“I love you.”
Three little words.
Three simple words that many of us long to hear, and yet, many of us that say them are probably unaware of what manipulative creatures we turn into once we’ve uttered them. Suddenly, “I love you” becomes a euphemism for “My Way or the Highway.” Without meaning to, our “love” is laden with unreasonable expectations and conditions that do little to nourish the very person we are proclaiming to love.
Most people would probably say that love brings out the best in us; that giving our love to someone else is the greatest gift we can give them. And it should! But often unconsciously or subconsciously, to most people, it means, “You are now in a prison designed by me, and if you don’t behave according to the rules set and enforced by me, whether explicit or implicit, it means you no longer love me the way you say you do, and this relationship is over.” Sadly when many people say, “I love you”, they have now engaged you in a hostage situation, and it’s mostly unconscious.
We like to think our partner will love us unconditionally, but the truth is, there are many conditions in a romantic relationship. Unconditional love only comes from your pets or parent-child. Romantic relationships are bound with conditions: they’re called “boundaries” and they’re healthy for maintaining your sanity and well-being and we all (should) have them. For example, I had a boyfriend in college who constantly made me feel guilty for studying too much. He’d lament I wasn’t spending enough time with him. I’d give in, and then get resentful and angry at myself for not honoring my own needs and then do badly on a test or assignment. It was a harsh truth realizing this person who claimed to love me really didn’t want me to do well in college because he himself wasn’t college-educated and was (I believe) unconsciously trying to undermine my success because it made him feel “less-than”. This wasn’t someone who had MY best interests at heart.
We can’t wait to rush to Facebook and change our status to “in a relationship.” Why do we do this? My hope is we are simply just so happy with this person we want to shout it from the rooftops. This may sound snarky but isn’t it also to proclaim ownership of this person? To warn all others, “He’s mine now.” It’s as much braggadocio as a warning. We happily boast that we now “belong” to someone and how we’ve been “taken off the market.” Suddenly, there are a host of expectations all the way around just by virtue of the defining of there being a “relationship.” Usually this means, no dating others. But again, this is a societal default-setting.
We aren’t usually aware of the unrealistic expectations we place on the object of our love. It’s important to have conversations about how often you should text or call one another as well as how to spend your free time, and, your money.We become insecure and terrified when a text goes unread for longer than 5 minutes and we start playing detective, and God forbid we should see that they’ve posted on their Facebook or Instagram. A friend told me that if her boyfriend doesn’t read or respond for twenty minutes to a text she’s sent, she starts to “freak out” and is convinced he’s cheating on her or at the minimum, losing interest in her.
A husband of a friend of mine assumed she was cheating because she longed for a change and without consulting him, cut off all her hair. Their marriage went downhill shortly after that. He simply had expectations of her that she never agreed to nor even knew about.
Likewise choosing how you spend your free time. If you like your mate’s six-pack abs, well, they weren’t born with them. This means they go to the gym like 5 days a week and probably eat cleanly, so if you’re his girlfriend and start pouting at all the time he spends at the gym instead of with you then you’re not really supporting something that obviously is very important to them.
We ought not feel neglected if our SO makes plans that don’t include us. We ought not feel unloved and insecure if they like things we dislike, wear or say things we disagree with, or question their loyalty if they have the boldness to declare Monday night football a female-free evening. Suddenly, “love” is a question and not a verb or a gift but rather a constraint erected by you.
We get queasy when our SO looks at another hot girl/guy. We worry when suddenly they’re dressing nice. We worry we ourselves are not “hot”enough. We freak out when a post is made on Facebook that excludes us. “Why do you have to call your Mom every Sunday afternoon?” to, “Who are you texting?” We are constantly looking at everything they do through our own lens of insecurity and discomfort. Anything that might rock that boat is seen as a sign of betrayal. We question our SO’s money decisions, food decisions (“Are you kidding me?? You had Mexican at lunch? I TOLD you I was making enchiladas for dinner!!!”) and entertainment and life decisions as threats to our very well-being. How dare they think of themselves?! What about ME??
It feels shameful to admit we get jealous if our loved one enjoys things without us. If we’re not the center of attention, we begin to question how they really feel about us.
In a polyamory, there is word that describes the opposite of jealousy, which is “compersion.” Wikipedia states that it is “an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy” but usually used within the context of having emotional and/or sexual relationships outside the primary one. I think this is the epitome of what “I love you” really means. It means, I love you enough to let you feel what you feel, experience what you need and want to experience, and not make ME the focus of that happiness. Most of us can’t even imagine our SO’s enjoying a conversation with any aged-gender of the opposite sex much less having sex with them, but imagine what that must feel like! How freeing that would be!
Compersion, I’m sure, is too extreme an example for many of us to wrap our heads around, but it baffles me that the extreme states of jealousy are not. If I love you, and you love me, then that must mean we are the be-all and end-all to each other’s happiness. Why is it that suddenly, anyone or anything who could make you happy is a threat to our relationship? That could mean a friend, a parent, a co-worker, a sibling, a job, a dream, a desire, ANYTHING.
Wouldn’t it feel AMAZING to be in a relationship with someone who didn’t make you feel defensive all the time? I’m sure most of us don’t even realize we are behaving this way. How would if feel if your SO assumed the best about you ALL THE TIME?? (Until you give them reason to doubt you of course, but that’s a blog post for another day). I implore you to go a whole day without inserting yourself into your SO’s daily activities and instead, be their cheerleader instead of a constant critic. “You want to chop all your hair off? How thrilling! What style were you thinking?” is the loving response, not “WTF you’re crazy. Your hair is beautiful. Why would you want to do that??” and, “Oh! You already had Mexican food today? Well, I was planning to make enchiladas but I’m happy to make pasta instead.”
Can you feel the difference?
Practice empathic love with everyone. Not just your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Try it with your children, your co-workers, your boss, the grumpy store cashier. “She sure was rude. I wonder if she’s going through a hard time right now.”
“I love you” is supposed to be about the other person. Everyone needs friends, family, a purpose filled life, and sometimes, that doesn’t include YOU.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU.