Is there any other word in the English language so fraught with ecstasy, anxiety, depression, thrill, and even hate as the L-word? And no, I don't mean "liberal." I mean the other one, the four-letter L-word: "love," as in "I love you."
Why does it feel as perilous as the nuclear button when it sits on the tip of the tongue, about to roll off into the ether? Why is it so easy to bathe our children and families in it, yet it is so hard to say to a lover?
In its pure, laboratory form, love is great. Walking through flea markets. Repainting your place together with the inevitable dab on the tip of the nose. A trip to Paris.
In real life, love comes alloyed.
Love comes with balls and chains: she wants, he wants ... something that has nothing to do with what you signed up for. And, oh, when did you ever sign up for anything?
Should the guy always say it first? What does it mean when it is said in one of those steamy moments one can't quite describe in a family blog?
What if she doesn't say anything when he says it? Does it mean it's all over?
Some people say it all the time. In one family I know, its members always take leave of one another with the words, "Bye, I love you." The farewell seems to guarantee a warm closure. If the person departing gets hit by a truck, you don't have the angst-ridden remorse of not having declared your affection: he or she knew, at the home's portal, that there was love.
Others are afraid it will lead to legal proceedings.
And what about responding to "I love you"? From my years in newsrooms, where no conversation is private, I've heard many a co-worker's side of the following phone call:
"I love you," she says.
"Me, too," he says, hoping no one realizes what everyone does.
Me, too? OK, so it's a crowded newsroom where you might not want to broadcast your affection.
But what about rewinding to Saturday night, in the wee hours. The traffic outside has died down as has your passion. You turn to her, look in her eyes and say, "I love you." Your heart is racing, a band is playing the Coronation March in your head. You are in bliss.
Then, without skipping a beat, seconds later, she says, "I love you, too." Now you've done it!
You're both in love. Flea markets, remodelling, Paris. Or is it?
Was she too quick? Why didn't she just say, "I love you" (emphasis on "you")?
Is this merely a courtesy? Maybe it's like on those mornings when your parakeet has died, your son's run off with his high school teacher, your car's just blown up in the parking lot. Then someone says, "How are ya?" You reply, "Fine."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Maybe we should say "I glove you" just to test the reaction.