Thursday, February 10, 2011

When Not to Say: I Love You

Apparently, and to no one's surprise, men have a problem.

According to Elizabeth Bernstein and the therapists she consulted, men are suffering from an inability to say: I love you. Link here.

For failing to say these three magic words, men, in particular, are cursed with empty relationships, relationships lacking that depth of emotional feeling that all other members of the species crave.

I am making this sound vapid, because I am trying to be positive. It is much worse than that. To find such thoughts in a column by someone I usually enjoy reading is very disappointing. To be perfectly frank, I was gobsmacked.

In her column Bernstein addresses a "failure" that no man has ever considered a failure. At least, no man who has not suffered through therapy has ever considered himself inadequate for not telling his best male friend that he loves him.

Bernstein has managed to mix the therapy culture with political correctness and gender neutering to concoct the absurd notion that two straight men who are close friends should be able to tell each other that they love each other.

If they cannot, she avers, they have a problem. By implication, they will certainly need a goodly dose of therapy to overcome it.

Everyone whose brain has not been addled for soaked too long in a vat of political correctness knows that when you tell someone that you love him or her you are, as the Victorians would have put it, making love to him or her.

When a man tells a woman that he loves her he is seeking, a romantic commitment. If a gay man tells another man that he loves him, then he will be seeking a romantic commitment.

(In all fairness, “I love you,” can also be used when parents declare their love for their children or vice versa. In that case, the love is not romantic and it involves gratitude and affection more than commitment. Unfortunately, Bernstein does not seem to distinguish between telling your lover you love her and telling your mother you love her.)

If a straight man tells another straight man that he loves him, and if they do not exist within the virtual world where they are both trying to live the therapeutically correct life, the statement will kill the friendship. Then and there, with no real explanation needed.

It is also true, and Bernstein does acknowledge this, that if a man and a woman are friends and one of them confesses to love the other, then the statement will be understood as a declaration of intention to move the relationship out of the world of friendship.

If they are not both looking to take that step, again, the friendship will end.

One can only wonder how Bernstein’s platoon of therapists have the chutzpah to recommend a tactic that can easily destroy a perfectly good friendship. Surely, if they do not know the level of risk involved in declaring love, then they cannot understand very well why people hesitate to do so.

And one is even more amazed to discover that these professionals have completely missed out on the mountain of research defining with the utmost clarity the differences between men and women.

It is not a secret, hidden away in some arcane recess of the culture, but men do not bond with other men by expressing feelings. You would think that this basic truth would have made its way through the fog of therapy, but apparently, it has not.

Men do not tell their male friends that they are happy to see them, that they enjoy their company, that they missed them, or that they are thrilled to spend time with them.

If one man does a favor for the other, it is appropriate to express gratitude and to return the favor. Normally, that’s about as far as it goes.

Men bond over shared experiences: they fish together, they play golf together, they watch the Super Bowl together, and they share information.

In male friendships the expression of feelings is not legal tender.

Of course, among women it is. And that means that when a man is courting a woman, he would do best to learn to express some of his feelings. No man is going to develop a very good relationship with a woman if he cannot speak to her in a language that she understands.

Trying to say that men are suffering from a psychological deficiency because they do not tell each other that they love each other demonstrates an appalling lack of respect for men.

When a couple has achieved a certain level of intimacy, the three words, I love you, represent an important emotional commitment.

It is fair to note that these words do not serve as a substitute for the more important four word phrase: Will you marry me?

In the most literal sense, a marriage proposal involves a far broader commitment than does a declaration of love. In truth, "I love you" should serve as a prelude to: "Will you marry me?"

While the three word phrase is merely an expression of subjective sentiment, the four word phrase requests consent and involves a social commitment.

Strangely enough, most people today seem to place for more importance on a mere expression of feeling than they do on a request to form a lifelong commitment.

The truth is, it is easy to say, I love you. It does not cost anything, it does not involve any public commitment or vow, it does not even promise that you will love her tomorrow morning. More than a few lotharios have used these words to take advantage of women.

It is much easier to say: "I love you" than it is to say: "I do."

Still and all, if men are hesitant to roll their love up into three little words, then perhaps the reason does not lie in some psychosexual defect.

Might it be that a man who understands how much weight a woman will give to a declaration of love  will be far more circumspect about making one?

Let’s emphasize the point. Honorable men do not say “I love you” indiscriminately because they know how the words will be received. They know that if they are not ready to make a serious commitment, their insouciant use of the words risk hurting someone they care about.

As it happens, married men often fail at their task of expressing an occasional loving feeling to their wives.

Perhaps they are uncomfortable giving up home field advantage and playing on a field where a women will feel far more comfortable and in control that they do.

Whatever the reason, accommodating the sentiments and the language of a spouse is essential to a marriage.

Of course, some men will feel that, having made the ultimate commitment, they should not have to continue to employ the language of courtship.

A rational thought, we would all agree, but one that is simply wrong. Just because it feels redundant and obvious does not make it unnecessary. No one likes to be taken for granted, and no one likes her feelings to be disregarded as trivial.

On the other hand, it is fair to note that no man should believe that he can survive Valentine’s Day by just saying: “Honey, I love you.”

When Valentine’s Day arrives on Monday, every man knows that he will have to supplement his expression of heartfelt emotion with a certain number of gifts that offer a fuller expression of same. And not just chocolates and flowers; a romantic dinner is surely a necessary accoutrement.

If the goal of therapy is to teach people to express their feelings, and if the ultimate feeling is romantic love, then the goal of therapy must be to teach people to state to friends and family alike: I love you.

And yet, if you tell all your friends that you love them, doesn't that make the "I love you" that you say to your one special other less valuable. If it's that easy to say it, then it is probably less meaningful.

No matter what the therapists say and no matter what Elizabeth Bernstein says, save the “I love you” for the one you really love in a fully romantic way. Spare your friends and colleagues the indignity of having to watch you make a fool of yourself.


Anonymous said... the engineering of "The New Socialist Man" continues.



Stuart Schneiderman said...

... in the Wall Street Journal, no less...

Anonymous said...

although i have little comment on this, i found this really interesting.

rhhardin said...

Taking a more extreme position, I sometimes say that love is not a feeling.

If you don't take your kid to the dentist, people will say you don't love your kid.

They're not talking about a feeling.

rhhardin said...

Thurber and White in "Is Sex Necessary?" have a chapter, "How To Tell Love from Passion," that ends up, after exploring the official pshychological literature, recommending giving up both.

rhhardin said...

Derrida (somewhere, I'll look for it) writes that you not only have to say "I do," but you have to say yes to the "I do" that you say.

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