I can’t remember the last time I said I love you.
Besides, you know, to my cat.
At the far distant edges of memory are the steamy windows of a battered green Volkswagen Sirocco. Outside the air was cold enough to freeze a dirty skirt of thin ice over the never ending Seattle puddles, but inside… Inside it was so hot we were both gasping, mouths open and then closing on bare flesh, licking and sucking and screaming for more.
I might have said it then.
But really, I don’t remember.
There are so many awkward phases to adult dating. Saying those three little words is one of them.
Our relationship is nearing the one and a half year mark, and there has been nothing but silence on this matter–from both of us. To be fair, I never even think of the usual romantic conventions when we’re together. We’re too busy doing things and talking and most of all, laughing.
I think he knows.
How could he not know?
Still…a thing should have a name. This, this thing between us, should be called something. I would feel badly in the Ever After if I were to die suddenly and he never knew for sure.
Then there’s the looming, ominous question of What if he doesn’t say it back?
What does that mean?
I do actually remember all the times men have cornered me with their admissions of affection. One man proclaimed it with a prideful sort of sneer, as if he were personally hand delivering a winning lottery ticket to mine unworthy soul. Another whispered it, so softly I wasn’t sure he hadn’t just sneezed except for the following look of expectation. A third threw it at me like a curse, followed by my car keys. And then my underwear.
In all cases I smiled, kissed the man on the cheek, or simply sighed and fled, depending on the circumstances.
No one can force me to parrot what he (or she) wants to hear.
But he (or she) can make me feel like I’m an understudy standing in for the real star, one who doesn’t know her lines and never thought she’d be here under the bright lights. Meaning, so often I have felt like just a placeholder, like the person gathering up all that nerve to say the words didn’t really understand who was receiving them. I’m strange like that.
I don’t want to force this kind of experience onto Lover, to make him wish for a portable hole to escape into. Especially if he couldn’t say the words back to me, leading to that inevitable awkward silence.
And, at last, I think I’ve figured out how to do this without being impersonal. (Send a text? Really, Google, that’s your best advice? Maybe that’s what I get for believing the Internet has the answer to everything.)
I ordered a polished, heart-shaped stone from Pike’s Peak Rock Shop online. I liked this one because of the criss-crossing scars and defects; it is exactly what I imagine my heart to look like outside my body. When it arrived, it was a bit larger and heavier than I expected but even more perfect than I imagined. I wrote, “I love you, ___ ___” on a slip of paper and tucked the rock into a small, black velvet bag I found in my desk drawer (probably left over from purchasing multi-sided gaming dice).
Sunday night we were doing adulting things. Boring adulting things, namely changing the wiper blades on our respective cars and splashing each other with water in the freezing cold while winterizing the windshields. Afterwards we went out for dinner and dark beer at Pangaea, then on to coffee at Naked Coffee Lounge on Q Street.
“Oh, here, I have a surprise for you,” I announced as we crossed Q Street towards Fremont Park. He raised an elegant eyebrow as I passed him the little bag and then warned him not to open it until he returned home.
Lover has become so accustomed to my idiosyncrasies that he never protested, not a word. He simply slipped it into the breast pocket of his leather jacket, and we continued on by winding up our time together with a trip to the store for milk.
Relationships aren’t always about naked awesomeness; it’s also about having these little simple moments together.
I didn’t hear from him later that night. I didn’t really think anything of it.
Monday was our usual work-frenzy mode. He called me to say goodnight, and we talked about work and the state of the universe and how my new boxing class is going. (I ache, everywhere, but I am sticking with it!)
I think as you get older, it is becomes more and more difficult to love someone–freely, wholly, without expectation. People become jaded, tired, burdened with this idea that love is a trade of you-give-me-this-and-I’ll-give-you-that.
That’s not the way love works.
I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to love anyone, ever again, which is why I waited so long before telling Lover in my own indirect way.
As I began to yawn over the phone, I said to Lover, “I’m falling asleep. Say the magic words.” The magic words are Goodnight, intoned with all the flair of Frank Sinatra.
Instead he said, “I love you, too.”
There was a long, shocked pause while I tried to process this. I guess I wasn’t really sure that he felt the same way.
I am now in a relationship with a man who loves me, too.
It is truly beyond belief.