“I love you,” I told Jeremy, gazing deeply into his eyes. I was 13 and he had just given me a mix tape containing “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam and “November Rain” by GNR. To me, this meant we were in love.
“I love you too,” he said.
I expected a band of unicorns to prance through the streets, for archangels to play trumpets, for a spontaneous firework show. It wasn’t really like that.
Three weeks later, Jeremy broke up with me for a girl who went to the same school as him. She was older and could drive. Her name was also Amy, spelled the more common way.
The summer after my senior year of high school, Mike, my fishnet glove-wearing, guyliner-rocking boyfriend said those three words to me as I boarded the plane for college.
“Don’t leave … I love you,” he whimpered after me.
“You’ll be OK,” I said in return as I pivoted on one foot and marched ahead to my new life. If I’m being honest, I was never more excited to be getting on a plane.
In college I was sleeping with a bad boy.
“I love you,” I said while I lay next to him in his East Village loft. The tortured words rose from deep within me. I had been trying fiercely to hold them in. Without fanfare, he rolled over and went to sleep. He was drunk.
There have been many “I love yous” since then; the guy in the wheelchair, the guy I accidentally said it to during sex, my boyfriend of three years, the guy who I left him for, the guy who dumped me right after I said it.
Each time I’ve said it, I meant it. I’m sure I will say it and mean it many more times. But I’ve come to realize that “I love you” doesn’t really mean anything, yet people attribute way too much meaning to it; too much thought, consideration, and analysis. They place a lot of weight on who should say it first and what it means if someone doesn’t say it back. I say, it’s all irrelevant. What matters more is feeling loved.
Right after my boyfriend of three years and I split, it was Valentine’s Day. My ex created a treasure hunt for me. Each clue led me to something else I loved. An orchid, some raw cookie dough, a perfume I had been coveting. At the end he was waiting for me. He asked me to move back in. I declined. But I told him I loved him and never meant it more. He said nothing in return.
I love you is not a contract. It’s not a promise. It doesn’t offer any assurances. It doesn’t conjure any unicorns. It doesn’t make someone love you back. You can love someone for a moment, a month, a year, or a lifetime. It can last or it can fade away. All kinds of love are different but equally special and meaningful in their own way. You should say “I love you” freely, if you feel like it, at the moment you feel like it and never expect anything in return.