What Does It Mean To Say ‘I Love You’?

Why is saying I love you such a big deal?

Do we know what it actually means? (What is love, baby don’t hurt me?). Of course we tell our parents we love them, they’ve always been around to give us clothing, toys, and birthday cake. We might tell our friends we love them, that seems reasonable, and the words aren’t too difficult to get out. So what’s happening when we go to say it in a relationship and our brains flip, stomachs turn inside-out, and vocal cords take a nap?

image by Double Shot Photography

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis lists the categories of love as; affection, or storge; friendship, or phileo; erotic love, or venus; and charity, or agape. Storge being love most often shared from parent to child, and vice-versa. Love that needs to be received, as well as needs to be given. Phileo, brotherly love, being developed through common interests and time shared between friends. Venus, eros, or erotic love, is described as the state of “being in love”. This is romantic love, and includes sexuality, but only as a minority of the driving force of eros. “A man in this state (eros) really hasn’t leisure to think of sex […] The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact that she is herself”. Lastly, agape, is described by Lewis as “charity” because it is an unconditional love that is granted unceasingly, despite any deficiencies of the beloved, or a lack of reciprocation. 

Just a few months into dating, my wife and I had a thorough, (pre love-confession), discussion intended to determine the meaning of using those three magic words in a relationship. The conclusion we came to was as follows: 

‘I love you’ is a spirit-breathed declaration of an intention to take on life side by side, serving God as one.

Saying those words should be precluded by prayerful, thoughtful, consideration. In simplest terms it’s equivalent to saying ‘I’d like to marry you as soon as reasonably possible’. Considering this perspective, saying I love you becomes less obscure and trivial. There is a distinct difference between feeling in love and saying it. Now we have a framework for calculating the right time to express such a substantial thought. A few months later, when TaylorRae and I did share a confession of love, we knew exactly what it meant.  

One incredible aspect of marital love is: it works through and overlaps multiple categories of love throughout time. Relational love, on course toward marriage must begin as friendship as two individuals find reasons to connect over shared activities, goals, perspectives, etc… Friendship, however, is often an unlikely season to remain in when said people discover significant commonalities, in the words of Lewis: 

“When two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half-hour – into erotic love.”

As previously stated, erotic love is not strictly sexual. It is the shared, passionate bond between a man and woman in route to ‘‘till death do us part’. This category of love is a desire to take part in all things together, sex is a glorious aspect of marriage, but timewise is a tiny minority of seasons spent side by side. Again, from Lewis:

“Eros, though the king of pleasures, always (at his height) has the air of regarding pleasure as a by-product […] For of the first things eros does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving.”

This quotation is a perfect transition into the final aspect of marital love. Agape is promised in the terms ‘for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…’ and carried out in an unbroken marriage that truly lives out that covenant commitment made on day one. Giving and receiving become irrelevant as both partners seek to serve, listen, and grow to better love the other. Unconditional love seeks ways to give, each and every day, without relying on reciprocation, or lack of, from the other. If both sides of the relationship seek to love in this way, good things are in store.






What Does It Mean To Say ‘I Love You’?

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