One word, too many meanings

To love or be in love?

Now that is the question. It is a question I have never stopped asking, from the time I was old enough to realize there was a difference between the two expressions.

Over the past 11 years, I have had conversations with several members of the opposite end of the chromosomal spectrum that have gone along one of several veins (in chronological order, based on my age and the level at which my understanding of the expressions was):

Him: I love you.
Me: Really? How do you know?
Him: (mild profanity in native tongue) I don’t know; I just do!

Him: I love you.
Me: Really? In what way?
Him: (pause) Well… that way, I guess.

Him: I love you.
Me: You love me or you’re in love with me?
Him: Ahhh…. it’s the same thing!

Him: I’m in love with you.
Why? You barely know me.
Him: (silence)

It’s an issue I’ve always broached from time to time with the men in my life because (a) men seem to feel things like love differently, (b) men can sometimes be remarkably like women when it comes to feeling things like love, and (c) men so rarely think about things like love that every once in a while it’s good to get the wheels up there going, a realization I had after my most recent attempt to ask this question (“I can’t think about things like that, baby! Go do your research on someone else!”). The more coherent — though questionable — response I managed to coax out a little while later was: “I guess if you’re in love with someone it means you feel more for them. When things start to go bad then it becomes just love.”

Aside from giving my relationship the shelf life of a dairy product (“When things start to go bad”), this statement also gave me the chills. Is that really all it comes down to? I wondered. Is that the easiest way for me to know when he’s in love with me and when he loves me? And then the even more terrifying question wormed its way into my head: When he says he loves me now, which one does he really mean? Coming from someone whose philosophy on love seems to be as simple as “I love you, you love me, so let’s just get on with it,” I had to wonder if there was more behind his breakdown of the expressions.

There is no doubt that most relationships start off with both parties unable to get enough of each other; the ‘honeymoon phase’, its tacky name is. But if after a year, two years, or even five years, they still feel exactly the same way about each other, is that just a prolonged honeymoon phase (also possibly known as denial) or an extraordinary kind of passion that only a fortunate few get to experience? And if the passion or honeymoon phase wears off, does that mean they don’t feel the same way anymore and the shelf life is suddenly diminished, or have they just settled into a comfortable arrangement where, as long as each makes sure the other doesn’t die in their sleep and the sex is still decent, they’re happy enough to just love each other?

I somehow believe that it is possible to love someone and be in love at the same time. But if there are others who believe that one has to overrule the other, then where is the relationship headed? It seems that in this day and age where the partners are taken on as easily as florists and paperboys, the simple act of love is both too much and yet not enough anymore. And I am still no closer to getting the answer I’ve searched so long for.

So it is a question I will never stop asking.

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