“If somebody says, I love you, to me, I feel as though I had a pistol pointed at my head. What can anybody reply under such conditions but that which the pistol-holder requires? I love you, too.”
–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (b. 1922), U.S. novelist. Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, Address at Dedication of Wheaton College Library, 1973 (1974).
Here’s a bit more of the transcript of the recorded conversation I had a few years ago and posted here: Smile when you say I love you – uncomplicated sex:
She: I still have lots of trouble accepting that it’s normal and even considerate for men to NOT say I love you. I wasn’t raised that way, and I always thought if the man wouldn’t say it, it simply meant he wasn’t thinking it either. The first guy I ever fell in love with wouldn’t say it, and it was years before I realized he had good reasons not to. Saying he loved me would have made me draw all kinds of inappropriate conclusions.
He: I think there are lots of reasons for not saying I love you besides not loving you. The trouble is, the word’s got hooks in it. You can lie, and say “I love you,” when you don’t. But when you do, and go around admitting it a lot, that’s really screwed up. I kind of put that in this category of you and me. I try my best not to say that. I feel like it puts a burden on you to try and read into that what the hell I’m meaning, and it puts an equal burden on me to somehow assume you’re understanding, “Okay, this means this, this, this, and this, but it doesn’t mean this, this, this, and this.” (Laughter) So I generally work at not saying it.
She: From my end, I work at not saying it because I know it bugs you to hear me say it. If you’re not going to say it, I don’t want to say it. It makes me feel silly, even if I really think it and feel like saying it, when you don’t need to hear it.
He: If we had a strictly platonic relationship, we could say that, and no danger. If we were just friends, no problem, say it all you want to. Until that’s the case, you got to be damn careful with it.
On the other hand, see, the moral equivalent of your ex-husband not saying it in so many ways has brought you to where you are right now. It didn’t have to happen. I may be wrong, but I think I know women. I think I know you pretty well. If your ex-husband had done anything right, you wouldn’t be where you are right now. The guy blew it. He either didn’t know anything about women, or just didn’t give a shit.
If you have something like what you and he had, and you wanted to save it, you’d have to at least do this, to keep it going. For you and most women, “this” doesn’t happen to be much. It just takes a little bit of tenderness, a lot of respect, and the pretense, if not the reality, of a willingness to listen to what you’re saying, what you’re feeling, and what you’re needing and wanting.
I’m talking about married women who have a couple of kids and are domestic. It really doesn’t take very much to keep them happy. All you have to do is be attentive, and respectful and loving, and they’ll roll over and shake your hand, or play dead, or do any damn thing you want them to. (Laughter)
She: I feel very frustrated by what you are saying, because I feel like I’m being described as a less complex person than I am, but I can’t find anything untrue about it. I guess it works pretty well with me. When I met you I was impressed by your doing those exact things. But maybe all you’re describing is a normal healthy relationship where two people care enough to be considerate and attentive, where they don’t automatically assume they know what’s happening in the other person’s life.
He: That about sums it up.