I Love You But I'm Not In Love With You

There are many hazards that plague the average undergraduate.  The high cost of chinese food.  Caffeine addiction.  HPV. There is one though that is seldom recognized, but still ever-present and irritating: psychology majors.  They're easy to make friends with initially.  They seem intelligent and well-read, and are in general excellent conversationalists.  You bond with them quickly; words flow freely, then opinions, then secrets.  They then reward your confessions with opinions on your secrets in true amateur-analyst fashion. And it's about then that you lose all desire for conversation.

The worst of these was Brian*, a co-worker at the family-friendly restaurant that I worked at throughout my last two years of college.  He wasn't even an actual psychology major, but had taken Intro to Psychology the previous semester and fancied himself a therapist in the same way my neighbor fancies himself a DJ and I fancied myself a graphic designer in high school.  He was right in the middle of a love-affair with Freud, and during the slow lag between lunch and dinner rush he would unload a string of questions on the staff, making us all his de-facto patients.  On one occasion, it was the day after a relationship of mine had ended, and he annoyingly-accurately surmised that it was probably my emotional neediness that had caused the breakup. I told him to go fuck himself.  He was a little lacking in bedside manner.

It may not need to be said, but he was sexy as hell.  Born in China-mainland, raised in Poughkeepsie, he had a deep voice, loved soul music and worked the uniform black Dickies and pastel polo shirt like no other employee in the restaurant. I was entirely attracted to him, and as a result completely despised him.  The only times I didn't have disdain for him was when he offered evidence from his own experiences into his prognoses; when he let himself slip from self-satisfied arrogance to slight self-deprecation.

"Have you ever been in love?" he asked on one particularly slow day.  I like to have a catalogue of stock answers for certain questions; those loaded questions that, unless thought out in advance, tend to make the person answering offer up a pathetic half-answer, inarticulate and rarely eloquent. What kind of music do you like? ("You know...stuff, all kind of things really. I like rock, but am into alternative too I guess. I'll basically listen to anything as long as it's good" turns into "I like a variety of genres, I've been really into indie-rock and dance-electro lately, but am always up for listening to anything from jazz to classical to post-hardcore.") So what do you want to do when you graduate? ("Well, I'm studying journalism and music, so something to do with that. I'd like to travel, or work for a magazine maybe. I don't know, I might go to law school" turns into "I'd like to go into either music journalism or publicity writing, and am considering law school.")  I came up with an answer for this particular question a few years back, when a potential love interest sprung it on me one day, although in a different variation. ("How many times have you been in love," he asked, just assuming that I had, and that it had been on multiple occasions.)

"I'm not sure if I've ever been in love, which I'm assuming means I haven't been." It's clever, telling, and to the point. It's another way of saying, in short, no.  But if the person is listening closely, it says more. It says that there have been times that I've though I've been in love, but that those times didn't last, that I outgrew them. It says that I don't really know what it means to be in love. It also has the slightest sense of bitterness, which would be accurate.

He jumps to respond. "Me neither," he says. "I can't imagine being that intimate, letting myself getting that involved." I could tell that he also had prepared his answer, and probably only asked so that he could give his response.  I've been guilty of that many times. (How do you feel about relationships? What do you think about this class? How was work today?) His answer was telling too.  For him, love was about vulnerability, about giving in, almost to the point of failure.  Thinking in the same vein as another friend of mine who would be content to exist in a lifetime-long relationship without saying the words "I love you" if it meant she didn't have to say it first, he thinks of falling in love as losing.  I would say this is a gendered idea, but the three-word-phobic friend is female, and I'm almost as equally guarded.

I may have never been in love, but I've thought that I have been.  When I was fourteen, being in love meant wanting to spend all my time with one person.  At sixteen, it meant wanting to make sure the person I loved was always happy, and never felt pain.  Four years later I think love might have something to do with giving up everything for one person, about sacrifice.  The negative aspects of love seem to become more prevalent the more I encounter it, and the more times I think I have fallen in love.  At some point love transitioned from something light and pretty to something heavy, and hurtful, a game with winners and losers, or no winner at all.  As long as I think of love as something where I have to give some part of myself away, I'll always have a hesitation towards it.  The problem is making that shift, of ignoring past experiences to think of love as something that can do more good than harm.

I think about Brian, and wonder how many hours he has spent wondering why he is terrified of intimacy.  Whether he analyzes himself to death, going over conversations, thinking of different outcomes for potential situations the way I do when I'm in a relationship.  I wonder if there was some deeper reason why he would ask me about love, or if he just thought of me as a fellow fuck-up to gather some insight from.  He may not realize it, but by asking me that question, he made a mini-confession of his own, and opened himself up to my own personal diagnosis.

It seems whatever curiosity psychology majors have is contagious.

*Name changed to protect the irritating and emotionally unavailable