American relationships are plagued with false dichotomies that ultimately prove to be detrimental to the common well-being of a couple all because of a shortcoming of our language and a lack of more specific, romantic terminology.
The explicit false dichotomy lies in the case of:
Like vs. Love.
When we begin to know a person better, further along the initial attraction that lead us to decide to be with that person, we reach a moment in which we corner ourselves to flip a coin – when we really should be throwing dice. Actually, the game board analogy ends there, but it serves to prove how limited we see our moves/options as we trudge in a relationship’s progression. It can be more gradual than we tend to believe. More than gradual, it can be more honest, and less misleading – both to ourselves and our partners.
If the way we feel about a particular person is clearly beyond “I like this person a lot”, then we assume that we love them. Our hearts are either on or off, like a light bulb – but we seldom consider a dimmer switch in the metaphor.
It is not crucial to read all ten books of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics to grasp the concept of the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean dictates that we need to find a middle ground between any two extremes of a particular subject to reach eudemonia, or happiness. Not a happiness based on joy or pleasure, but happiness as a human flourishing.
But the question is: Are we culturally dammed to reject a middle ground?
Religious scriptures denote how you are either With God or against God. There is no acceptable half-assed commitment. We don’t even need to go that far into touchy subjects in order accept how our country views neutrality in conflict. We are taught to reject ideologies that leave room for a gray area. You’re in this war, or you’re out – no bystanders allowed. What’s so wrong with being Sweden? Why are we anxious about the idea of a middle ground?
In the Spanish vocabulary there is a romantic term for this middle ground. Right between ‘Me gustas’ (I like you) and ‘Te Amo’ (I love you), we have – Te Quiero. I imagine this term gets lost in translation since literally “te quiero” means I Want You. But the concept of “Te Quiero” is not a term completely implicated in a physical connotation. It’s not even a sexual reference. Te Quiero is in fact a romantic manifestation under the umbrella of love, sans the heavy expectations/stipulations of Te Amo. Te quiero is a pay-as-you-go cellphone plan.
Te Quiero is not a variation on the concept of puppy love. Te Quiero still has serious repercussions and responsibilities – and it is a genuine feeling you do not deny even as you get older. Puppy love has a stigma; a certain shame that has to be outgrown and we associate with inexperience – a naïve perception of romance.
Te Quiero is more than a loophole that serves as a type of insurance against hell breaking loose on our ass when we find out we don’t love someone. It’s not just a way of breaking the lease early. It is an honest and legitimate emotion, filled with its own appropriate eccentricities and complexities. It is just equidistant between Like and Love, and the lines between those three, should vary from person to person.
The closest thing we have to Te Quiero is the old “I Love you, but I’m not IN LOVE with you” – but this always gets played out as a backpedaling effort when doing damage control. The fine print in a nearly posthumous disclosure within a discourse - where the falling apart of unreciprocated love is already self-evident. In other words, no one ever takes this phrase gracefully. It’s always a “BUT” in the conversation - and the person who is being informed of this overlooked technicality is almost always in shock or disbelief.
Te Quiero is a celebrated emotion, not a way to let someone down easily. Te Quiero gets songs written about it. Te Quiero in inscribed in birthday cards, not apology letters. Te Quiero is shouted from rooftops. Te Quiero is real. We need to develop an English version of Te Quiero so our love lives aren’t forever doomed to self-implode before we let them flourish or wilt naturally.