Responding To The Words “I Love You!”
What is imbedded in our actions that make large, sometimes very large statements about us that we don’t even consider. For example, what are the implications of saying “I love you?” More so, what are the implications of responding with “I love you” immediately after someone says it to you? Okay, this is probably too direct a question to hit you with without giving you some background first, right? Okay, here is the background…
So, I was involved with a woman once that I was totally enthralled with. The way she walked, talked, laughed, frowned, ate, drank, etc. None of it was boring to me. It was all like the NBC slogan “must see TV.” I didn’t want to miss a single episode of her. Well, one day, after we had been dating for quite a while (approximately eight weeks, an eternity when you are young) she looked at me longingly and said those words people die to hear “I love you?” Wow! I couldn’t believe it. I had heard them before, had said them before. So, what made hearing them from her so special. Well, I guess I didn’t think my game was tight enough (at that time) to inspire someone like her to say those words to someone like me. I mean, I was cool (whatever that means in our own mind’s eye), fairly attractive, definitely intelligent, and very modest (can’t you tell). Anyway, as excited as I was to hear those words, I rocked her world when my response was simply “Wow, I never thought I would hear you say that to me. I am overwhelmed and need to process the magnitude of what you just told me!” Now, those of you that are in disbelief in my lack of the endearing response that you may assume she wanted to hear from me can take solace in the fact that she did hear it in return, but it took a while.
Well, what do you think? Should I have immediately said it back to her because she said it to me? It is somewhat of a customary occurrence in those situations to immediately extend that same salutation back to the person who says it to you, if you are anywhere close to feeling that way about them, right? What would you do? What have you done? What should we be doing with our assertions of love?
Listen, in my defense at that time I was just starting to ask myself some of life’s so-called big questions like “Who am I (something I still do today)? I was starting to take myself to task for why I just automatically did certain things or didn’t automatically do other things. For example, somehow I had gotten into a pattern of acknowledging Black people that I didn’t know as I passed them by on the street with a hello or smile. However, White people didn’t get the same acknowledgement from me. Somehow this cultural norm had been taught to me in the most subtle of ways and I had adopted it but never questioned it. I was actually at the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament in Palm Springs one day, walking through the huge crowd with my boss who happened to be White (and also happened to be one of my best friends). We were rapping about life, tennis, relationships; you name it, until he noticed that every time we passed a Black person there was an exchange between me and that person. Suddenly after witnessing it a half dozen times or so, he said to me “Hey, you don’t know them, what the hell is going on?” I told him that I was simply succumbing to one aspect of my socialization of being Black in American society. He said “What?” I told him it probably went deeper than that, but that I didn’t want to have that conversation today, I wanted to watch Serena, Venus, Jennifer, Andre, Pete, and Malivai. We nevertheless did have that conversation. It is a conversation I will have with you on another occasion, but in the context of returning an acknowledgement of love, it is just an example of how we don’t take the time to unpack what we say.
So back to my questions, is it okay to have something that is packaged so seriously, framed so intimately, tossed about so cavalierly? Is the act of verbally expressing love lessened or cheapened when immediately repeated back to someone? Is there an expectation that men should say it first, since traditionally, in heterosexual relationships, we initiate the first date, lean in on the first kiss, make the proposal and buy the ring. Are we responsible for saying “I love you” first? Is it our duty to say it back if the woman has taken the initiative? If so, how does this play out in lesbian, gay relationships? Are there socio-economic class implications attached somehow to expressions of affection? What is someone really saying to you when they say I love you? What is being said when the immediate response is "I love you too." Of course for some it is a strategic move that is not heartfelt, but an attempt to position oneself for certain benefits and privileges, let’s not be naïve here. But this “I love you” and “I love you too” thing is quite serious, don’t you think? Somebody help me on this one? Can I get some “love?”