Question: I was intrigued by an older Non-Expert column, “Does She Love You?” Out of similar curiosity I have to ask, how do I know if a boy loves me or not?—Danielle
Answer: If the third time you have sex you’re both really drunk and as he’s finishing he squeaks out a pathetic “I love you”—and afterward, lounging casually on your futon, he tries to pass it off as something else, something like, “I love YouTube,” or “I’ll off Uri Geller one of these days, I swear, just as soon as I figure out how he bends those spoons,” then a) It’s a little early, and maybe a little creepy, but he actually does love you; b) He mistook you for his ex-girlfriend; or c) He mistook you for Natalie Portman.
If you’re Natalie Portman, he loves you. Although, Natalie, darling? Not as much as I do. Please email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the first time he meets your parents he talks for the entire dinner in that weird, overly enunciated, slightly high-pitched voice he uses for phone interviews for jobs he never gets—what you assume he thinks sounds polite but just comes across as effete and pitiful, and also somehow British—and when it’s time for good-byes outside the restaurant he hugs your mom a little too long and shakes your dad’s hand a little too vigourously and thanks them—again—for “the splendid meal,” smiling, smiling, and then as your folks drive away in a flash the gaiety sags into total, annihilated exhaustion—he loves you, the poor guy. Parents are hard!
If he stops making you mix CDs and starts loading your iPod with albums he clearly just wants for himself—”to share, baby!”—he loves you. Seriously, the new Stars of the Lid is pretty much a pop record! Don’t delete it! Give the sonic textures a chance!
If he bugs you and bugs you and bugs you to go out one night, pick up a random girl in a bar, and bring her home for a threesome, and then finally, as a test, one Tuesday evening over take-out Chinese you casually mention that you’ve been thinking about it and, sure, why not—and his expression twists into sudden, sheer terror at the prospect of the two of you desperately begging strangers to come back to your apartment, never mind the humiliation and shame—and potential exclusion—that would occur if you got one another’s clothes off, so when you say, “Well, what do you think?” he hums and haws for a bit before finally sputtering, “Ha, you know, yeah, of course, totally, but, maybe, uh, we should, uh, think about it, ha, some more, yeah?”—he, uh, yeah, loves you.
If he has a nickname for you inspired by your gastrointestinal troubles that he never, ever uses in front of anyone else—he loves you.
If just as you’re feeling desperate to flee his awful work party full of business card-wielding guys in architect glasses and girls tottering around on stilettos with blow-moustaches, he’s there with your coat, a stolen bottle of $50 organic white truffle shampoo hidden up his sleeve, and on the way out he farts beside his boss, who earlier had offered to “show you the Jacuzzi”—he loves you.
If on Valentine’s Day he’s out of the country but he paints a life-sized, full-body self-portrait that he has delivered to your door, and there’s a heart on the chest with a little sign that says, “Touch Me,” which then plays a tape of him singing a song about you that he wrote—he loves you. Now check this out: My buddy Jason actually did this. I kid you the fuck not. But before we start handing the guy Lover of the Year awards, let’s take a step back. If you ask me, this is exactly the sort of asshole move that ruins the comedy goldmine of ironic Valentine’s Day gifts for the rest of us. A few more guys like Jason, all “creative” and “premeditated” and “earnest,” and suddenly a used VHS copy of Mrs. Doubtfire and a half-empty box of Lifestyles become a transparent, eleventh-hour Hail Mary, rather than a hilarious and poignant commentary on the traps of consumerism and the true meaning of love, which is—what? Something to do with trust, I think. Or communication? Yeah, that’s it: trust and communication. Sorry, what was the question?
If when his mother calls he looks you in the eyes through the whole conversation, which obviously comprises her asking questions about you and him answering with vagaries like “Yeah, great,” and “For sure, really good,” and when he hangs up he doesn’t say anything, just sits there grinning like a total fucking idiot—he’s sort of a pathetic momma’s boy, but so was Biggie, and, whatever, he loves you.
If you have to set two alarms at night, one for the morning wake-up and one that marks the hour that the two of you absolutely have to stop talking and let each other sleep—he loves you.
If he fights a duel for your honor and wins—he loves you.
If he fights a duel for your honor and loses—hmm… What’s the other guy’s deal?
If when you die he dedicates two decades, his entire empirical fortune, and the muscle-power of over 1000 elephants to a construct an awe-inspiring mausoleum of pure white marble on the banks of an Indian river—he loves you. If 350 years later his descendents are actually able to keep the bathrooms clean, the German tourists will love you, too.
If one night you’re out with his friends and he goes on an extended, impassioned rant to defend the music of Sarah McLachlan—shit, I can’t get down with this one. Dude needs to spend a little less time building a mystery and join a boxing club or something.
If you start to get frustrated by how he quotes lines from music, movies, and books as proxies for his own emotions—man, this is just what we do! As Oasis have explained to wonderwalls of the L.L.Bean and soccer hooligan sets alike, “There are many things that [he] would like to say to you, but [he] don’t know how.” One of those things could be that he loves you, sure. Another, of course, could be that when you’re at work he puts on your underwear and twirls around the apartment whistling “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.”
In this spirit, sort of, if you read him the following bit from Brian Moore’s great novel, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, and there’s a spark of recognition or even something like exhilaration flickers across his face—he loves you, and he could very well continue to love you for a long, long time. Yes, it’s a test:
Love isn’t an act, it’s a whole life. It’s staying with her now because she needs you; it’s knowing you and she will still care about each other when sex and daydreams, fights and futures—when all that’s on the shelf and done with. Love—why, I’ll tell you what love is: it’s you at seventy-five and her at seventy-one, each of you listening for the other’s step in the next room, each afraid that a sudden silence, a sudden cry, could mean a lifetime’s talk is over.