.The L-Word.

via Bob Dylan

“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches they find that they are one tree and not two.” – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I spoke to a close friend a couple of days ago who has been dating her boyfriend for quite some time now. She told me that her mom asked her recently, “Have you said, “I love you’ yet?” She inquired hopefully, like children waiting for a baby bird to hatch. “No, “she reported, “We have not.”

“Have you said it yet? Still nothing?” friends follow up days later, over coffee. To be clear, she was not concerned about this. But apparently, everyone else was. However and after the upteenth negative update, she started to feel like her relationship was a failure, when, by all other benchmarks, she would classify it as the best she had ever known. Her “friends” didn’t ask if this person showed up for her, or if he had the patience to get to know her partiular quirks. They did not ask if his presence brought her peace or if they made up songs that no one else would find funny. They didn’t ask if she felt safe or comfortable or like the truest version of herself. [For the record, the answer to all those questions is: YES!]

More saliently, nobody asked if she FELT loved. They only asked if she heard I love you yet. Is this one phrase the barometer by which one measures the progress of a relationship? And why, in our contemporary culture, is speaking it (versus actually demonstrating it) so very important?

After my recent divorce, these are many questions I have thought about over the last year. In my experience, it is clear that “love” is a word with too many interpretations. For some, it refers to an emotion, more of an “I adore you, ” or a declaration of infatuation. For others, it is a sign of commitment, weighed heavily and with care. Some think they really are just words, as informal as “I will call you, ” and just as easy to disregard. Or simply something you have to say at the end of a conversation.

I do not watch the Bachelor (or any TV at all for that matter) but I read in some magazine at the doctor’s office that contestants are known to say things like, “I can totally see myself maybe someday falling in love with you.” That is at least three generations removed from an emotion and definitely not a promise of care. Yet, time and again, they foretell that this all-important thing is totally maybe someday coming and lets their lover loose hope.

I know people who say “I love you” as early as a second date. And then it is this awkward silence when your partner does not say it back and you are all nervous about what comes next. There is just something about saying those three little words that marks a transition in the relationship between two people. Are you expected to keep saying I love you after you said it once? The thing is that you usually don’t break up with someone you just started to love, no? In an ideal world, usually saying I love you means you are all in. But what is ideal? Many also fear the me becoming a we. I believe love is more than a feeling and something that needs to be protected. It is a choice that needs to be made consistently. What does this word love actually mean?

Bell Hooks writes, “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists agree that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” Kind of like, love is as love does, not as love says? So, if the real meaning of love is action, why are we so hung up on this damn phrase? What I have learned so far and how I define love in 38 years on this planet is: Hey, you, I love myself unconditionally. I see you, I accept you, and I will do whatever I can to make your life better because I value your presence in mine.

Mostly, love is felt before it is being said anyway and there are so many other ways to communicate one’s feelings. Considering myself being a language-nerd, we all may share common words, but each of us speaks their own unique language. And sometimes, if we are really lucky, we can find someone who understands us.

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