“I love you.”
“I love you.”
The above is an exchange between my girlfriend and me. Whereas most such exchanges by other couples would include a "too,” we exchange our affections without it.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Oh boy, here comes an article with too much information,” and I apologize if it does sound like so. I am really just hoping to have a conversation on some of the more intimate aspects of dating. In the initial stages of dating, not only does gossip abound, but you can seek guidance from a wide range of friends. But after a relationship becomes more personal, there is less guidance for the complex issues that arise, which actually need more guidance.
Last semester, some of you may remember the initiative “Dating at Duke.” Between the different apps and websites, CAPS events with Gary Glass and the Date Lab, it seemed there was definite interest for more dating on campus.
But what happens when we move past the “gung-ho, let’s go on a date” mentality that these initiatives were trying to push? For the single person, decreasing the fears of dating could prove extremely useful, but what guidance is there after that? Outside of CAPS, there is surprisingly little guidance for questions like when to say “I love you,” what commitment really means or if something will last past graduation.
Let’s start with the first one. Many people, myself included, have thought about saying “I love you” just because we think that’s part of the expected timeline of the relationship. Or perhaps we want to believe it, and we think that saying it—and hearing it back—will help the relationship mature. After all, if we were both thinking it, then perhaps the other will say it back as soon as you do.
There are many factors that go into when it is the right time to say “I love you,” not to mention the embarrassing possibility of saying it and then not hearing it back. But in reality, it should be much simpler than that. I asked Gary Glass about this, and he had a great rule of thumb:
“The only reason you should say ‘I love you,’ is when you want the other person to know it.”
The true meaning of the phrase “I love you” is much more than a saying. Not only is it unique to each person, but couples should not be expected to find that meaning at the same time. So there shouldn’t be embarrassment if your “I love you” isn’t immediately returned. Personally, last December, I told my girlfriend that I loved her, but I made sure I didn’t expect her to say it back until she meant it—and she did get back to me in early February.
Our unique paths to love is also why we don’t usually say “I love you too” to each other. “Too” takes away from the uniqueness of each other’s love. My expression of love for her is completely different from hers for me. “Too” makes it seem like a response to an initial query, a validation rather than an affectionate statement.
It’s also surprising how little we talk about commitment. Long-term dating isn’t a stranger to Duke—about one third of Duke is currently in a committed, long-term relationship. I’m sure the issues of commitment have been discussed between the two people in a relationship, but wouldn’t it be nice to have some external guidance? When your partner is at Duke, becoming and staying committed required a lot of personal reflection and value judgments. But even more so in my case, when we are both about to graduate, it becomes a whole other level of conversation. The expectations you had for the relationship that were already hard to align are now clouded with an overwhelming uncertainty. People tell you to embrace uncertainty, but that is easier said than done. Rather, all you can do is continue your current path, and either trust in a higher power from your religion or face the difficult task of embracing uncertainty.
Last year, “what is love” was the most asked question on Google. While dating advice is more broadly useful, the deeper issues in a relationship are much more intricate. While I don’t have a particular point to persuade, I do believe that it’s extremely valuable to take a careful, nuanced discussion of what happens past the initial relationship stages.
A special thanks to my significant other for allowing the details of our relationships to be shared.
James Tian is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.
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