I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the reasons people stay with each other; why, despite certain shortcomings in a relationship, people decide to stick around. My observations are just that: observations. There is no judgment in my perspectives or in the conclusions I have made. Perhaps you will see yourself in some of them; perhaps you can offer something I haven’t considered. In any case, I’ve noticed that people say “I love you” for a variety of reasons.
History: I have a friend who calls or texts me every few months (sometimes the gap between is longer). The gist of the correspondence is always the same: life is crazy, he misses me, and he says he loves me. On the rare occasion I actually get to see this friend, the sentiments are the same, expressed in a more emphatic way. And whenever he says, “I love you,” I can’t help but wonder why. In reality, the person he loves is the person I was 20 years ago when we spent much more time together. Truthfully, he barely knows the person I am today. Instead, he is in love with memories of who we once were. Still, when he says “I love you,” I think he means it. I represent history for him; a time when we were younger, when our cares were fewer, and when there was an awful lot of fun to be had. I wonder, still, if we really got to know our 40-something-year-old selves, if he would still proclaim a love for the person I’ve become. I’d like to think so. But honestly, I’m just not sure. I guess being in love with a memory is an ok thing. I have to admit, I kind of like the reminder of the girl I once was.
Security: A friend shared a conversation with me that she’d had with her boyfriend (a label she doesn’t use, but I use here because it is the closest thing I can think of to describe their relationship). The man is in love with her; she is not in love with him and has been honest with him about that. Recently, during an argument in which he was pushing her to commit more seriously than she’d like, she told him that he serves as a security blanket for her life; that in the absence of anyone else, she knows she can always go to him for help, for understanding, and for support. He makes her feel special. She said that to imagine her life without him in it is scary for her. But, she told him, she is not in love and she doesn’t see herself ever falling in love with him. Brutal, right? Maybe. Sometimes the truth hurts. But I give her kudos for being honest. He is informed and can make an educated decision about staying or leaving. So many times, we stay in a relationship for the security of what it represents or because we are simply afraid to be alone. In my friend’s case, the same may be true. But her ability to be honest left the decision to stay or go up to him. He chose to stay. I guess being a security net is ok as long as one doesn’t become a doormat.
Family: On a recent episode of one of my favorite shows, an Arabian king and his wife sought help with infertility. When the woman was told that the issue was hers and that she would never bear children for her husband, the woman commented that her husband would have to take another wife (harems are common in their culture). However, she also noted that she would not be able to stay with him; that the pain of not being the mother of his children would be too great for her to bear. She commented that a man loves the mother of his children differently than he could ever love any other woman. (I assume this is true in reverse as well.) Even as I’ve talked to American men about their marriages and asked them, “Do you love your wife?”, many say, “She is the mother of my children.” Family is a motivating factor in love, no doubt. I’m not sure it is ever a reason to stay in a relationship that makes one miserable, but still the bond between people who share a child is certainly remarkable.
Sex: I’m not sure I need to comment much on this one. The confusion between lust and love is one that’s existed for centuries. I will just say, however, that I do know people whose lives might be better served if the compatibility they demonstrate in the bedroom translated to the same give and take in everyday life. Conversely, I know couples whose passion for each other and for building a life together transcends well beyond the bedroom. These people are the happiest people I know.
These are certainly just a few of the reasons that people say “I love you.” And certainly, none are as cut and dry as words imply. As a final reflection I just share this: love is a VERB. It is not a state of being. It isn’t stagnant. For me, to love someone means that I will make a consistent effort to share myself with another person in a mutually beneficial way. So often, we hear people say “I love him, but I’m not IN love with him.” Perhaps we are only “in love” when we are actively pursuing it – when love is not a noun, but an action. And maybe it is that action of love that is most important. It is a choice, an empowerment, a willful choosing to live beyond our own wants and needs. I believe that when we act in love, we are living our best life, accentuating all the positive things we find not only in another, but deep within ourselves.