I didn’t tell Christine I loved her until the moment I asked her to marry me. Maybe that sounds cruel to you. Maybe it was. Two years of ups and downs is a long time to go without any verbal reassurance. For me, it represented a belief that love was something higher, more serious, more grave that being in love, which was not always the case in our at times tumultuous relationship. Love was eternal, unchangeable, unbreakable. How could a boy of 20 make such a commitment? It wasn’t something to throw around to every girl who captures his heart? I wasn’t wrong.
Nor was I quite right. An enduring weakness of mine is a failure to recognize that multiple contexts can exist simultaneously. The higher can coexist with the lower. The ideal alongside the practical. The proper nest to the improper. The divine within the human. That’s the way it must be. Our language is capable of handling those ambiguities, even if I’m not comfortable with it. Saying I love you to a serious girlfriend doesn’t have to signal an eternal commitment any more than a sentence’s grammar has to be perfectly correct to be understood. The context matters. The intent matters. Whole love can be eternal and yet still offer a part of itself in any relationship, however ephemeral. Lovers whose passion quickly burns out may not ever have a full grasp of the nature and beauty and joy of love, but they do have a partial understanding of it. Denying that piece of love anything is as big of a mistake as believing that it’s everything.
I still struggle with this. Having waited two years to say something so important, ending every brief phone conversation with “I love you” and expecting an “I love you, too” sounds so trite. Do I really need to say it every time I leave the house or go to bed or whenever she says it to me. I don’t want it to become an automatic response, a mere salutation with no thought or meaning behind it. But that’s a fallacy. The fact that these casual declarations have less meaning than the declaration at my marriage proposal does not make them meaningless. They have a different sort of meaning. Of course they do Our relationship has changed. What was a serious question without a definite answer while dating is a given fact when married. But they both point back to the same thing, to the love of two people made one, which is itself a shadow of and reference to the divine love.
Both require reciprocation. Love is not a personal pleasure. A private love is agony. Ask the man rejected by a crush or the parent estranged from a child. It’s the kind of pain, the kind of love, that makes you willing to die. It’s good to be constantly reminded. There’s not risk of it becoming too casual. It is casual and should be casually answered. “Every time?” the man in me asks. Yes, every time. Don’t worry, it’s neither a question nor a proof of our love. It’s an affirmation, a simple reminder, of it. Nothing more is necessary.
Grand gestures and dramatic declarations are for the man who is not assured, who is trying to capture and to subjugate a fresh love or rekindle an old one. The deeper, the longer, the more mutual and secure the love, the more relaxed it will become. The new couple stays up late to talk; the old couple rests in each other’s arms without needing to. The way we express our love changes. Far from being a diminishment, it’s the culmination of what I declared all those years ago.