To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’.
Rand responded with the following letter.
May 22, 1948
Dear Ms. Rondeau:
You asked me to explain the meaning of my sentence in The Fountainhead: “To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I.”
The meaning of that sentence is contained in the whole of The Fountainhead. And it is stated right in the speech on page 400 from which you took the sentence. The meaning of the “I” is an independent, self-sufficient entity that does not exist for the sake of any other person.
A person who exists only for the sake of his loved one is not an independent entity, but a spiritual parasite. The love of a parasite is worth nothing.
The usual (and very vicious) nonsense preached on the subject of love claims that love is self-sacrifice. A man’s self is his spirit. If one sacrifices his spirit, who or what is left to feel the love? True love is profoundly selfish, in the noblest meaning of the word — it is an expression of one’s highest values. When a person is in love, he seeks his own happiness — and not his sacrifice to the loved one. And the loved one would be a monster if she wanted or expected such sacrifice.
Any person who wants to live for others — for one sweetheart or for the whole of mankind — is a selfless nonentity. An independent “I” is a person who exists for his own sake. Such a person does not make any vicious pretense of self-sacrifice and does not demand it from the person he loves. Which is the only way to be in love and the only form of a self-respecting relationship between two people.