Why is love the defining line?

Now that I’ve come out of my hermitage once again, I have so many thoughts to share with you!

I was thinking about love in the shower (no, no, not like that) and I came to an interesting conclusion.  I was thinking about what the function of “I love you” is in a relationship, particularly when said for the first time.  When I was dating my college boyfriend, he said those three words after about six months.  We hadn’t been friends first – we met, we started dating, and we’d been cruising along for a while when he dropped the bomb.  I said “I love you, too” instinctively, but later in the comfort of my dorm room I started freaking out with my roommate.  Do I love him?  Do I, do I?  The next morning I decided that I did, but it was something of a foregone conclusion.

So what does love mean in such a context?  A lot of things, but two major ones come to mine.  (1) The people involved have come to a certain level of intimacy and affection.  (2) It’s a signal of commitment, possibly monogamy, that you’re in it for the long haul (or feel that way at the moment).  The reason it has to serve that double function is the assumption that you didn’t start out intimate or affectionate.  Mark and I were not friends in advance, and I never would’ve come to love him on that basis – we just aren’t that compatible.  This is why I really like my current approach, i.e., I don’t have sex with anyone I don’t consider a close friend.  The fact is, I already love my close friends.  We’ve reached that level of intimacy and affection and I already trust them.  I know that I like that individual as a person before we move into relationship (or just sexual friendship) territory.  “I love you” isn’t some huge revelation.  I already did!  We love each other, yes, and I don’t mind communicating it, but it doesn’t have to serve function (2).  It’s not some big bomb-dropping.  I think it’s best not to conflate love and commitment or love and long-term relationships because there are so many forms of love.  I could name about twenty people that I truly love, and none of them am I in a relationship with.  I like being a bit more practical about it.  If I feel that I want to be long-term with someone, then we can talk about it.  It doesn’t have to be code words that confuse everyone and require long conversations with a third party.  Communication, it’s what’s for dinner.

Off to the Iowa City Women’s Music Festival: Like Michigan, but with Shirts!

(shouldn’t that be their motto?  seriously?)

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on September 20, 2008, in relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Amen to that. Sometimes I really want to tell people I love them, but I’m afraid they’ll take it the wrong way. Or I feel like I have to qualify it (I love you – I don’t mean I’m IN love with you, I just love you). I hate that. Telling someone you love them shouldn’t have to be such a relationship-changing thing.

  2. At some point you take a step from loving that person on level X and now love them X+1, no? And you have to use some word(s) within the english language to express this intensity? I don’t see what difference is it if you use the word “love” or another one to describe that change?

    As to being friends first- the thing is when that intimate relationship ends you end up with: being uncomfortable with a friend. This is a much harder loss for me than someone who you were just dating. I’m not good. I don’t want to be friends with my exes.

  3. alesbianandascholar

    Rebecca – Yes, and I think it’s even more ridiculous if you both feel the same way about each other (love but not “in” love) and then the other person would end up feeling hurt by your qualification – even though that’s how she feels. I mean even if you aren’t in love with someone, it could be a bit painful for someone to have the need to make sure you know.

    cz – There certainly is a difference between “varieties” of love. I just think it’s nice when you go into a relationship loving someone already, and then if you become particularly enthused about it there’s not a change from not loving to loving, it’s just “here we have this steady base of love already and I just want you to know that I am absolutely crazy about you,” or that sort of thing. It’s true that you can have a bad breakup and compromise the friendship, but in my experience most of the time if the friendship was built on solid foundation it will weather a breakup, and if there is some big fall-out that could have happened to the friendship as well.

  4. Thank you for articulating what I have only recently discovered! I find that I have a tendency to blurt out “I love you” at the moment that I feel it, which is usually completely unrelated to how I view the person in the sphere of long-term commitment. Of course, I also am incapable of saying it back to someone because it feels like a nail in a coffin, but I’ll save that for the couch.

    Also, as a fellow lesbian and scholar, I am definitely interested in an online book club if the offer still stands.

  5. alesbianandascholar

    gatapata- It is inconvenient, isn’t it? We should be able to express the emotion of love without strings attached. I mean, loving someone is a good thing, right?

    I hope you caught my recent post with an update on the book club. You can use the link there to join up to the book club board, and the offer is ongoing! Feel free to tell any friends.

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