Tell me that you love me

Two very different occurrences from my experience.

The Fillmore plea. From the late 1960s, Chuck (Charles J.) Fillmore, tapped (as senior member of the linguistics department at Ohio State) to serve as acting chair of the department while Ilse Lehiste was on leave, hesitantly addressing the first faculty meeting of the year (I was one of those faculty):

(CJF) I can do this job if you all tell me, often, that you love me.

The Transue plea. From ca. 1990, my guy — my husband-equivalent — Jacques Transue, with some visible anxiety, pulling me aside for a moment of serious couple-talk, holding my hand, gazing into my eyes:

(JHT) I need you to tell me more often that you love me.

Two clearly different senses of the verb love (but both, of course, capable of different shadings in different contexts).

An approximation: the NOAD entry for the verb love:

[with object] 1 [a] feel deep affection for (someone): he loved his sister dearly | there were four memorial pages set up by her friends in honor of Phoebe, saying how much they loved and missed her. [b] feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone): she really loved him | I do realize that people get married because they love each other. 2 like or enjoy very much: I just love dancing | I’d love a cup of tea | I love this job | [with infinitive]:  they love to play golf.

These three senses correspond very crudely to three types of love in the ancient Greek configuration of these things:

1a to philia ‘friendship’

1b to eros ‘desire, sensual love’, frequently mixed with or extended to include the emotional attachments of romantic love (the combination of feelings at issue in (JHT), though intimate relationships often include also deep friendship, playful enjoyment of one another, and respect and admiration as well, as J’s and mine did)

and 2 to ludus ‘enjoyment, playful love’

There is another distinguishable sense, not in NOAD but important here because it’s the one in (CJF), and it’s attested in other circumstances as well:

[3] respect, admiration, honor: This respect shown by a boss will lead to a mutual love and respect from the team (link)

Sense [3]. In (CJF). From my 10/01/21 posting “Lila Gleitman”, about Chuck Fillmore: “administrative responsibilities made him anxious and miserable”. So much so that at that first faculty meeting he hoped to smooth the way in the coming academic year by appealing to our (genuine) personal respect and admiration for him.

I had tremendous sympathy for him. For one thing, I was only a few years away from my own grievously difficult year as acting head of a linguistics department (bizarrely, a position assumed just a year after I finished my PhD and took up my first academic position, at the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign — a story for another time); for another, I realized that when Chuck left at the end of his acting chairmanship and moved west to Berkeley, I would become the senior member of the department, called on in emergencies to act as chair myself (as indeed I was, several times).

Chuck’s year was not in fact an easy one, with plenty of disruptions and administrative conundrums that were painful for him.

Then sense [3] plays a central role in a famous misremembered quotation, from Sally Field in 1985. The version that’s been all the way through the quotation-improvement mill is this one, from a meme site:

(#1) What lots of people remember

But, from a Vanity Fair piece “The Everlasting Audacity of Sally Field’s “You Like Me” Oscars Speech” by Ashley Spencer on 1/31/20:

Sally Field never actually said, “You like me! You really like me!” [AZ: much less “You love me! You really love me!”]

(#2) Field giving her acceptance speech, unadorned by text

When she accepted her second best-actress Oscar for Places in the Heart in 1985, just five years after her first for Norma Rae, Field gave a speech that reflected her gratitude at being recognized by her peers even after getting her start in lowbrow fare she hated, like The Flying Nun. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she said that night, adding that she hadn’t really felt the impact of her first Oscar win. “This time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”

… All it took for Sally Field to become a primordial meme was spontaneously admitting she was happy to be respected.

(I note that women’s speeches in public are routinely critiqued for both their content and speech style; apparently, nothing will do.)

Sense 1b. In (JHT). Jacques’s plea is a familiar one for romantic-erotic partners of men: their guys are regrettably inclined to take their partners for granted, and to assume that they shouldn’t have to tell them that they love them, they should know that. I am in general a more than usually Sensitive New-Age Guy, but it turns out that I can be as thoughtlessly boorish as any normatively masculine straight guy on occasion.

Jacques said it, and (to my credit) I saw instantly that I was in the wrong and that I was hurting my guy. (I remind you that I held most of the worldly power cards in the relationship, and that J was dependent in many ways on me — a position that most men will find threatening, so that I always had to think about how to even things out. But in this case I’d botched the job, and J had to ask for professions of my love.

The way to fix this was not just to assume that loving support would now well up from me spontaneously as needed, but to set up a routine, which would then become a habit. So, every time we came together after being separated, I told him that I loved him and kissed him. Plus, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Maybe more than that, but certainly that. And then it became part of everyday life, requiring no thought, and pleasing both of us.

An avalanche of pop love songs. And romantic films. All based on tell me that you love me or when you tell me that you love me. I have a low tolerance for sentimental ballads, so I’ll pick just one example of each: the first because of the performers and not the song, which annoys me; the second because of its unusual approach to the theme (granted, an approach that involves a worrisomely neurotic romantic fixation).

From Wikipedia:

“When You Tell Me That You Love Me” is a 1991 song [a sentimental ballad] by American soul singer Diana Ross. The song was written by Albert Hammond and John Bettis, and produced by Peter Asher. The song was subsequently covered by various artists.

“When You Tell Me That You Love Me” was released as the lead single on August 20, 1991, from Diana Ross’s 1991 album The Force Behind the Power

There are several duet versions by Julio Iglesias, notably a duet with Dolly Parton for Iglesias’s 1994 album Crazy.

I’m sorry, but the lyrics set my teeth on edge, and not even Diana Ross, Julio Iglesias, and Dolly Parton can fix that. One verse and the chorus:

I wanna call the stars down from the sky
I wanna live a day that never dies
I wanna change the world only for you
All the impossible I wanna do
I wanna hold you close under the rain
I wanna kiss your smile and feel the pain
I know what’s beautiful looking at you
In a world of lies you are the truth

And baby, everytime you touch me
I become a hero
I’ll make you safe, no matter where you are
And bring you everything you ask for
Nothing is above me
I’m shining like a candle in the dark
When you tell me that you love me

My other example is much more recent (“Tell Me That You Love Me”, released 2018), by a hot very young talent (British pop singer James Smith, born 2/9/99):


will you stay with me tonight
and pretend it’s all alright?
tell me that you love me
the way you used to love me
will you whisper in my ear
those three words i wanna hear?
tell me that you love me
the way you used to love me

The relationship is over, but he wants his ex-beloved to pretend to love him still and say their words of love. Creepy; you worry that stalking is next on the program.

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