One of the questions that never fail to crack me up on Twitter is “Are you your bae’s bae?” The phenomenon of being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know they’re in a relationship with you is more common than we’d like to admit. When men and women cannot define their relationships clearly, people get led on, betrayed and hurt. Most times, “I love you” is to blame for this. Even when said sincerely, it can still cause problems because the meaning those words hold vary from person to person.
I’ve always admired the fact that when it comes to love, Greek has several words whereas English has only one. Have you ever said “I love you” and then had to explain what kind of love you meant? Greek speakers don’t have this problem. They can simply “storge” their father, “phileo” their friend, “eros” their lovers and “agape” their sister in Christ. No need to start explaining, “I love you but I’m not in love with you.”
It’s also bothersome that sex gets mistaken for love too often. I used to wonder if John Mayer said “I love you” to Jessica Simpson when they were dating light years ago. After their break up he said, “That girl is like crack cocaine to me. Sexually it was crazy. That’s all I’ll say. It was like napalm, sexual napalm. Did you ever say, ‘I want to quit my life and just f–kin’ snort you? If you charged me $10,000 to f–k you, I would start selling all my s–t just to keep f–king you.”
Many young women have learnt from experience that while lust sounds a lot like love, it is not. That he’s panting after you as the deer pants after the water brooks, doesn’t mean that he loves you. “I’ll be gentle” isn’t the same as “I care about your feelings”; “It feels good” doesn’t mean “I want you to feel good about yourself when it’s all over”; “I need you” isn’t the same as “I will be here for you”; “I want you” doesn’t mean “I want to give my life to you”; “You’re gorgeous” doesn’t mean “I love you for who you are.” Lust and love are not the same, no matter how alike they sound.
Still, even when one can say that what they feel is not mere lust, feelings are and always will be complicated.
I remember falling hard for a brilliant young man as an undergraduate over a decade ago. We were very close, and people kept expecting us to start dating, but while I was deeply infatuated with him, he wasn’t as smitten with me. I was already adjusting to being in the “friend zone” when one day, after we’d been friends for over a year, he surprised me by asking me to be his girlfriend. I said yes, and I knew I was supposed to be excited, but my happiness was tainted by the inexplicable knowing that he “loved me but was not in love with me.”
It didn’t matter that he loved being around me, holding me, and kissing me; I couldn’t shake that knowing. It was just there. A week later I confronted him about it and he admitted “Joy, if there’s anything I’m looking for in a woman, you’re it; you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re sexy, you’re funny…I just don’t know why I’m not in love with you.” There it was; the bitter truth. Luckily we were able to salvage our friendship.
The truth is that there are many things people feel for each other which no language has been able to name. Emotional attachment is a normal part of human nature. So while feelings are important, we shouldn’t become preoccupied with them. I believe it is better to consider the practical aspects of building a life together. This is one reason I love the word “partner” so much, though not many understand how deep it is.
In the end, it is their values, their vision, the content of their character, and how well you can “do life” together, that truly count. When the passionate feelings of “being in love” fade away – no one remains on this high forever – you’re left with the person that you chose. Isn’t it best to choose with a clear head and eyes wide open?