February 12, 2015

My Boyfriend Didn’t Love Me

I had been dating this guy for awhile. And I liked him. (I liked him a lot.)

We were on another date together, and I don’t remember exactly how our conversation went, but I remember the main point: 

My boyfriend didn't love me.

We had been discussing when we think couples should say “I love you” to each other, and my boyfriend came right out and said he wasn't going to say “I love you” to me. Not yet, anyways.

At first I was a little bummed. After only three months in I knew I was going to marry this guy. (Check that: I knew I really wanted to marry this guy.) I was practically head over heels for him, almost bursting to say those three little words.

But he came from a town where you don’t take a girl home unless it’s pretty serious, and you definitely don’t take a girl to church unless you are engaged. Forever and always. 

So I first thought that was the reason He didn't want to say "I love you" yet. (He’s just a slower “relationship progressor” than I am.)

But then he explained: “Actually, I don't want to say ‘I love you’ to anyone until I get engaged to them.” (Okay, I guess he’s just a much slower relationship progressor than I am.)

His further explanation: “You see, I think of love as a commitment, not just as words you say to someone because you really like them. So I don’t want to say ‘I love you,’ to a girl who I’m not promising to be committed to. Forever and always.”

Okay, he probably didn't say “forever and always.” But now he had my attention, and not just my disappointment.

To him, saying “I love you” didn't mean trying to communicate that he really liked someone. It didn't mean splurging the word "love" over every little thing as we tend to do these days. (“I love the brownie chunks in this ice cream,” or “I love the lyrics of this song,” or “I love everything about winter minus the cold and the snow and my transparent skin tone.”)

“I have never said ‘I love you’ to anyone before, so I want it to be a special thing I give to the woman I marry,” he continued.

That also got my attention.

Because I had told another person that I loved him. And at the time, I really liked that person. A lot. But we weren't together anymore, so did we really love each other? Were we really committed to each other?

Love, indeed, is first and foremost a commitment.

When we say “I love you” to our family, it’s because we know they have been there for us and will be there for us no matter what. They have guided and helped us grow and change and mature. They are committed to us, and we are to them. (Even when we don’t really like each other.)

When we say “I love you” to our friends, it’s because they have seen us through some of our lowest lows and highest highs. They have weathered distance and disagreements with us. They are committed to us, and we are to them. (Even when we don’t really like each other.)

And the same should be true for anyone to whom we say the sweet words of “I love you.”

The words "I love you" aren't words that describe our romantic, fuzzy feelings. Because love isn't a feeling. They aren't words that are used to bribe or manipulate. Because love isn't meant to take advantage of another person.

But they are words that should always be backed by one thing: commitment. 

Because that is the meaning of the words “I love you.” 

I am committed to you. I promise to be loving and faithful. I will serve you with tenderness and respect. I will encourage you. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘till death do us part. (Remix of mine and Husband's wedding vows.)

Now, I know that many couples don’t take the route of waiting that long to say “I love you,” and they still end up with a healthy, committed marriage relationship. (Kind of like when I heard about those couples who waited until their wedding day to kiss and I just thought, “Heck no, that’s not for me.”)

But what I do hope is to encourage us to remember and understand the meaning of love and the weight of the words “I love you.”

When I was in high school my Grandma would always say, "Guard your heart, Kenny Sue."

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

I wasn't always very good at that. (I tend to fall fast and hard.)

But she was right. She knew one way we guard our hearts is by treading carefully through our relationships, not jumping in too quickly or misusing the words "I love you."

While love is an awesome and lovely thing to "fall" into, it can also be dangerous when we only think about whether or not we really like someone, rather than whether or not we will choose to be committed to that someone. Forever and always.

So this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate love. True love.

I celebrate the love of our families, who I know are committed to us and our support and our well-being for as long as we all shall live. (I love you.)

I celebrate the love of our friends, who I know are committed to us through our highs and lows and struggles and celebrations for as long as we all shall live. (I love you.)

I celebrate the love of our God, who is the only One capable of loving us with perfectly unconditional love, for all of eternity. Who is the reason we choose to love others in the first place: We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) (I love you.)

And I celebrate the love of this boyfriend, who eventually was willing to give me not just the gift of those three {huge} words that I cherish hearing every day, but also the lifelong commitment to back up those words.

This boyfriend, who didn't quite wait until we were engaged either, but on one sweet summer night looked at me and whispered the words, “I don’t have anything shiny to give you quite yet, but I love you.” 

This boyfriend, who shortly after made a trip to Zale's to pick up "something shiny," and creatively carved out his commitment to back up those words: "Will you marry me?”

This boyfriend, who I have very joyfully called “Husband” for over three years. This boyfriend, who indeed does love me, and to whom I can honestly say back, “I love you, too.”

So as we celebrate this holiday that everyone loves to hate, as we work past disappointment of gifts and dates (and lack thereof) not meeting our expectations, and as we dress up in red and pink and inhale way too much Dove chocolate, I hope we can remember and celebrate the true meaning of love. 

And Valentine's Day or not, I pray we will share this kind of true love with those oh-so-important people in our lives. I pray we won't hold back the words "I love you" from the people we are committed to, or forget to back up those words with both our actions and commitment.

Grace and Peace,