A Check-Up on the Words ‘I Love You’
We were sitting across from one another having brunch. The waitress came with our first order, a large salad we decided to share. With no hesitation, I dove my fork and spoon into the large bowl of arugula, gave it a couple of light tosses, and then pushed together a nice-sized portion. “Give me your plate,” I said. She picked it up and I laid down the serving and then another. “Is that good?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said. As I began to serve myself, she said, “I love you.”
That was the last time I remember hearing those words and feeling them.
It wasn’t the first time she said it. The two of us had been together for a while and said it to each other pretty regularly. But for whatever reason, at that moment, those words, the way she said them, were crystal.
I recalled that moment recently, after I watched this video of a guy who proposed to his girlfriend and planned her wedding using her Pinterest board as a guide. It was one of those viral videos I first ignored on Facebook, and only watched after enough of my friends asked me if I checked it out. The entire thing is pretty touching, assuming you have a heart, but the one part that stuck out for me is when Ryan, the guy who proposes, said that up until the moment he asked Amanda, his girlfriend, to marry him, he never told her he loved her.
As one of my boys said, Ryan must be a magician because to go five years without ever saying “I love you” is pure magic. I laughed because it’s true.
After I saw the video, I thought for a long while about Ryan’s reasoning behind never telling Amanda “I love you.” In the video he says, “I didn’t want to use that phrase until I felt like I could back it up with every fiber of my being.”
In the household I grew up in, “I love you” was a phrase we used frequently, especially when it felt like there was anything but love inside. I knew my family loved each other, but rarely can I recall us saying the words, “I love you” when we were happy. Those moments was when love was felt. The rare family trip, a long car ride filled with laughter and smiles. Love was there, and it was apparent. But those words, “I love you” were not said, and they didn’t need to be.
It was when my family and I were going through it; when mom and Pop were arguing at the top of their lungs. Still seething, but much more calm, one of them would say “I love you” to the other. When my sister and I would fight and argue and say some very mean things to each other or when we would say such things to our mom, out frustration or anger. “I love you,” usually came before or after an apology. When our Dad would call to tell my sister and I he couldn’t see us the weekend we planned, but next week instead. He would always say to us, “I love you.”
Years later, I would say “I love you” to a woman who I asked to come live with me. Then after she moved in, she discovered the things I was saying to other women. I wasn’t telling them, “I love you” but the thing I said were strong enough to make my girlfriend feel like I didn’t know what those words meant when I said them to her. I said “I love you” to her every single day until the day she moved out and then for months after, as I tried to get her back with no luck.
These days, I don’t hear those words said to me very often, and very often I don’t say them, because, well, I am single. But my life is filled with a lot of love. My mother is in love with my step-dad, and he with her. My dad is in love with my step-mom, and she with him. My sister gave birth to a beautiful girl, who has become the love of all our lives. One of my best friends just got married earlier this year. Another one of my best friends is about to do the same. Seeing them in love is a sight to behold.
No one is more aware that words mean things more than me, a professional writer. But with the phrase, “I love you” I often wonder what that means. More importantly, is it something we need to say or is it something we need to hear? I’m beginning to think it’s neither.
I grew up hearing the words “I love you,” a lot. I know to say it and to hear it is a beautiful thing. But necessary? Not if we’re actually doing love and living in love. I’m pretty sure my niece hears my sister say “I love you” to her every single day, but I’m even more confident that if my sister could not speak a word ever again, my niece would feel the love all the same.
The girl who told me “I love you” that day at brunch would later say the same thing to me after she said she didn’t want to be with me anymore. I believed her when she said it, but it didn’t mean as much as the words, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” That’s when I was reminded that for most of my life, “I love you” was something that either came before or after something else I didn’t want to hear. The phrase itself became so limiting, and ineffective, I used to tell myself I would one day learn how to say “I love you” in as many languages as possible so in the event I get married, I can say it to my wife everyday and it would always sound new. That sounds like a nice gesture, but when you consider the root of wanting to know such things, it’s kind of sad.
What I see these days, whether it’s through my friends, family, or a viral proposal video, is love realized and love in action. What I hear less of is “I love you” itself and frankly, that sits fine with me. I don’t want someone in my life to tell them, “I love you” and I don’t want someone around to say it to me either. I know what love is, and I’m not one of those guys who is afraid to express myself (if you read this blog, you should know that) but the phrase, “I love you”? Let someone else have that. I’ve learned what it means the hard way, by saying it too much.