(Baby don’t hurt me, no more. There I did the song thing, now I can get it out of my head.)
For me, it depends on the context of that question. I may have a million reasons to love someone in a given moment: the gift they’ve given me, the conversation we’ve had, great sex, emotional bonding moments, amazing cuddling, that look in their eye or in their smile, something that reminds me of a moment we’ve had together that was meaningful to me, etc. But I do try to be careful about saying it for the first time to someone, because it has baggage in our culture.
The love threshold for me is this: Do I want to take on the challenges that come up in the context of our relationship? Do I have space (or can/do I want to make space) for those challenges in my heart? And when I know for certain that the answers to both those questions in unequivocally and enthusiastically “yes”, then I know I’m ready to say that to them.
The great thing about this? It applies equally well for platonic, sexual, romantic, intellectual, and familial love.
I’ve heard arguments that you can’t really know you love a person until you have a fight with them. Which I think is far too specific. I think that simply any challenge that causes an emotional reaction, whether that be annoyance, anger, or sadness, will do just fine (and possibly other emotions as well – I haven’t dived very deeply into that, so I don’t want to speak without knowledge). Moss and I were talking a bit ago, before I had the chance to think about this all, and I mentioned that we’ve never had a fight (which we still haven’t) and how some people use that as a gauge of whether you’re in love. His response was that we’ve had a lot of hard discussions, which is definitely very true. Do I love him? Without a doubt.
When I tell someone I love them, I am telling them that I agree, in that moment, to take on whatever challenges may come and that I will tell them if I don’t think I can, whether that be just for a specific instance, or as a general statement. And this is actually what I ask myself each day – do I think I can take on the challenges for each of my relationships, no matter what comes? And if I don’t have the tools to deal with them in the moment that they come up in, can/will I seek them from within myself, a friend, a partner, or my therapist? And can I honestly admit to myself and to the other person when a challenge is beyond what I can handle, without making it seem like they have any obligation to handle it for me?
This also explains for me why my love for Minx exists in the present tense. The challenge that came and comes for me is/was dealing with her death. That was the final challenge in our relationship. And it took me a long time to realize that I did not have the tools to deal with it, but a therapist and pharmacology might. So I sought those out. And that, combined with a supportive network of friends and the love of Trydaen, is how I got where I am today. Every day I wake up and I try to face the challenge of grief and depression that came with that sudden end. And, 99 times out of 100, I am successful on my own. The rest of the time, I ask for help.
So, to my partners, to my chosen family, to my close friends, and to at least the immediate members of my family of origin – I love you.
(But that song is still stuck in my head. Curses)