My first clue that something had gone wrong was when the “mwah” air kissing started. For years she always greeted me with a big, affectionate embrace and a deep kiss on the lips. So when I got my first air kiss accompanied by that “mwah” sound I expect to hear from a Hollywood diva, with about as much intimacy, I had a WTF moment and said so. She brushed it off. Looking back, I should not have allowed it to pass, for several months later, she left me.

It’s been said that “a woman leaves you a long time before she leaves you,” and I don’t think most men get that. Hell, even I don’t, or I would have sat her down after the third “mwah,” knee to knee, eyeball to eyeball, and said, “What’s going on?” My guess is she would have squirmed, ducked, avoided, and even lied, for at that point I suspect she didn’t even know herself. Inside the complex, enigmatic chambers of the human heart, something had come unhinged. But truth often leaks out in subtle ways, which unfortunately, hits us men on our weak side, for we are generally not good at subtlety. Usually, for me at least, it takes a blow across the cranium to get a message through. By that time, it’s too late ~ she’s walking out the door with her bags packed.

Another clue was embedded in her language. When it comes to verbal expressions of love, there are five levels, with five different meanings. They are, from highest to lowest:

“I am in love with you.” That means: I have studied you down to your hidden core. I see you in light and in shadow. I know your comings and goings, your fears and your victories, your sweetness and your bitterness. And knowing all that about you, my heart still leaps when I see you, and nothing satisfies my soul like spending time with you. Even foolishly, I give you the benefit of the doubt. You quench a thirst in me that I did not know I had. We are together both the music…and the dance.

“I love you.” You are a fine person. I admire you. I see the good in you. I want the best for you and for those you love. I want to know you better, and at present, nothing blocks my way. I am encouraged. Let us take this journey together and see where it goes. Cautionary Note: I also love pizza and baby ducks.

“Love you.” I don’t love you, but I lack the courage to say so, so I drop the “I” and hope you don’t notice. I want to keep my options open. I am not ready to commit. This is the “mwah” equivalent of a love expression.

“I wuv you.” Childish. Uncommitted. Verbal vomit, spit up like a cat hairball, and with about as much value. If you hear this from your woman, and she is an adult, enjoy the sex (if you are getting any) because her heart is not with you.

“Wuv you!” Said by stuffed animals.

I am content moving between the first two levels, for that is the ebb and flow of healthy love. It does not frighten me. But if I fall below the second level, I now know to sound the alarm.

The other day I watched a nature show about a family of warthogs foraging for tubers in a wooded area. Camouflaged nearby, a stealthy cheetah watched in perfect stillness, waiting for her moment to pounce. But something disturbed the cheetah, and she turned her head ever so slightly. That tiny movement was all it took to alert the warthogs of danger, and the herd raced to safety. 

I don’t wish to see men on high alert at all times, like hunted prey, for that would lead to madness. It’s one reason I still value a covenant of commitment, like marriage, which allows a woman to turn her head without making a man feel the need to scramble for safety. If the two are truly committed to such a covenant, whatever meaningful form it takes, then both can thrive in a non-threatening environment of safety.

But if that covenant does not exist, or it is weak, then, my brother, stay alert, and beware the “mwah.”

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