love out loud: i just called to say ‘i love you’
Over the course of my dating history, I have told two people that I love them. The first, rather predictably, was my high school boyfriend, while the second is my current partner, Julio. My having loved two people, and particularly my having loved these two people is quite unsurprising when you consider that they comprise two of my three longest relationships. But there is the third one.
I never told Bono I loved him. At the time, I believed that there is always a point at which you decide whether you can love someone or not, and that even though we’d been through a lot of time and a lot of shit together, I’d still held off on loving him, largely because I knew he didn’t love me. Nowadays, I would like to believe that despite being with him for the better part of a year, there was a logical part of me intuiting that he was not a person I should love; a part that knew I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and that he would ultimately deteriorate my self-esteem and use my adoration of him as a playing card in his efforts to obtain an Australian visa. But I am quite confident that I was wholly invested in him at the time, and that there wasn’t even a tiny shred of me that could have guessed at, let alone held, this knowledge.
Nonetheless, I am certain I didn’t love Bono.
Definitions of love differ for just about everyone, but there is some universality in the notion that it’s supposed to be selfless. And yet, there is a great deal of angst about when it’s said, how it’s said and, most importantly, whether it’s said back. Surely, if love is selfless, being told ‘I love you too’ should just be a lovely, meaningful addition to a conversation, rather than a phrase whose absence is cause to second guess an entire relationship.
This is all rooted in our desire not to be perceived as the one who loves the other person more, but that doesn’t change the fact that it stilts the very idea of love that most of us hold.
I can’t remember exactly what love meant to me when I loved Bob Dylan. I was 17 and I was sure no one else would ever understand me so well. In true melodramatic fashion, I didn’t think I could live without him, but then he broke up with me, and I did and am still living without him and it’s a part of my life that I don’t identify with anymore.
I started dating Julio while I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin where the sociopathic son of the narrator maybe or maybe not douses acid on his little sister’s eye and destroys it. Thereafter, the narrator has to put ointment in her young daughter’s empty eye socket. The point at which I realised that I would do this for Julio was when I realised I loved him.
To understand the significance of this, you have to realise that pretty much anything to do with eyes freaks me out. My life’s work has been the avoidance of seeing people flip their eyelids, and the fate of the Earl of Gloucester (having his eyes ripped out) in King Lear has haunted me since reading the text in my first year of uni. There are few things I dread more than my yearly optometrist visits and not because it hurts, but just because I find it all rather unpleasant (and having my eyelids flipped irks me almost as much as seeing someone else do it).
So the realisation that I would stick around to take care of my eyeless boyfriend was a significant one, and one that I felt might be nice to share. But oddly, in spite of my personal neuroses, I did not fret over whether he would say it back.
My telling Julio that I loved him was not an effort to extort the same response. And this is fundamentally the reason that I know I didn’t love Bono: if I had told him I loved him, whether he said it back would have been of utmost importance. He was on a pedestal (though it’s hard to say which one of us put him there) and having this statement of love from him would have been the ultimate show of validation.
It is nice to be told that someone loves you, and I completely understand that instances where the feeling is not mutually articulated can be awkward. But it’s worth thinking about whether your idea of love is one that requires reciprocation, and if so, whether this is truly love. Or perhaps just the need to be accepted by a narcissist.
(Image credit: 1.)