Psst and other Lies
Tina and I used to tell each other “I love you” so often that people who spent too much time around us might have been at risk for diabetes. Over time, we developed our own secret shorthand for it. I believe it began with Tina saying “pssst” to get my attention and when I responded, she just whispered “I love you.” She did this often, randomly, when we were walking hand-in hand, riding in my van, or just sitting on the futon. I was always delighted to hear it and said it back. Over time, I would also get her attention with “psst” and we both knew what would follow, so we’d try to beat each other to saying it and eventually, “pssst” evolved to be all that needed saying. She’d just say “pssst” and I’d “pssssssst” back (with the extra esses for emphasis).
The problem with adopting something so common as code for our love was that after it was all over, reminders were everywhere. “Pssst” is used pretty damn often in our culture. Oops.
There were other times when Tina would do or say something sweet and my response would be a meaningfully spoken “I love you,” sans the “pssst.” Her standard reply was “I love you more.” That could turn into a competition, each of us (playfully) trying to one-up the other’s love. Honestly, I was pretty certain I loved her more, but she always ended the debate when she’d say, “you don’t even know.”
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I knew my feelings for Tina were profound and I figured if she felt even a quarter as strongly about me as I did for her, I was a lucky man. “I think I have some idea,” I’d say, but let her have her way that she loved me more.
Love bombing is common to people with narcissistic personality disorders, but it isn’t genuine in a way healthier people would understand love. It’s part of the psychological trap that leads to addiction or trauma bonding. Though it’s primarily a manipulation tactic, I do believe that on occasion, Tina meant it when she said she loved me, but her conception of love was very different than mine. Hers was probably an immature, transient joy she’d feel when I was providing something that made her happy in the moment. It wasn’t a persistent, enduring, compassionate or emotionally mature love.
Sometimes the game was “I love you more than…” We’d name off our favorite things in another bid to one-up that Tina seemed determined to win.
“I love you more than giant agates and tofu soup,” she said.
“I love you more than pizza and Star Wars,” I answered.
Tina said she’d told her mom that I was the only man she could marry. “If it isn’t Dan, it’s no one,” she said. She told me that she didn’t care if we had to live in a cardboard box as long as we could be together.
“I think we can manage a bit better than a cardboard box,” I told her, but I appreciated the sentiment.
Tina said before meeting me, she’d resigned herself to single life. She gave up ideas of commitment, marriage and family long ago. “You’re everything I never wanted,” she said. She meant it as a compliment since I’d ostensibly changed her mind.
There were times that the love talk took strange turns. Often, while we were making love, she’d say things like “I’m yours,” which would have been a romantic thing to say, but then she’d follow it up with something I thought went without saying, like, “I’m only yours,” and something about the way she said it seemed like she’d only just decided in that moment even though it was a refrain. Then, there was the time she said, “How do you do it? Are you trying to fuck the Doug out of me?” but that’s a whole other story.
I often told Tina she was beautiful. When I’d catch a certain look in her eye, notice the way she was looking at me, see her in an alluring state of undress or see the outfit she was wearing to go out with me. She usually responded the same way. “I believe it when you say it.”
Who else was saying it (well, Doug, for one, I learned) and why didn’t she believe them?
She certainly should have believed me because I meant it. To me, at the time, she was the most beautiful woman in creation. She actually gave meaning to Sinatra singing “I only have eyes for you.” While I could still objectively tell other women might be attractive, I experienced no attraction to anyone but Tina.
Tina mostly said things I wanted to hear. She mostly knew what to say to be convincing, but sometimes, she left me scratching my head in confusion or worse, with cognitive dissonance. Sometimes I imagine, she just slipped up, since she wasn’t really speaking from the heart and was only guessing at the “right” things to say – the things healthy, sincere people might say. Other times, she might have been deliberately triangulating to keep me uneasy.
Tina made it clear early and often that she didn’t like surrogate pronouns like babe and baby in particular and I was with her. “Those are things people who can’t remember each others’ names call each other,” I commented.
“Exactly,” she assented.
She didn’t care for honey, darling or sweetheart, either, but I had taken to calling her sweetheart or sweetie (never in bed), because I genuinely thought she was a sweet person. She permitted that. “I don’t mind it when you say it,” she said.
Who else is saying it?
I never asked, but while she was pledging love and fidelity, it turned out that she was more like Rocko’s girlfriend from the Boondock Saints: “I can’t buy a pack of smokes without running into nine guys you fucked!”