One Word For Love

Many times I have found myself frustrated that we have only one word in English to describe a wide range of feelings and intentions that we call ‘love’.

“I love you,” can be spoken by a lover, by a parent to a child, by a politician’s or guru’s fanatic, by one life-long friend to another, by a rock star to his audience.

We use it for ordinary objects in one moment and sacred things in another.

“I love God.”

“I love America.”

“I love the way you say that!”

“I love chocolate chip mint ice cream.”

To love something can mean I lust for it, I adore it, I am devoted to it, I crave it, I appreciate it, I prefer it over other things on the menu, or I am ready to die for it. It can be extremely strong, or slightly more attractive than other trivial objects.

It is used so much, for so many common things, over such a wide range of intensity, that it is difficult to communicate precise feelings with that word alone.

Up until now, I have found it hard to use that word toward someone in the situation where I held one form of love for that person, but definitely did not feel or focus on another form of it. If I were to to say “I love you,” in that context the person may be mistaken about which form of love I currently held and which form I did not. At other times I have found myself feeling unauthentic, or even manipulative in the use of that word because my intention would have been to express a more shallow form of love when they would most likely interpret it as a deeper one – I had only one word to choose from.

But I’ve recently realized, for this very same reason, the vagueness of the word ‘love’ could actually be useful. The inability to be precise with that single word leaves room to mean one aspect of love without meaning all of them – yet, leaves me without obligation to precisely define the boundaries of my current feelings and give an explanation for it.

For example, there are times when there is a strain in my relationship with my spouse or with my child. It would be important for me to affirm that some essential feature of love is standing firm in that moment, while I may not be obligated to feel or declare love the other forms of love that might apply at other times in that relationship. “I love you” can communicate there are boundaries to our conflict, but we’re still having a conflict.

The vow to unconditionally love the other person – as in the context of marriage and parenting – does not mean I have to always uphold all the forms that might be appropriate under good and easy circumstances. I can love you, but not particularly like you at this moment; I am committed to working this out but I don’t feel like kissing or throwing the baseball around.

Sometimes, to someone I am having a conflict with, I need to say “I love you” and leave it certain that some essential form of love is there – that the other person is safe, in this regard – while leave it mysterious as to what other forms are missing. It may be good that the other person notice the imprecision, and wonder which parts of love have gone missing and why. Hopefully, he will notice the commitment and the protest loaded in that single word.  Hopefully, he will be motivated by his own love to ask and find out if he has done something to injure it.

Mutual Maturity

I’ve had this observation for a while. It seems that if one stays in a marriage relationship long enough – the maturity of the people involved tends to be quite similar, even if they seem to have a difference in age or experience.

The less mature may be pulled up a bit, and the more mature might be pulled down a bit. But somehow, when the going gets rough, they operate at a similar level. Or, they don’t stay together long.

It is most noticeable when there is a disagreement or conflict.

The one who thinks he is more mature doesn’t quite end up acting more mature than the other in how he deals with it.

I catch myself feeling ‘above’ my spouse on certain matters, but when I imagine having someone step in to mediate the impasse, I see the discussion of what’s wrong always leading back to some way I’ve contributed to the problem – just as negligent or careless, just as immature in my expectations or response to frustration. In the court of my own head, I never find the higher ground.

I suspect that those who are truly more mature don’t position themselves the same way when they enter into a relationship with someone less mature – parents are clearly parents, for example. They are not as vulnerable to the gravity of one with far less maturity. Not that they consciously do this, but that it is the way it works.

I see some marriages where there is an unusual difference in age, and one might assume there would also be a difference in maturity. But I am not quite so sure. Either one is more mature than he seems, or the other is less than she seems. Or something is really weird that causes us to question the health or appropriateness of that relationship.