We were in the middle of a fight. He’d implied I was lazy and my disability faked, I’d called him a bastard and an asshole. My face was red with rising blood and my heart pounded angrily in my chest.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too” the words came out automatically. Something inside me recoiled. I wasn’t feeling loving in that moment. I was angry and I was hurt. We’d been shouting at one another for an hour, and my repeated attempts to physically escape had been met with relentless pursuit. He followed me from room to room, enumerating my sins and repeating himself with every breath.
Months later, after making me cry by spending the better part of an afternoon demanding silence from me as he detailed everything he disliked about me, he did it again.
“I love you,” he said.
“I -” I bit my tongue, held back the treacherous words. I had told him I loved him dozens of times since the fight before, but I had meant it then. I didn’t mean it now.
That led him to accuse me of being an emotional bully, of intentionally withholding love and affection to hurt him and control him. I didn’t feel like that. I felt like hiding was safe, and I took to spending most of the day in the bathroom, playing with makeup and listening to music and pretending I didn’t live with him.
“I love you” should be a beautiful sentence. Any reciprocal “I love you too” should be freely given and genuinely felt, not reflexively offered in supplication to an angry partner. “I love you” should be meant and felt, not coerced or demanded or sulked over.
He said “I love you” and demanded I say I loved him too. At first he said “I love you” while doing loving things, and I loved to say “I love you” back. But as time went on, he grew more accustomed to me and more resentful of me. Familiarity bred contempt in both of us. As time went on, I didn’t love him. I stayed with him for a lot of reasons that seem ridiculous now. I can admit now I did not stay out of love.
It was hard to realize I didn’t love him, when I was telling him I loved him every day. He said to me, I said it back. The words replaced the action and love became something we just talked about, a lie he asked me to participate in. I feel like the sentence has been poisoned for me. It looks and sounds and feels like a trap. Like an excuse. But love should never be an excuse to treat the one you love badly, and love is never enough to erase the harm from hateful words and aggressive pursuit. “I love you” should not mean “Stop talking about how much I’m hurting you.”