To Say I Love You One First Must Be Able to Say . . .

“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I’.”
– Ayn Rand

To really be able to say “I Love you” and mean it, a person first has to not only be able to say the I, but have an I with which to say it—an I, an organized, integrated I, or solid self (a solid and integrated sense of one’s self and one’s limits, possibilities, standards, tolerances, moral compass, et cetera) that revolves itself around a set of sound life principles and ideals. This has to be in place before one can say and mean “I love you” with any stability, constancy, and soul force. Without a solid I, without enough solid self, the “love” we claim to have for another is meaningless—it’s just emotional, feelings; emotionally reactive discharge. It really means nothing; it’s just a reaction. And the person saying it is just a falling leaf, a plaything of circumstance, a wild and wacky reflex of the world. In other words, basically just an ode to Skinnerism and behaviorism—a zero and an empty box—nothing important or essential or solid going on between the ears.

The way to begin building a solid I is to begin a real relationship with one’s mortality.

“It is only in the face of death that a person’s self is born.”
– St. Augustine.

But which self?  Our true self?  Or our false self?  

We each have two selfs in life, or we’re supposed to—we’re supposed to get a second self.

The first self we each have (to a greater or lesser extent) is born in the face of our fear of life and death and everything that is overwhelming and that threatens to be too much for us—thus this self is a self that tends to be dishonest, lacking humility, is into talking big and talking tough, but still ultimately runs, hides, avoids, spins out, is uncourageous, cowardly, in it for only itself. This is our false self, what is often referred to as the “ego,” and its maintenance and creation consumes for most of us the better part of the first half of our lives—if not much longer for some (many?) of us.

Our second self—our real or true self—the one that can actually love another human being—is the one that begins being born and taking shape and root the moment we stop running away from life and death and instead begin facing our fears—including most of all our own mortality. It is what can be referred to as our “soul” or “authentic self”—it is what is best in us, and what in us that transcends the ego.

This self is born in the ongoing honest confrontation with death, with our own and other’s mortality. That honest confrontation—facing our own and others’ mortality—and acceptance of our own cosmic smallness is what changes everything for us.

It makes us (helps make us) into more genuinely honest and truly decent human beings; it allows us to let go of so much of the cursed pettiness and to be more fully ourselves because it allows us (forces us) to finally face (confront) ourselves and come clean about ourselves.  No longer do we wander through life looking to others and asking of them “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, tell me that I’m the fairest of them all.”  No longer do we try to procure our sense of self by deceiving others with ourselves and trying to get them to speak well of us—no longer do we go for indirect or roundabout self-acceptance, no longer are we like those lost souls in Sartre’s play “No Exit“—instead turn our gaze on ourself and see ourself honestly, with no buffers and softeners—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In Covey’s wonderful book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”—the confrontation with our own mortality is known as “Beginning with the End in Mind.” One of the exercises he recommends is writing our own obituary.  I think that’s too facile—most of us have layer upon layer of neuroses and self-deception built up and practiced, and so we need to develop an ongoing relationship with our own mortality.  But writing out our own obituary or imagining our own funeral and what others might say about us is a good place to start.

Because “beginning with the end in mind” allows us to start prioritizing our lives in a wiser way, to put first things first, to even draft a sort of personal mission statement (think Jerry Maguire, but on a more personal and not professional level)

“The confrontation with death—and reprieve from it—makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful and I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it, to embrace it, and to let myself be overwhelmed by it. . . . Death, and its ever-present possibility makes love, passionate love, more possible. I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we’d never die.” – Abraham Maslow, written from his hospital bed while recuperating from a heart attack

From the motion picture “The Kingdom”—

FBI Director James Grace: “You know, Westmoreland made all of us officers write our own obituaries during Tet, when we thought The Cong were gonna end it all right there. And, once we clued into the fact that life is finite, the thought of losing it didn’t scare us anymore. The end comes no matter what, the only thing that matters is how do you want go out: on your feet or on your knees?”

Beginning with the end in mind allows us to start discerning and prioritizing what’s really going to be important to us ultimately in the end, and then to start making those things a priority in our life now, while there’s still time—that’s the essence of putting first things first, of picking our battles, of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Because if we do so, we will likely be living a life with much less to regret at the end—and one where we wont have to play a lot of mind games with ourselves now and deceive ourselves now about not feeling regret when we actually are and ought to be feeling a lot of regret.

“Pendulum” – a private poem of my own, written about 15 yrs ago

Swing forward
To the end of your life
And dangle there
For a moment

And carry back with you
All your hopes and fears

And apply them now
To your existence

For soon enough
Will coalesce into fact

And the way that you have lived
Is the way that you will die.

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Death, Denial, Emotional Maturity, Intimate Relationships, Real Love, Saint Augustine, Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to To Say I Love You One First Must Be Able to Say . . .

  1. slklesko says:

    That poem is so powerful, John.

  2. I really liked this post and your commment. I recall a very wise person once said that exact thing to me “people die how they live”…she said this in response to my stress over an isolated dying person I was visiting as a volunteer; she was rightfully saying that what I was offering was enough and that I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to fill the gap that was the result of the way she had chosen to live. Lovely work.

    • John says:

      And if people truly do die how they live (basically “karma” — reaping what you sow: what goes around comes around), and you were willing to extend yourself that much for a stranger, then good on you — and good on you tenfold –for that. It wasn’t just about the dying person, it wasn’t just about you, it was about you both: and certainly you were treating her — another human being — the way you would want to be treated. You were sowing tremendous compassion with your visits. Everyone of us has to play out that scene, or some other dying scene. And knowing that should humanize us and make us even more compassionate and understanding and deep — it should give us tremendous perspective. But so much of what we do in our daily lives — what we pursue, how we relate to others — numbs and deadens us to this: we live in denial. That that “wise” person said that that person you were visiting was dying as she lived, seems a bit hardhearted and in denial — I’m not sure I can envision the Dalai Lama or Buddha or Pema Chodron or Thich Nhat Hahn saying something like that, or invoking that phrase in that way (a true yet nonetheless an errant way, in my opinion). For my part, I would much rather live in a society where more people acted compassionately and warmly and generously to dying people instead of somewhat cold and aloof and “they’re just dying as they lived; if they’re dying badly it’s their own damned fault; they shoulda lived better, more kindly.” I much prefer Sister Helen Prajean’s approach in “Dead Man Walking.” What do you think? How would you want to be treated in the end if you were alone and had outlived all your friends and family? Certainly it’s an incentive to start living that way now and living more kindly and warmly and compassionately and generously; but if we don’t (for whatever reason — perhaps a brutal upbringing/childhood and adolescense) I would still prefer to live in a world with a bit more mercy than perhaps we deserve or are owed. It’s all about the type of world we want to create and encourage and leave behind…. one focused more on justice or mercy, just desserts or compassion and understanding and forgiveness.


      And thank you for reading and for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments!

      Kindest regards,


  3. I probably didn’t put it well John. The person who said that was a practising Buddhist and was running the volunteer program for volunteers visiting the dying. What she was trying to do was to reduce my stress. I was feeling overwhelmed by her situation and was feeling like I needed to put in more time than I had to give (given I had my own large family).She wasn’t actually being judgemental, she was helping me set boundaries….I had to leave her, I couldn’t be there 24/7 and I couldn’t overcome the facts of her life which had lead her to be in that place, as she died. All I could offer was the time I had and that was all she meant by her wisdom. At no point was she using it as a judgment on the woman, only as a helping guide for me to feel less upset when I left the woman to return to my other comittments. Anyone working in the helping professions needs to maintain strong and respectful boundaries. Thanks Leanne

  4. janeadamsart says:

    John, that is a beautiful poem, the pendulum, to savour and find for myself.
    Interesting discussion with mindfulness4now, and clarifying of boundaries. An essential boundary is the firm “I” which roots love, including the insight of my present parameters and limitations. The I which loves, is reality based, and practical. At the same time, each soul is a continent mostly unseen; we engage and grapple with each others’ coastlines… (coastal patterns).
    There is a silence – or aloneness – in the soul at death, or in pain, or crisis, which a companion cannot penetrate but can respect. Respecting the “unknown” about each other, its history and its unfolding … is not verbal, but it is contact. The vast providential pattern arranges our commitments. Often the dying must walk alone some of the way.
    Guilt at not being 100% available is a major distraction! – as it removes from the beloved and back onto the fantasy-conditioned ‘me’. We do and are what we can be.
    Commitment: compassion: be true: attending now.
    Love, and the learning of self love likewise, is in touch – – “keep practicing”. (i.e. my own situation: what is given.)
    Hm … some thought or feeling stirs here, which dissolves as it forms!

    • John says:

      Thank you, Jane, for reading and for sharing so many of your thoughts. They were wonderful to read and are much appreciated! 🙂 I appreciated the beauty of your phrasing of “coastlines”–reminded me of Rilke. Well put. And the notion of an impenetrable aloneness resonates with what Fromm and Rilke and Peck and others have written. And thank you very much for the kinds words about my poem–again, I am very appreciative.

      Warmest regards, Jane, and thank you for reading and commenting,


  5. Pingback: Love & Our Two Selves | What Is Real True Love?

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