My friend Greta showed up at my door late last night, full of liquor and remorse.
'I've just done a terrible thing,' she managed to slur before collapsing face first on the floor.
While I waited for her to regain consciousness, I poured myself a cup of cocoa and speculated on what stupid thing she had done now.
'I wonder if it had anything to do with a piñata?' I asked myself, remembering that Greta had attended her nephew's birthday party earlier that day. Last year, Greta had the bright idea of bringing a piñata to the party. The result was predictably disastrous. You don't blindfold a roomful of 8-year-olds, hand them baseball bats, and yell 'Candy!' and expect anything good to come of it. Within five minutes, every kid was sprawled on the floor-nursing head wounds and broken limbs, weeping uncontrollably, and calling out for their mothers-while the piñata remained twisting gently from the ceiling, completely unscathed.
After about an hour of drooling into my Persian rug, Greta finally woke up and reached for my cocoa.
'I'm such an idiot,' she moaned, burying her face in the mug. 'I told her that I love her.' The 'her' in question was a woman Greta had been dating for a few weeks.
I shook my head sadly and sank onto the floor next to her. 'Why did you have to open that can of worms?' I asked. As far as I'm concerned, telling someone 'I love you' should be reserved exclusively for deathbed confessions and as a tactic to get your mother off the phone.
'Well, we were having a romantic dinner and there were candles and whatnot,' she said with a miserable shrug. 'It just seemed like the thing to say at the time.'
'How did she respond?' I asked.
'She looked at me blankly for several minutes and then she said, 'This chicken is undercooked,'' Greta said.
In most cases, when people say 'I love you,' what they really mean is 'I want you to love me' or 'I want to sleep with you' or 'I need someone to take care of my cats when I'm on vacation.' The last time I was tempted to tell a woman I loved her, I examined my feelings and realized that what I really wanted to say was: 'I want to have sex with you until I grow bored with you. And then I want you to go home.' And, sure, she slapped my face and called me a nasty word that starts with 'ass' and ends with 'hole,' but at least she didn't move in with me.
Being the first person in a relationship to say 'I love you' is almost always a mistake. About the best you can hope for is that she responds 'I love you, too,' just to fill the awkward silence that inevitably follows your bold declaration of neediness and insecurity.
Saying 'I love you' without being sure that the person loves you back is akin to putting a blindfold on your emotions and then handing them baseball bats to swing around the room. You wind up in a heap on the floor, crying out in pain and despair, while the object of your desire swings out of your reach, blithely unscathed.