How Many Times Should You Say “I Love You?”
In this moment, I’m not sure what I feel for you. I’ve been raised in a society that both exalts love and fears it. A society that tells me love is rare and experienced only under particular circumstances; beginning with family and radiating outward to long term relationships and close, time-worn friendships. To love too quickly is deemed foolish. To love too many, is superficial. Our tragedy is that we believe something can only be beautiful when it is rare. We exist in a society that dismisses the beauty in everyday life. We overlook the small, fleeting moments that make up our day, because we’ve become jaded to the heaviness of a cat sleeping on our lap; the warmth of someone else’s fingers filling the space between our own.
My father once told me in a hushed voice, that the only woman he ever said “I love you” to was my mother. He told me to be cautious with whom I spoke those words to. I always felt there was something wrong with me; that I didn’t comprehend the immensity of love. I felt it so easily for the friend curled up beside me in bed the morning after whispered conversation, for the young man with whom I shared a cup of coffee with each day for a year. Sometimes it’s okay to abandon caution and open yourself up to the possibility of a connection with another human being. It’s okay to be vulnerable. We were born with an incredible capacity for love. The quiet woman on the subway could be the person who gives you a new perspective on life—the one who opens you up with tremendous ease and assuages your fears and puts out your fires.
The English language doesn’t contain the vocabulary to express different levels of love—instead using one abstract word to encompass the entire complicated spectrum of human emotion. In Spanish, love between family is separated from love between spouses. In Greek, there are four distinct terms, each with its own meaning. Working with such a limited capacity for expression, it’s no wonder our society as a whole appears to perpetually be in turmoil over the concept of love. We’re in constant pursuit of it, yet question it when we experience it; herald it’s beauty, yet fear that we will be left broken in its wake. Love becomes a contradiction. It simultaneously becomes the root of our joys and our woes.
If there were a dictionary dedicated to all the variations and subtle nuances of love, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so conflicted when I look at you. You, sprawled out on my living room couch as dawn comes in under the blinds and I allow time to pass before interrupting your sleep. We aren’t rare. We exist in the category of everyday things; friends driving slowly on a Saturday afternoon, or two people holding on to each other in an airport. These things happen in high frequency, but it is in these moments, halfway between your start point and your destination in that car on that Saturday afternoon, when you look over and realize that you feel love for the person sitting next to you. Because the beautiful things in our life aren’t always rare or extraordinary.
Sometimes it’s the quiet seconds before dawn when everyone else is dreaming and you feel as if time has stopped momentarily. The moments that pass quietly and unnoticed are what you’ll remember most as you age and begin to collect memories like dead flowers pressed between the pages of a book.
There will be no fireworks or music swelling in the background. Love, as defined by every romance film in the past decade, is not going to occur; and that’s okay. I will wake you up and offer you something to eat. Breakfast will be ordinary. Despite what society says, what my father says, what the black and white printed definition in any dictionary says, in this fleeting, beautiful, simple, quiet moment, I know what I feel for you.
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Even as I write this now I am debating whether or not to erase it all together.
When I say I’m in love with you, I mean I love the story I can tell to my next lover, about my ex-lover, about how beautiful things were, how intense, how storybook, what a couple we were, and how you gradually, inexplicably, painfully, bit by bit, disappeared.
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I was 24 and, while not gay, ever since college I had been getting more attention from gay men than from heterosexual women.