Is “I Love You” Romantic or Sexual? That Depends.

What Is Love?

What Does “I Love You” Mean?

In her Washington Post article, “What does ‘I love you’ mean? It depends on where you say it and what language you speak,” Alice Robb is not really discussing what “love” means. The term is so context-dependent that it’s like discussing what “success” means.

The really interesting question is to what extent sex is embedded in firm relationships. And here, there are huge cultural differences. In much of the Muslim world, sex was usually dependent on a lasting relationship. This may be changing now. But until recently, if you as a guy had sex with a girl and then lost interest, her brothers would come after you.

Culture Determines What “I Love You” Means

In France, dating turns pretty quickly into a relationship, but people certainly have sex on the first date. So sex is somewhat detached from a relationship. In Italy, it’s pretty much the same deal (except that in Italian it’s “ti amo,” not “te amo.” If you say the latter, people will think you’re an American….)

In the U.S. and Canada, things get interesting. Here, sex is entirely unmoored from relationships. That’s the whole point of the website, Tinder. You have sex that night with someone who is a complete stranger. And women are as casual about it as men. The former gender difference between randy guys and women concerned about their “reputations” has vanished. For both men and women in hookup situations, the main concern is “Will he get it hard and keep it hard?” Relationships? Maybe that will happen or not. A bigger concern is one’s career.

Love in a Post-Tinder World

So, for post-Tinder millennials, what does “love” mean? The term sounds almost quaint, like “front porch.”

At the end of the day, “love” is a concept that comes to us from late-eighteenth Romanticism. Rousseau fell in love. Everybody’s breast beat with passion.

Earlier, peasants didn’t have romantic love. For them, property arrangements were much more important than feelings. In the peasant world, there were proverbs about not marrying pretty women (because they couldn’t survive the regimen of field work).

Unmarried people today shy away from love, as they shy away from Romanticism. So is love romantic or sexual? That depends on the culture. It’s all context…context…and context.

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