When you ask someone “What does love mean?,” they are usually pretty eager to give you examples. “It means they want you to be happy,” “it means they put you first before themselves,” or “they care about your thoughts, ideas, and dreams.”
Are these statements wrong? No, they are not in its specific situations. But they are wrong if you expect it.
Someone tells you they love you, and you say “and therefore they mean they’ll always put me first.” This is wrong. I’ll give you an example.
My friend’s friend’s car failed one hour out of town, and she called her boyfriend to come pick her up. He said “no.” She didn’t think he had a good excuse. She’s very upset. She eventually figured out a way to get home. My friend is fuming on her behalf, telling me this story. “If you love someone, you’d be there for them in times of need!”
I asked, “But does it what ‘love’ means to him? Did he say or do something before that caused his girlfriend to expect him to pick her up?”
No. The answer was no. He despises driving. He hasn’t really ever been a guy to drive her places or pick her up after a party. “But she was stuck, and he wasn’t there for her in time of need!”
“She wasn’t, and she didn’t. She figured out a way home,” I responded, “Did he do or say anything before that made you believe ‘in time of need’ for him included needing a ride?”
No. I continued, “Is he a stand-up guy when she’s in a crisis?” Yes. The answer was yes. He takes days off work when his girlfriend is ill. He cancelled a day out with boys to be with her when she lost her job.
The conflict in this relationship happened because the girlfriend heard “love” and attached extra benefits to it. The guy was the same guy for the 12 months they were together. But her expectation of him changed when he said the word “love” a few months in. This is very common.
From small things to big things, like
“Now I don’t ever have to go to a party alone.”
“I have someone to share chores with.”
“If I lose my job, she’ll support me.”
They didn’t say those things. They said “I love you.” They are the exact same party-hating, chore-avoiding, financially-rigid person you have known for a while.
If you attach extra benefits to that word, you are the one creating conflicts.