This is a bit more rambling than most of my essays; I'm not trying to make any particular point, really, just thinking out loud about love; the feeling, the word, and how people in our culture react to someone saying the word.
I've had a lot of times in my life where I've wanted to say "I love you", but haven't because I was sure that people would freak out. That's what led to this essay. In particular, I have wanted to say that after casual sex a number of times; that's the image I have in my head for this essay.
There are three issues that seem interesting to me: what feelings inside me make me want to say it, what would I mean to convey if I said it, and why people freak out (or, more accurately, why I believe people will freak out).
When I say that I feel love for someone, I guess I mean this: if you take all of the various romantic relationships I've had, there is some feeling in side, a feeling of compassion and caring and desire to protect and probably other things, that I feel when I looked at each of those people during our relationships. It's not quite the same with any two of them, of course. The thing that is common to all of those experiences of feelings for my romantic partners is what I'm calling love.
This one's rather tougher. As I said before, I'm thinking particularily of casual sex situations, or even casual cuddling situations. I don't actually know what's going on in other people's heads, but I get the impression that other people don't ever get the urge to say "I love you" after a their first sex session with a new partner, especially a partner they just met.
I don't always get that urge, but probably more often than not.
It's possible that the issue is that love is very strongly tied in me to being protective. Some of the strongest feelings of love I've had for someone new have very specifically been about "I'm holding this person that I'm attracted to, and I'm going to protect her from the world". I've had such strong protective urges, especially with small women, that I've been unable to sleep.
My being male, and mostly into women (or at least mostly into femininity), is almost certainly relevant here.
Another issue is the way I approach sex: I tend to be very focused on my partners. My own orgasms are ... really nothing special (partly due to nerve damage). I mean, I like them and all, but almost everybody has more interesting orgasms than I do. Especially with a new partner, I'd much rather pleasure them than worry about my own pleasure.
Women tend to take a long time to reach orgasm with new partners.
After an hour or two focusing solely on someone else's pleasure, is it really any wonder that I feel love for them? It certainly feels natural to me.
Besides the fact that I've had people freak out (hell, I had someone freak out after I said "You're so beautiful" after we just had sex, having met each other ~8 hours prior), I think the primary issue is that people expect one or more of the following:
- They expect me to require reciprocation. Really not necessary; a simple "thank you" or "aww, that's sweet!" would do just fine.
- They expect me to expect that we do ... I dunno, something. Get married, have kids, I dunno. I'm making a simple statement of my emotional state, but I think people hear "I think we're in a committed relationship; agree, or I'll start stalking you!".
- They're confused as to the difference between "I love you" and "I'm in love with you".
I dunno, maybe it's just how geeky I am, but when I say "I love you", it's a statement of my internal state, and that's pretty much it. Which isn't to say that I'm immune to rejection. I'm actually quite sensitive to it; if I say "I love you" and the response is "Get away from me, crazy person", that's going to hurt a lot (which is why I don't say it in these situations!).
What I am not doing, though, is expecting or requiring anything more than a vaguely tender response. "I love you" does not mean "I want to be with you forever"; if I mean that, I'll say that. It does not mean "Do you love me too?"; I'm quite capable of asking that question, thanks. It does not mean "I will be crushed if we never do anything together again"; my inability to take a one night stand for what it is, should I be having that problem (and I sometimes do) is my own problem, and I wouldn't burden my partner with it.
You'd think, after all that, that if someone I just met and shared a tender moment with said "I love you" to me, that I'd be totally OK with it and feel no particular requirement to reciprocate. Not so! I'm as much a victim of our social scripts as anybody else. Since I know that the social script is that I'm supposed to say "I love you too", I get stuck if I don't feel that way.
It just kind of bugs me that I live in a culture where a simple expression of emotional state has so much baggage. I enjoy saying how I feel, especially when I'm feeling close/tender/loving towards someone. Having to restrain that sucks.