Observation: Relationships tend to take a turn for the worse once I blurt out the ever-disastrous phrase “I love you.”
Hypothesis: Men do not like to hear “I love you.” Ever. Unless they’ve said it first.
Prediction: If I let him say it first, then the relationship will not end immediately following my own declaration.
“What is it?”
“Come on. What was that little moan for?”
“Nothing. It’s just…” I snuggle deeper under the covers, sliding my palm over his slightly pudgy, yet still sexy chest. “It’s just, I love you so much.”
Whoops. Silence. Not even a “thank you,” or “that’s nice, could you pass the rice?”
I really do not think this is such an awful declaration to make. There are a million other things that I could have said that would be more panic-worthy. For instance:
“Could you take the garbage out?”
“I am an alien. You are going to have my alien-child.”
“I have syphilis.”
In comparison, the L-word really isn’t that bad. Or so I thought. After all, about two hours ago he looked up at me and whispered, “You’re so beautiful, you know, down there.” Now that was awful. No woman likes to hear that that fleshy, flappy, hairy, swollen, mucousy body part is her most attractive. It serves a functional purpose, not an aesthetic one.
But, all the same, the L-word ended it all. Two days later, I sit in disbelief as he lists the reasons we’re not going to make it.
“Becca, it’s not that I don’t like you. I do. But I don’t have time for this.” He fiddles with the gear shift knob, twisting its head around. Poor gear shift. I can sympathize.
“What do you mean, you don’t have time? How can you not have time? Your only job is one weekend a month for the Reserves.”
“That’s just it. I feel like I can’t focus on my duties. At this point in my life, I feel that’s really important.” Twist, twist. Around and around we go, the gear shift knob and I.
“So we’re breaking up.”
“I didn’t say that.”
I would like to shove the gear shift through his ear, but I only say, “Then what exactly are you saying?”
He looks at me earnestly, with those soft, slightly empty brown eyes that I fell for in the first place. “I’m just saying I don’t think this is working for me.”
“It’s not working because you don’t have time, or because you don’t want me to be your girlfriend?”
“I really don’t have time.”
“Okay.” I close my eyes and concentrate on not strangling him Homer Simpson-style. “What I am asking is if you still want me to be your girlfriend.”
I think he’s about to cry. While this cute, sweet, pudgy little man is sergeant of his unit, he cannot make a decision to save his life. Hopefully it doesn’t ever come down to saving his life. His catch phrase is “Well, what do you think?” If he says it now, I think I’ll vomit vociferously.
“No. I don’t want you to be my girlfriend.”
“Then we’re breaking up,” I state. That’s it, then.
“Well, no, I—”
“Ed, if you don’t want to be with me, then we’re breaking up!” I pop the gear shift knob all the way off and slam it into his hand. Ed holds it there in his palm, unsure what to do with it, and very sorry he damaged it.
He looks pretty disconsolate. “Well, okay, if that’s what you think.”
“It’s not what I think. It’s what you think.”
I get out of the car. This is my relationship life in general. It’s going great, don’t you think? We go out, we have sex, I fall in love, and he dumps me. “He” in general.
They don’t like to hear “I love you.” This is my initial conclusion. Perhaps when they hear it they feel an electric shock collar snapping around their throats, and horrible images from Barefoot in the Park race through their terrified minds. Or some similar movie, as I’m pretty certain no male who is not a prisoner has ever seen Barefoot in the Park.
The solution is to either not fall in love, or just to not tell them when I do. Thus is born the Say It Second Hypothesis. The woman must always say it second. Always. Don’t slip up and murmur “I love you” while he is sleeping. Don’t joke, don’t gush “I love you so much” when he does something cute or gives you a flower or something equally unlikely. Don’t talk about “when we’re married” or “our kids” or even “next week.”
A woman must be at all times that cool chick. I want to be that girlfriend all his buddies wish they had. No nagging, no commitment, no ultimatums, no “where are you—you’re with her?” Not anymore. I am Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. I have other offers, so you’d better behave, or I’ll get on that airplane. I swear.
The first real-world test of the Say It Second Hypothesis comes with Stu. Yes, it’s true, a guy whose foremost ambition is life is to be able to smoke pot while on the job is not the best prospect for eternal companionship, but he’s a decent test subject. Apart form the whole lives-with-his-mom thing, he’s a pretty great guy. He’s got funny, smart, and sexy. Who needs a job and a home?
The experiment is going quite well. I am the coolest girlfriend ever. I sleep over, but I leave before he wants me to. I laugh at his jokes. That’s something. His mom gets me drunk on breakfast mimosas three or four days a week, and then we go back to the bedroom to have sex before joining the Pothead Gang for a game of disc-golf. Ah, the perfect relationship.
While I try to remain an objective, scientific administrator, I am succumbed to the sheer charm of him. The Tao of Steve is no fictional phenomenon. I struggle not to eek out “I think I might someday eventually come close to falling in love with you.” This would be a huge no-no, couched in highly futuristic and ambiguous terms though it is.
I keep my cool, though, maintaining proper distance per the restrictions of the experiment. I do not say it, do not whisper it in his sleep, I do not speak of next month, though I reserve the right to feel warm and fuzzy if he happens to do so.
And success! One night, both amazingly drunk and driving home (don’t tell anyone), he asks, “So what are we going to do?”
From my position with my head between his lap and the steering wheel I say, “We’re going home. I’m sleepy.”
“No, I mean what are we going to do?”
“We’re going home.”
“What are we going to do about this?”
I try to sit up, thoroughly confused. I bonk my head on the steering wheel, sending the car whirring madly across several lanes, luckily empty ones. I give up and lie back down. “What are you talking about? I’m going to bed. You can do whatever you want.”
He struggles for a moment. Finally, it dawns on Stupid-me that he is trying to say something important, relationship-wise.
“I’m really digging you” is what he comes up with. Oh, there’s the heart flutter. Stay calm, be objective, scientific, rational person. “So what are we going to do about it?” he repeats.
What does he want me to say? Let’s run away to Vegas? Let’s call my parents, and sober your mom up, and plan an elaborate, traditional wedding with a bong for a centerpiece? Let me have your baby? “I dunno,” Brilliant-me replies. “Keep doing what we’re doing. Go home and go to bed.”
And that killed it. Never again did he say anything important, relationship-wise. Neither did I, good social scientist that I am. Until the day he calls me and says the most hated relationship sentence in relationship history.
“We have to talk.” Oh, crap. “We can do it now, or in person.”
That’s it. Finished. Over. Done. So much for the magic of marijuana. “Just do it,” I say.
At which point he pulls out every cliché he can think of. “It’s not working out. We’re just too different. We don’t have anything in common—”
“Okay. When can I come get my stuff?” I have to stop him before he gets to “it’s not you, it’s me,” and “I hope we can still be friends.” Did he spend all weekend composing this break-up? I should really tell him he has hands-down won the award for Most Unoriginal Break-up Ever. Constructive criticism.
Months later, or post I’ve-just-been-dumped-tantrum, I consider the results of this experiment. Ed, my first subject, fell in with my hypothesis quite nicely. It wasn’t nice to tell a man I loved him, and have him respond by marrying the Reserves, but my intellect is satisfied that I have a workable theory.
Stu, on the other hand, threw an unforeseen variable into the test conditions: the need of a man to be needed. Definitely not a factor I had previously considered. Imagine, they actually like to whine and moan about their significant others. They truly do desire their mothers, in a weird combination of Mom-meets-Miss February Centerfold. Strong warrior men secretly love the clinging, the nagging, the jealousy, the bitching, the moodiness, and the overall madness that is a needy female. Ugh. Ingrid Bergman would be devastated.
I should have listened to Nathan Detroit more carefully when he said, “If a guy did not have a doll, who would holler on him?” What wisdom.
Given the opportunity, I’m sure I could become that doll. I blew it, I suppose, when I did not immediately reply “I’m really digging you too, baby.” That was the beginning of the end. Forgive me, please, for not recognizing the raw emotion carried on the term “dig.” Shakespeare himself never coined a more romantic method of communicating what is felt in the heart.
So, as a general conclusion, the Say It Second Hypothesis is supported. My findings, however, indicate that the hypothesis should be amended to include modern vernacular and methods of expressing one’s feelings such as “I dig you,” “you’re so fly,” and the ever-popular “come-on-I-wanna-lay-ya.” These emotional outpourings should be immediately followed by a similar positive response. Without laughing.
We’ll see how that goes.