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The Unwanted "I Love You"

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The Unwanted "I Love You"
How do you deal with it? Check out my Advice Goddess column I just posted, "Once More With Fleeing." A reader writes:

This girl I’ve known for six years is visiting me. We live on opposite sides of the country, and once a year, have weeklong “dates” (the polite word for it). I thought we had a no-strings-attached arrangement. Then, two days ago, she said, “I love you.” Yikes. I just like her a lot, but felt bad saying that, so I lied and said “I love you” back. She’s since said it three more times. So, I lied three more times. How do I get myself out of this?

--Pinocchio

My response:

Nothing makes the apartment walls close in like an unwanted declaration of love. You’re just dying to turn around and see if maybe, possibly, the person who made it could’ve been talking to somebody else: “Please, God, let an intruder be standing behind me.”

Even worse, an unwanted “I love you” is like a mouse infestation. Where there was one, pretty soon there are three, then six, then the extended family’s scampering over and counting on you to set out cheese plates. The problem is, there’s an expected response to “I love you,” and it isn’t silent terror. Those Three Little Words come flying at you, and all you can do is bat them right back, maybe figuring you’ll pick them up later and attach the part you left off: “Uh, what I meant was…please don’t cry…it’s just that I forgot the bit after ‘I love,’ which was something along the lines of ‘having transcontinental sex with you.’”

You two did have an arrangement along these lines. So, what happened? Was she just overcome by a wellspring of affection, like that moment in elementary school when you pour the vinegar into the volcano? Maybe this was the inevitable outcome of six years of Nude Fun Week, plus where she’s at in life, plus maybe a blast of oxytocin, “the cuddle chemical” that can make even a woman who swears she can compartmentalize go all nesty on you: “You know, I could really see us shopping for dishtowels together.” Oh, don’t stop.

It’s also possible that what she was overcome by was a desire to shove this to the next level. No better tool for that than the phrase that seals the deal. You say it back, a trap door opens, and you wake up hogtied in the hold of a steamer ship bound for a wedding in her parents’ backyard. “I love you” can also be an investigative tool: “Testing…testing. Can I put framed photos of us on my desk? Move my couch into your living room? If I do a cannonball off the Golden Gate Bridge, will you dive in after me?”

Whoops! Your answers to these questions -- “No! No!” and “Enjoy your swim!” -- somehow came out “I love you.” Okay, mistakes happen. But, when you let the first “I love you” scurry off into the relationship, that was the time to send out the guy with the truck and the net. Now, with multiple “I love you’s” bouncing around, how do you unsay “I love you”? The answer is, you don’t. That’s cruel and unnecessary. Instead, rejigger what those “I love you’s” meant by giving her a sense of where you won’t be going with her -- anywhere you haven’t been going these past six years. In the future, pay attention to whether somebody’s more invested than you’d like, and you might avoid L-bombs and uncomfortable exchanges like “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” You: “Not if you can help it.”

The entire entry, with a bunch of comments, is here.