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On Life : Why I'll Never Say "I Love You" Again - kale & cigarettes
On Life : Why I’ll Never Say “I Love You” Again

On Life : Why I’ll Never Say “I Love You” Again

INTRO:

I’ve spent a lot of time in relationships finding clever ways to keep some distance from my partners without making it appear that there was an actual problem. There is a fine line between aspirational independence within a relationship and making sure I am busy enough to have an alibi for my disconnectedness. I’ve just been so busy at work lately. It’s not not true. But we all know we make time for the things we want. And we make time to avoid the things we don’t want.

If you’ve ever seen a couple that is actually in connection with each other it is a powerful force. I got a small taste for it in my last relationship.

THE THEORY:

Think for a second about how many times we’ve robbed our partners of knowing how we feel about them simply by saying, “I love you.” 

There was this time when we were driving up the coast and I looked over to see the smile on her face as we passed two small deer and she giggled and my chest leapt and swelled with such a steady rush of affection that I thought about telling her. It would’ve come out something like, “Don’t be weird but I’m pretty sure I love you right now.” Instead, I asked her if sometimes she feels so much for me that her heart lights up a little. She said yes. Me too, I said. 

I had to actively practice restraint from saying I love you for two reasons.

One, I’ve spent most of my relationships rushing to a place of immense infatuation and obsession early on, only to become bored and discontented months later. I tend to create such a fantastical bubble of intimacy that the people I date are disoriented and overwhelmed by it. I can get someone to open up in ways they haven’t before, creating a sense of connection they’ve never known. Not fully admitting to myself that I would simply be doing this as a way to get more out of a situation because my baseline of contentment was incredibly low. 

This left my partners at the wheel heading straight for a cliff. When they looked over to see that – at least – we were going over together, it turned out I’d ducked and rolled out of the vehicle several miles before. My feelings can turn off like a switch. And my partners can be left wondering what happened to that glorious bubble. 

You might argue that I have intimacy issues and I would tend to agree with you. They have been well-documented. I am making progress. Part of that is being realistic about where I’m at in my life right now and then modifying my behavior to be more ethical to all people involved. I don’t want to be married again. I don’t even want to live with my partner. AND I do want to feel connected in a clean and healthy way for both of us. I want to be close. To be honest. And to share something that feels real and safe. I just needed to stop rushing to a place of closeness just to get there. There needs to be a pace. A steady growth towards something that isn’t going to derail me but instead add to me. 

With Maddy, I didn’t want to engage too much in my excitement early on. All the classic signs were there but instead of indulging in every emotional desire I tried to listen more to my brain, or rather, Charlie’s brain. You don’t want someone to think you’re special. Such counterintuitive advice. Of course I want that. But he’s right. I’ll never know if the relationship can stand on its own without me having to feel like I need to be the most impressive partner ever. And I’ll never really know what depth can be reached by actually coming in with a more neutral presence. By being secure in myself and believing that another person will actually come to love me in time, just by being me.

This was a practiced discipline in the beginning with Maddy. Making sure I spent days and nights doing things by myself, for myself. Making sure I wasn’t sending texts just for the sake of her thinking about me. That I could sit with that anxious turn in my stomach as I thought about her and let it pass through. Thoughts of her didn’t become my only thoughts, consuming my days and nights. That my words always meant something and that I was standing on my own feet and breathing my own air and not trying to envelope her with my whole romantic MO. 

That’s not to say that I held back on being kind or interested. I just practiced expressing these feelings in a different way. Which brings me to the second reason I avoided the popular expression of admiration.

Every time I say I love you to a person I am taking the shortest possible route to express a feeling that could be much more meaningful. 

The first time I tried this new thing with her it felt a little awkward.

“Look, I promise I’m not in a cult. You know I mostly hate the world and don’t believe in anything, but I think this is real,” I said as we lied in the white cloud bed in my New York apartment.

“Okay, what are we doing?”

“Would you be open to us talking about a few things we are thankful for?”

“Do I get to be in your cult finally?! Just kidding. Yeah, let’s do it. How does it work?”

“Well, I was thinking we split it into two sections. First, we say three things that we are thankful for in our lives in general, and then three things we appreciate about each other. What do you think?”

“Sounds good. You go first.” 

I told her that her laugh is infectious and makes every moment more enjoyable. That she is an incredible listener and always has honest and meaningful feedback when I ask her questions. And that I love that she likes taking walks and that we can spend hours walking through the city with no plan or direction. 

Every night was a different version of this. 

Thanks for making me lunch today. It was so good and not having to worry about cooking while I had a lot of work to do was beyond helpful.

I’m thankful for your soft skin that I hold at night because it helps me fall asleep. You help me feel safe. I know I am big and strong but I don’t always feel it at night and holding you makes me feel full. 

I really like watching you put outfits together. You have a unique style and walking around town with you makes me feel cool. 

I’m grateful that you came over this evening even though you had to work late. 

I’m really glad I can share my thoughts with you without feeling judged. You are so open and supportive.

I love how you can sit in the grass and read for hours without feeling bored. You’re such a fun person to spend time with. 

They were wide-ranging things and they were simple actions that happened during the day. 

Every night we spent time acknowledging the good in our lives and the good in each other. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes we might have been annoyed with each other and not wanting to do it. But with the exception of a few nights here and there, we made the time to tell each other real things. Specific things. And I’ve never experienced anything like it. Even on the off nights it brought us together.

If every night we had rolled over and just said, “I love you,” it would start to lose its meaning. It would be a placeholder for whatever we were actually feeling in that moment. It would start to become a thing we said to make sure we were keeping up with the minimum. To keep in that comfortable space of being with another person but not actually being with them. 

What if every time we wanted to tell our partner we loved them we actually told them why, in that moment, we were experiencing such strong feelings?

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