Since I suffer from the terminal condition of being a man, the best I can give you is my personal answer to this question, entirely from a male perspective. I believe, however, that most women would reach a similar conclusion.
Who will say the words “I love you” first in a relationship? I thought about this a lot when I was a teenager, and my answer then, as now, is simple. I am willing to say it first, and, in so doing, I am willing to risk the possibility of rejection.
This is true even though I am very sensitive to rejection. I tend to take any rejection, real or imaginary, personal or impersonal, as a direct rejection of me. I have even felt rejected because I was unable to make an online reservation at a restaurant.
But “I love you” is as personal as it gets and my emotional risk is far greater than it is with a restaurant. I can easily dine somewhere else. So why is it I am willing to take the leap in love despite the much higher emotional risk?
When I was single and in my thirties I had one date with Sheila. I thought our date went poorly and was not planning to ask her out again. A few days later I received a note that said, “Alan, I had a wonderful time, and I’d like to spend more time with you. I’m giving a dinner party on Friday, and if you’re as interested in me as I am in you please be at my apartment at six pm. If not, please do not reply to my note and do not show up. I love you, Sheila”
I was surprised, but appreciated her honesty. I didn’t show up, but as I think about this experience more than forty years later I still have a mental picture of Sheila preparing dinner, having other guests arrive, then waiting for me. When did she realize I wasn’t coming? Did she cry that night? I don’t know. We each deal with rejection in our own way.
Sheila went first. I applaud her for that. And Sheila did exactly what I decided to do when I was in my late teens – say “I love you” first. I have never said this a day or two after a first meeting, and I have not always received the hoped for “I love you too” in response. But I think it would be a shame if my fear controlled me, and a promising relationship failed to blossom simply because neither of us was willing to take an emotional risk and say “I love you.” Someone has to go first.
In the play The Rainmaker there is a scene in which the deputy sheriff, who is single and lonely, breaks my heart. He says, “When my wife was leaving me, I knew she would stay if I just said, “Please stay. I love you. And I need you. But my pride got in the way. If I had it to do over I would ask her to stay.”
I suggest that we always be willing to go first, even if we’ve been married for fifty years.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
P.S. My pogo stick has migrated to the trunk of my car. This week I promise to mount the monster and take a wild ride. Video next week.
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