone else, and feels quite grateful about this unprecedented shared distribution of labor.
As we belatedly found out when we got older and became more discerning, the real kind of love takes labor on every level as well as patience and dedication. As a result, it is the kind of love that is neither clingy nor aloof but a constant, steady force that powers our life.
Even if it gets a little self-conscious and insecure at times.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.