Ab absurdo, ad libertatem
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"I Love You"

Dec 16, 2008

It's an interesting comment, to be told that it's unhealthy to say "I love you" to your girlfriend, beyond some apparently critical threshold. I often ask people, be they long time friends or someone I've just met, how often they say "I love you" to their partner. Many react to this inquiry with suspicion. Certainly, it's not a common question, as I find that I've never been asked this question by anyone else, and I eventually ask it of everyone I talk to. I'm curious in general, and it's certainly a mark of health to be curious about relationships. I find it an interesting comment on our culture that I've repeatedly been told that the frequency with which I tell my girlfriend that I love her is unhealthy.

I tell her all the time; all day; every day; multiple times, every time that I talk to her; before I wake up, and after I go to bed (thank you cron); when I email her; during meals; and unexpectedly in the middle of a sentence. I have been known to tackle her while she is talking and to yell it, perhaps following the tackle with a little number, for example "4." Often, rather than saying "Hello" when I phone her, I open with "Love you!" If you have happened upon a better method for setting up relational success, please do let me know.

Having discussed this with hundreds of people, from many walks of life, my (completely nonprofessional) survey has yielded the overwhelming result that most people find themselves saying "I love you" rather infrequently, and view my use of the term as 1) "abnormal," 2) "loose," 3) "unhealthy," and 4) indicative of a need for "constant validation." I choose these criticisms because they are the most common.

In response to the first criticism, that I am "abnormal"; without a doubt, the regularity with which I repeat the phrase "I love you" is not that of the average person. It is not the "norm," and thus it is not "normal," and it is but a short step for the cynic to recast "not normal" as "abnormal." This is hardly a damning critique, to which I respond "if the norm were to keep slaves and subjugate women, would you say that it is imperative for us all to follow the norm, and that those who do otherwise are out of line?" Normality does not imply necessity or preferability. Nuclear weapons anyone?

In response to the second criticism, that I am "loose" in my application of the phrase; to this idea, that my use of the maxim "I love you" is "loose," what usage would be "tight"? Which accepted policies of linguistic administration and verbal dispensation is it that I am in violation of? What restrictions on the expression of affection should I adhere to? Many years ago a single friend of mine held "all public displays of affection" in contempt of social propriety. I responded in defense of affection, and asked: "what could be wrong with a kiss and a hug?" She answered that there was no need for her to "see that," and I suggested that perhaps she -- perhaps every person -- stood in great need of seeing precisely that. In my experience, a strong aversion to affection is best understood as methinks-they-doth-protest-too-much. Undoubtedly, there is little need for heavy petting in a public setting, but a hug and a kiss? A smile and some happiness? A number of years later this friend recanted her criticism of public affection, and has come to support precisely what it is that she herself did not have. Painfully (not for me, but for those in emotional pain), I've encountered this scenario many times. Here I must also note: the idea that repeating "I love you" might cause the phrase to lose meaning uncovers only the apathy and corruption of the complainant. When I declare "I love you" to my girlfriend, I say it with conscious and deliberate intent, every time.

In response to the third and fourth criticisms, that my girlfriend and/or I are "unhealthy," and in need of "constant validation"; these two criticisms may be grouped together, as they both speak to the power of impatience and amateur psychology. There is no question that the need for constant validation is unhealthy, but before pronouncing that something is unhealthy, it often makes sense for the questioner to actually ask some questions (as it turns out, there are few insights that arise in the absence of knowledge). It is a rare person indeed that has inquired about my relationship before concluding that it is unhealthy based solely upon the information that I tell my girlfriend "I love you" one hundred times per day. It is understandable that people generalize over their past experiences, and infer that society at large suffers acutely from low self-esteem, and that couples should be fighting about ... whatever it is that "normal" couples fight about, and that I am not introspective or realistic about myself or my relationship. If my girlfriend or I make a mistake then we tell each other, calmly and respectfully. The recognition of a mistake is precisely that which enables us to improve our condition. Why would we fight about improvement? An odd concept that, once you've reasoned it out. "Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love?" "[L]ove is not served by torture." It's not that I don't understand how it is that people might come to fight, but instead that I explicitly renounce fighting as a way of life. Please do not make the mistake of believing that fighting provides the best of all possible resolutions at all times, or that it is not a way of life. To advocate fighting as a solution is to support a deeply pessimistic view of humanity. To live with secrets and quiet rage is a choice. My girlfriend and I have chosen otherwise.

The fact that my girlfriend and I do not fight has been interpreted in many ways, most centering on the theory that we internalize our thoughts rather than expressing them freely, which is a most interesting theory for one to put forth after having spoken with me in person. I can not claim to be subtle or learned; but if there is one thing I claim it is candor.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, the all-unimportant but perennial "constant validation." Here, my response is twofold: first, "Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate," and second, it is my girlfriend's "acceptance ... that I want. What good would it do to me, to have [her] faked physical presence without any meaning?"

We are humans, and as such we possess the ability to regulate our emotions and our emotional responses. No other animal possesses this ability (or at least they are unlikely to find themselves in a civil situation that might permit them the opportunity to exercise and develop this ability), and so this capability must not be taken lightly. Emotional parsimony is a bad choice not a social necessity, no matter how it might be rationalized.

P.S., I love you.