Recently, one of the single women in our Roadmap class told us, “My wife left me after many years of marriage, saying she hadn’t loved me after the first few years. Yet for all those years, she told me she loved me every day. Now I’m confused about what love is. Can you define it?” Great question! And I realized that although we wrote a whole 350-page book about how to find happy, healthy love (and keep it that way!) we never actually defined what love is. So what is love?
So here’s a rough draft of an attempt.
The truth is, love is multi-faceted. You’ve probably heard that Eskimos have 50 words for snow; it’s so important in their lives that they need to be able to describe it with great exactness. If love is important to you, you might want to create your own multi-word glossary for it!
Of course some big broad categories might be: friend love, new-relationship love, shared-life-together love, family love. But we all know that we feel a different love for each member of our family. Even “family love” really isn’t just one thing. Neither is “friend love.” And definitely, partner love is many different things to different people.
So in a way, if someone says “I love you” – or, conversely, if they say “I don’t love you” (or if they say those dreaded words, “I love you but I’m not in love with you”), they really haven’t told you very much at all! You may need to find out more – a lot more – about what she’s feeling and how she understands it.
Most often we assume we know what “I love you” means. You think she means the same thing you’re feeling, or the same thing you would mean if you used those words. But it may not be true.
You owe it to yourself – and to anyone you love – to try to be clear about what “I love you” means to you. You’re the one who gets to define that!
Here are some of the things it might (or might not) mean:
- “I appreciate who and how you are in the world.”
- “I have such a great time with you.”
- “I’m feeling so close to you in this moment.”
- “I enjoy the self that comes out when I’m with you.”
- “When I see your vulnerability I feel tenderness toward you.”
- “I really appreciate our history and the roles we play in each other’s lives.”
- “I just adore that little cluster of freckles on your cheek.”
- “You’re so hot, I can’t wait to tear your clothes off!”
- “I so appreciate how supportive you are of me.”
- “Wow, that was great sex we just had.”
- “I appreciate that you are a struggling human being, just as I am.”
- “I’m fantasizing about being with you forever.”
Of course, these are just a few of the things someone might mean when they say “I love you.” There’s no way to know unless you ask.
Now, what does it mean when someone says “I love you, but I’m not in love with you any more?”
Again, this is very individual – you’d need to know what “in love” meant or means to her, as well as what she does and doesn’t feel now, and she’d need to be able and willing to articulate it. Many people haven’t thought much about this; they’re either feeling it or they’re not, and they think that’s all there is to it. (But it’s usually not.) Often when people say “I’m not in love with you any more” it simply means the limerence has ended and they, or both of you, never built anything solid beyond that. But it might also mean that she just doesn’t know that limerence always ends, so even though she still has other sorts of love for you, she thinks the fact that she’s no longer in limerence means she “doesn’t love you.”
It could also be that she’s seen traits in you that push her buttons and she doesn’t know what to do with that, so she’s scared, triggered and/or shutting down or distancing herself. It could even mean that she does have strong feelings for you, and is terrified of them, so she’s putting a wall up! (Yes, we hear about this a lot.) As if all of this weren’t already complicated enough, here’s something else you need to know: love itself is not enough to sustain a relationship. Each of us also has to figure out what else we need, besides love, to want to stay in a partnership. For some of us, it might be intellectual or spiritual connection; or sexual compatibility, or shared future visions, or similar hobbies and interests…or something else. In other words, love does not equal compatibility.
So, lengthy as this post is, it’s only a start, because we could go on for pages and pages and pages about love! But now it’s your turn. If anything has “clicked” for you reading this post, OR if there’s something you feel I’ve missed in describing love – just add your perspective in the comments below!