This issue can cause a bit of commotion. “What is this, the Victorian era?” wrote one person, “if you truly love someone, tell them. Otherwise you’re just playing outdated coquettish games.” Another put it more diplomatically: “I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘I love you’ first, but someone has to do it. It’s okay to take a few risks.”
I appreciate both arguments and understand the sentiments behind them, but at the risk of having my feminist card revoked, I think it’s naïve for a woman to utter those three little words before a man does.
Unlike asking a man out, making a move on him, or even proposing, there’s no action-based response to the first “I love you.” It’s all words, it’s all emotion. In that moment, he either loves you back or he doesn’t — you only hear the black or white of a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not the grey of “Well, I like you a whole lot and I could see myself falling in love with you, but I’m just not quite there yet.” And the truth is, it often takes men longer to get there than it does for women. Men process their emotions more slowly, they’re usually more cautious about taking their feelings and relationships to the next level. So what happens if you get there first and you say it and he’s not there yet? What happens when your “I love you” is met with a “thank you,” or worse, a dear-in-headlights look? Well, it stings, sure, but more than that, it can stop a perfectly happy and healthy relationship in its tracks before it’s even too far from the station.
This is the stupidest article I’ve ever read. It makes a huge assumption about the emotional immaturity of men without any empirical basis whatsoever and turns the guy’s repetition of three words into a do-or-die situation for the relationship. Actually? Words aren’t such a big deal; actions are.
Until I dated Patrick, I never realized that the concept of “I love you” as this huge important turning point was strictly an American phenomenon. I didn’t spring it on him right away but when I did, I definitely had certain expectations about what his response should be. When he didn’t respond in kind, I was extremely upset. But this is what he explained to me:
English isn’t his native language and the word “love” as it’s used in German is completely different from how it’s used in English. While I casually toss it at friends, pets, and the end of phone calls, the German equivalent would never be employed similarly.
Even if he doesn’t want to say “I love you”, it doesn’t mean that his feelings for me are any different than mine for him.
I didn’t buy any of this at first. I thought his cultural difference argument was just an excuse, and I was generally a teary mess whenever the topic came up. But in recent months, I’ve come around to his viewpoint more and more, partially because I realized that I know someone else who feels the same way Patrick does: my mother!
The first phrase people learn in Chinese is wo ai ni, which translates to “I love you”. But the funny thing is that there’s never actually a situation where those words would be uttered. Ask any Chinese speaker. There are phrases like “I care about you” and “I miss you”, but in conversation (soap opera dialogue, included), no one would ever say wo ai ni. So my mother doesn’t say wo ai ni either; it just wouldn’t be appropriate. But unlike Patrick, she does, however, say “I love you” — yet, I have to admit and she does too, this is only because there’s no other way for her to translate her maternal affection with her limited English. And naturally, because Chinese is how we communicate 90% of the time, “I love you” means much less to me than the things she says in her native language.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to see the similarities between the German/Chinese usage of the word love. I clearly had a lot of expectations based on romantic ideals picked up from 90s teen TV shows and women’s magazines. Even if Patrick’s explanation made intellectual sense, when it came to our relationship, I wasn’t willing to give up what I thought those three words should symbolize, even if everything else he did already made his feelings perfectly clear.