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A Check-Up on the Words ‘I Love You’

October 8th, 2013

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.

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  1. October 8th, 2013 at 18:24 | #1

    i really like this! you’re right… even though it’s nice to hear someone say “i love you,” actions always speak louder than words.

    the definition of love varies from one individual to the next anyway, so if someone says “i love you” what if their understanding of love is different from yours? it doesn’t necessarily mean they love you less, they just love you the way they know how to at that point in time. e.g. when the author cheated on his then-girlfriend and she dumped him, maybe he DID realize he loved her… at least in the best way he could at that moment. but his actions did not live up to her expectations of what she understood love to be, so they were not compatible.

    the key to happiness in a relationship is finding someone whose understanding of love complements yours, and finding this match always done through your actions, not just words.

  2. CNH
    October 8th, 2013 at 19:50 | #2

    this line makes me sad “most of my life, “I love you” was something that either came before or after something else I didn’t want to hear” but totally explains your outlook on the phrase.

    I agree with your sentiments though. Love is an action word. Though it was said in my household a lot in relation to good times, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how much more important it is to actually show it. Still, I hope sooner than later you can let go of the negative connotations associated with those 3 words.

  3. Jeremy
    October 11th, 2013 at 13:26 | #3

    You’re absolutely right about the usage of those 3 words. Those words are so abused sometimes causing them to have no meaning. When you truly have or feel the love, it’ll be because it is genuinely expressed and not said to prove it.

  4. Lashuntrice
    October 16th, 2013 at 05:45 | #4

    WOW! It’s definitely easier to say the phrase than to know what it means. “I love you” is definitely a struggle for many.

  5. imperfctconcept
    October 21st, 2013 at 22:49 | #5

    Until recently didn’t truly feel the words when I said them & was never first to utter them. I watched the Pinterest story & did the aaaww like everyone. Now I know you really should only say the words if you mean it. Regardless if the other person cares for you more. No point in being dishonest

  6. Mariana
    October 25th, 2013 at 06:20 | #6

    You mean that the phrase “l love you ” is somehow a negotiation word ? If it comes with other things that you don’t want to hear.
    I believe you, the daily life with someone love is felt. I don’t like it when people want to hear all the time ‘I love you, youreautiful, you mean so much to me, cuchi cuchi’ like it is a way of making up for silence or a way to condiment your life as a couple. I also grew up with a lot of love. I felt it, and the feeling made me happy. If you feel that you are loved, and you feel you love…
    I had he almost never said I love you. But I knew he did. Yet other times I’ve heard he phrase and wondered … If it’s for real.

  7. Ceej
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:06 | #7

    Tardy to this post but… really enjoyed it. Forced me to think about it from your perspective and from what love means to me… and even more-so, how I interpret love.

    Although it may be easier to say “yeah, show me!” we are ignoring something very important. Our personal love interpretation… or for lack of better term… love language.

    My ex boyfriend and I struggled heavily because we showed our love in different ways. Love to him was picking up something while he was out that he thought I’d enjoy and making me a meal before he headed out for the evening. Love was consideration. Love was giving a crap about my well being. He didn’t do that for people he didn’t love.

    That was a big deal to him, being thoughtful, and it meant he loved me.
    But for me? Love is commitment and loyalty and time spent together. Love is affection and love is choosing me over and over again in comparison to everything else in life. So…. his “actions” were him showing love… but I didn’t see them that way. I looked at his actions as normal behavior for anyone who gives a crap about you. lol.

    And for THAT reason… I think showing AND verbally expressing hold equal value.

  8. hotlips
    November 18th, 2013 at 18:11 | #8

    Hi there Jozen, im a huge fan plus i just love love love you !!!! OH OH OH. What does love have to do with it ??? HUMMMMMMMM ??? Just wanted to say that do u enjoy bragging about all these failed relationships.. maybe you need to grow up and maybe you might have a problem… HUMMMMMM ???? Thankyou for being a part of my life you taught me a few things .. That im proud of my heart.. Its been PLAYED, STABBED, CHEATED, LIED, BURNED and BROKEN, but somehow it still works.. If you arent being treated with love and respect. Check your price tag. Maybe you have marked yourself down. Its you who tells people what your worth is. I got off the clearance rack and got behind the glass where they keep the valuables… and one more thing…when someone walks out of your life. LET THEM !!! They are just making room for someone better to come along.. so thankyou for walking out of my life..because it was always fun listening to you lie when I already knew the truth.. HEY BABES !!!! HUMMMMMMMMMM ???? LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU !!!! But then again WHAT DOES LOVE HAVE TO DO WITH IT ????. byeeeeeeeeeeee babes xoxoxoxo

  9. does it really matter
    November 18th, 2013 at 18:26 | #9

    HUMMMMMMMMMMMMM you took my comment off because the truth hurts. HUMMMMMMMMMMM. whats love got to do with it ?? You sure do brunch alot. OH OH OH are you the naked with socks on guy ??? yes baby i love love love you thanx for leaving me it was always fun listening to you lie when i already knew the truth.

  10. hotlips
    November 18th, 2013 at 18:32 | #10

    thankyou for walikg out of my life you taught me alot … OH OH OH What does love have to do with it ??? thanks for lieing to me when i already knew the truth… LOVE LOVE LOVE you but you will always be a cheater lier and player. thanx alot for nothing

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