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Three Little Words: “I Love You”

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I love you. Isn't it amazing how three little words can have such an impact? What other words in the English language do you know that can bring a conversation to a complete standstill in quite the way those three single-syllable words can? "I hate you," delivered in just the right tone comes close, but even they don't have the bone-jarring, hitting the brakes hard effect of "I love you."

A couple – for argument's sake let us say a man and a woman – have been seeing each other for some time. They've discovered they have a lot in common and really enjoy each other's company. They've gone to bed a couple of times and the sex has been good. All in all things are, as the books say, developing.

Yet the first time one says "I love you" to the other – and no matter what guys like to think, it's as likely to be the man as the woman – almost inevitably it will be followed by a long pause. Of course a lot depends on the timing — there's a big difference between saying "I love you" in the heat of passion and blurting it out while doing dishes.

While you can sort of gloss over it in the former circumstances as being caught up in the moment, in the latter there's no escaping the consequences of truly meaning what you are saying. Saying "I love you" in the middle of doing something as prosaic as the dishes has infinitely more depth of meaning than when in the midst of sex. It's a definitive declaration of devotion not coloured by passion or lust.

Which is, of course, what brings about the aforementioned sudden stoppage in conversation. Sometimes it will end quickly and be followed by hugs and joyful tears. Other times it will be followed by a pause that you can drive a truck through, stop and unload it, refill the gas tank, and climb back into the cabin before a vocalized reaction is forthcoming. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it sure is unnerving to sit through before the other party bursts into a big grin or at least says "I love you" in return.

Of course if the silence stretches just that little bit too long, and then continues for a little more after that, it's usually a sign that the other party isn't as ready to make that declaration with the same amount of feeling. An "I love you too" might eventually be forthcoming but it there is a conditional quality to it that is inescapable.

There's more than semantics involved in the differences between being in love with someone and loving someone. The general consensus seems to be that to be in love implies a singularity of devotion while loving implies nothing more than a general affection. Friends can love friends, but that doesn't mean they are in love with each other anymore than a sister and brother are in love.

It all sounds pretty darn confusing doesn't it for such a simple little phrase like "I love you" but that's just the beginning. It's absolutely astounding the many uses that simple phrase can be put to. While it may sound like a simple avowal of affection, it seems to get utilized for other, less savoury purposes, quite often.

The use of "I love you" in emotional blackmail is one of the more common occurrences of this phenomenon. Not to be confused with guilt, emotional blackmail is used by nasty, manipulative people in order to ensure that the world revolves around them continually. In order to successfully utilize emotional blackmail one must be completely without scruples and selfish beyond belief.

A petulant "I love you" that implies there is no possible way the other person can actually care for you as deeply as you do for them is a wonderful tool to use for emotional blackmail. It infers that if the other person really meant their "I love you" they would hasten to oblige you with whatever you wanted as proof of their devotion.

Not quite as subtle as emotional blackmail, the ever-popular guilt trip is nearly as insidious. What it lacks in nastiness is more then compensated for by its pervasiveness. It's used in situations where you need to get the emotional upper hand on the other person. Your use of "I love you" should imply a "but" preceding the phrase in order to create the proper "how could you do this to me" effect required to induce or accentuate guilt.

We human beings are complicated creatures, creating ties that bind us together. While ostensibly claiming they are based on love, a great many are based on expectations and obligations. These in turn create roles for us to play and duties to be fulfilled in order to be able to say, "I love you". The dutiful wife who shows love by preparing supper for a husband who shows love by bringing home money are two obvious examples of this.

Even though those two roles have fallen pretty much out of favour there are many others that still exist. It is these constructs that create the means for three simple words to be used as weapons. We all have some preconceived notions of what "love" is supposed to be and what is supposed to happen when we are "in love". The majority of those ideas have been formed by observing what's around us.

Failure to deliver on that promise of ideal romantic bliss, or whatever it is we are looking for, will result in resentment and jealousy. In turn that will result in the games I've described above as people try to make their roles work. Somehow we have construed love to mean that a person owes you something in return for you loving them. Do this for me because I love you is emotional blackmail and a direct result of that belief.

Instead of acting as though loving somebody entitles you to demand things of them, shouldn't it be the exact opposite? If you truly love somebody, you are grateful to them for being in your life and demand of yourself what you can do for them. In turn they will do the same for you. A loving relationship shouldn't be about coercion, it should be a reciprocal arrangement with equal amounts of give and take flowing both ways.

"I love you" are three of the most potent word in the English language. It's only unfortunate that too often it is for the wrong reasons. Isn't it about time that we leave behind the idea that saying "I love you" entitles you to something in return? I thought only prostitutes were paid for love.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • klondikekitty

    thanks, Richard!! Once again, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head with unerring accuracy!! Unfortunately, I happen to be in one of those relationships you mentioned which entail emotional blackmail to make me feel guilty enough to do what he wants — After eight years of hearing sentences that start out like “If you really love me as much as you say you do, you would . . . . .!!!” I am calling it quits, giving up, moving on, syonara, baby!!
    Maybe your post will save some other poor schmuck from the same fate I am now in the process of escaping from!! god! I hope so!!

  • http://www.myspace.com/tenkiwarpriest Buzz

    Truth. Well put. Bravo!

  • sr

    Richard. Thank you. When I tell my wife I love her she always knows I love her. It comes from the heart and she know’s that. When she tell’s me the same I always know it comes from her heart. Not a day goes by that her and I say it to each other. I dont intend to get all melincoly on BC because I will always be my asshole self. Should I ever lose her should that day ever come I for certain will blow my brains out. We married until death do us part.

  • http://captains-bridge.blogspot.com Tomas

    three little words compose the undivided unity. “I love you” is the name of the human – in case just “I” remains, we are dealing with the most serious disability.

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