When you first say it, your stomach tightens and you can feel the blood pounding in your ears. It’s early-ish in the relationship, usually, and it’s been building until this moment, and you wonder if you’ll say it first or he will and whether he’s feeling the same thing and do you mean it.

So you say it. Or he does. I can’t remember at this point. One of us said it and the other said it back and it was sheer relief, like ocean waves rolling over the sand.

 

And then we were secure in the knowledge that this something was really something and we were in it together and it was probably growing deeper and longer and lasting. When you’ve been burned in love before, you don’t want to dip your toe in the water again unless it’s fairly certain that you won’t be pulled out to sea and die.

Yes, it’s a harsh metaphor, but you know what I’m talking about.

 

That was several years ago for us. Once we said, we said it a lot. For the sheer novelty of saying it and of hearing it being said back. For the warmth it brought, like the swirl of a whiskey shot on a dark night. For the security blanket that is love, to know that you are loved in this world and important to someone and that your absence would be deeply felt, at least by this one person.

Once you’re married, you don’t say it nearly as often. Perhaps it’s understood by now. No need to say it; we just know.

Or maybe we fall into that routine of life and it doesn’t feel so fluttery and new and exciting to say I love you. Or perhaps it’s so casual at this point that the flutter has faded, that when we leave for work in the morning and he kisses me through the open car window, my foot on the brake, we call out “Love you!” so casually it’s like have a good day.

We mean it, of course, but it’s just so self-evident.

So the question is: is it the same love?

Is it deeper by now because we’re in this together or because we know each other better or because we are more comfortable? Does it no longer occur to the long-married that I love you is a pretty big deal? That to find a person you want to love, who actually wants to love you back, over and over again, is really, very huge?

Have we forgotten the magnitude of those three words? Do we take them for granted?

This all occurs to me now after a weekend alone with my beloved and the realization that I really do love him. That just given time alone, we rediscover the special and the exciting and the nice about our being together.

And after the movie last night, when we drove home secure in our relationship, unlike the couple in the movie, who went awry because in mid-life, nothing is certain and everyone is jaded, it occurred to me that we don’t say I love you nearly as often as we used to.

So Dan says, “Maybe relationships are like sharks, they always have to be moving or they die. Moving forward, moving sideways, just moving in some direction.”

I know this is how so many relationships feel because the act of conquering, of overcoming the newness to get to the forever is a one-time phase and once passed, it becomes a distant memory that we sort of think happened to someone else.

When you’re in it, it’s everything.

When you’re past it and so far from the first I love you, it doesn’t occur anymore how big of a deal it really was.

And is.

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