"I love you." "I know."
Carrie Fisher's portrayal of Princess Leia was incredibly important to me as a kid (and adult) and her exchange with Harrison Ford's Han Solo towards the end of The Empire Strikes Back has stuck with me since I saw the movie for the first of a hundred times in the early '80s. Here's the exchange.
The original script of The Empire Strikes Back had Han Solo saying "I love you too" (or, "Remember that 'cause I'll be back," depending on whom you ask), but Ford thought it was out of character and changed the line leading up to his character being frozen and shipped to become a decoration in the pleasure palace of a slug-like gangster called Jabba The Hutt. And holy mackerel has that ad-libbed line of dialogue resonated with me.
What does this mean to you about how to say I love you? It means you don't have to feel ashamed or embarrassed when you tell someone, "I love you" and that person doesn't immediately say it back.
Maybe your dude isn't about to be encased in a block of ice, a metaphor Freud would call "a little too on-the-nose," but maybe the words don't mean the same thing to him — or they mean much, much more. (I feel like referencing Gary Chapman's love languages should be a drinking game, but literally saying, "I love you" is only around 20 percent of the most meaningful ways to actually say, "I love you.")
Your job as a person in an intimate, romantic relationship (or, dang it, any other kind of intimate relationship) is to make sure the other person knows she's valued, safe and at least as interesting to you as a spontaneous mole you found while shaving.
Despite love being ethereal at best and completely fictional at worst, it's the closest linguistic approximation of the idea that you are completely appreciated.
Some relationship gurus advocate women not say "I love you" first. Their rationale being that in the time-honored tradition of male pursuit, that which is easy to "get" is less valuable or that the concept of love may scare a guy off given that it has an air of permanence and, you know, death.
Sure, saying "I love you" to a dude may cause a spike in his oxytocin, which may lead to a drop in his testosterone, which may precede an ebb in his libido, which may produce a general decrease in relationship satisfaction. (You can stop rolling your eyes now.)
Yes, there's a possibility that saying this incredibly powerful phrase may derail a good thing. But it's far more likely it'll reveal that this house of convenience is built on a foundation of meh and that sh*t ain't up to code. If the best thing you can do for a person is let them know you feel the same way about them as he does you, the next best thing is to let them know you don't feel the same way about him. But for God's sake, don't be ambivalent.
Not that it should be a roadmap for you, but as a man, I've never been the second person to say "I love you," and trust me, it's a wildly uncomfortable moment or two, waiting for a response.
As a confident, gun-toting fashion icon/secret daughter of a dangerous galactic enforcer, Princess Leia didn't seem to be cornering any other member of the Rebellion to put Han on blast for "never saying it." It was pretty obvious to her he loved her, too — and we should all be a little more like Princess Leia.
Maybe Carrie Fisher's recent revelation that a torrid love affair between then 19-year-old actress and 33-year-old Ford made saying "I love you" a little too art-imitates-life for him rather than a character choice. Either way, Leia said what she had to say and appreciated that any response to it was beyond her control: Not a bad lesson in the fearlessness you may need to make love work.