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Saying “I Love You”

Apparently I am on a “my mom gives the awesomest advice” kick right now, so please bear with me.

She is just the shit, truly. She has the patience of a saint, maintains her composure under unspeakable pressure or upon hearing incredibly horrifying stories of her children’s sex lives (a downfall of raising your children to be totally open with you, heads up), and she is so damn smart and compassionate, it boggles the mind. Whenever friends are complaining about their parents and I make some comment about my mom not making me crazy, they usually reply something along the lines of “Shut up, your mom is an anomaly; you get no say in this.” In short, I am super lucky. I got dealt the bad-ass mom card, and I am thankful for it every day. One thing she ingrained in us from the beginning was to always, ALWAYS, say “I love you” to your loved ones when you leave, get off the phone, or go to bed. Always.

My grandfather was not an affectionate man. He wasn’t a hugger or snuggler; he didn’t offer up heartfelt platitudes or blow smoke up our asses for doing something good. Doing good was expected, and his expectations were high. To his grandchildren he was slightly softer, but for his kids, he was a tough man. I’m not sure if he softened as he grew older, or if he became more affectionate because we all were. We were because my mom made a conscious effort to show us how loved we were, to give us what she didn’t get. I always hugged my grandpa hello and goodbye, and always told him I loved him. He would respond “uh huh” or “yep”. He told me he loved me once, at the end of a phone conversation when I was in my teens, where I signed off the call with “I love you, Papa,” like always  and he said “yep, love you, too.” I worried that he may have had a stroke or something, because this was the first “I love you, too” that I had gotten from literally thousands of “I love you’s.” I called everyone in my family and no one could believe it. I knew he loved me; he showed it in myriad ways. He just didn’t say it.

Saying it is important. Some people argue that the word “love” is overused and has lost it’s meaning. I argue that there is enough bullshit and negativity being spewed from every outlet that produces sound that maybe the only way to produce any balance is to increase the amount of love we vocalize, too. I’m not saying we need to tell perfect strangers on the street how much we adore them, but our friends? Family? Partners? Yes, I think we do. Who doesn’t like to hear that they are loved? When one of my sisters had been dating her boyfriend for about six months, I asked her if she loved him. She said yes, and that he told her he loved her, but she hadn’t said it back yet for some dumb reason. I was livid. This is my sister who we adopted as a teen after she lost both her parents before she turned 17. I told her that she, of all people, knows how fucking fragile life is, and that you can lose someone in an instant, so why would she let someone wonder what her true feelings were? Argh.

As much of a downer as it is, that’s really what’s at issue here – you never know. We can never know if kissing our partner goodbye in the morning is the last time we will see them. We never know if the phone call to our best friend is the last one they will ever make. We never know if, when we walk out the door, we will ever walk back in. So why risk it? Why? Because we may have had a fight with someone and we don’t want to give them the satisfaction of kind words? Because it feels awkward to say it to someone we haven’t made it a habit to, even if we do? Once, when Jon and I were fighting over the phone, he hung up without saying he loved me. I called him back and basically said that while we may be angry with each other, we still love one another, and do we really want the last words spoken to each other be ones of hurt? Even if it is nothing more than “I am so fucking mad at you right now, but I still love you, but I still want you to go fuck yourself.” No amount of momentary triumph is worth a lifetime of regret, a lifetime of wondering if someone you cared about so deeply thought of hateful angry words in their last moments instead of knowing, always knowing, that they were loved, no matter what.

For some people, saying “I love you” is easy; for others it is very hard. When it comes down to it, wherever we fall on the spectrum, we have to weigh our hesitations, our silence, our pride, our nonsense, all of it against the possibility that we may not get another chance to let someone know. Don’t assume they know; don’t leave doubts in their minds. Just say it.

6 replies on “Saying “I Love You””

The Dutch ‘Ik houd van je’ carries much more weight than all the ‘I love yous’ thrown around in our society. Just think of the ‘ Luv ya!’ of teenage girls.

I don’t find it easy to say it on a regular basis, I prefer to show it through hugs and other gestures. It’s silly that it should be such a big thing, but on the other hand I like the weight it comes with. There is no other way (necessary) to show how you feel.

“Who doesn’t like to hear that they are loved? ”
Me. I really don’t like it. It’s even worse when it’s said profusely (like my best friend do when I get her the perfect gift and she’s jumping around screaming “I love you,I love you, I love you…”) something about these three little words is just plain scary.
Because love comes with high expectations. When you love someone you don’t want them to lie to you because it hurts, you want them to be happy or else it hurts, well when you love someone you just don’t want them to get hurt or to hurt you. But we’re all human beings, we’re bound to make mistakes and to hurt others no matter how hard we try not too and love doesn’t always come with (unlimited) forgiveness.
I know when someone loves me, actions speak louder than words thus I don’t need to get remind of it every single time. I just can’t bear it. It’s really too much pressure.

thank you so much for this post…as someone who often says I love you to my sister, mother and a few close friends, I am a firm believer in affirming compassion while you can / in the moments you have. not only is it good for the future, but it’s a powerful statement right here right now that can really make a day.

this summer for the first time I doubted myself saying “I love you” – after 6 years of an on again off again friendship with unspoken sexual tension, I decided to tell my friend that I loved him – in a definite unconditional support and appreciation way – that it didn’t really matter what else was going on with us or our feelings about intimacy, that I felt it was important to share and give that acknowledgement on a solidly human level. unsurprisingly, he was a little freaked but intrigued, and later that night we kissed/hooked up/whatever the cool kids call it these days. things were great until they weren’t, and nothing long term came of the evening due to many personal issues. part of me is so glad I told him while I did, while I could, while we had that moment of truly seeing each other, and part of me wishes I hadn’t for fear that I scared him away. Siiigh.

This is a really interesting point to me.

I think it is because my mother was one of those “always say I love you” sorts of people, but I think for her it became part of the routine. I saw her say it to my dad at the end of every phone conversation, when he left, etc., but it seemed like a meaningless aside most times. I didn’t always feel like she said it with real feeling.

[TW abuse]
On the converse, she also thought that repeating it enough would really SHOW that she loved, and it would fix the problems in, say, hers and my relationship. You know, because when I said I was afraid of her and that I didn’t feel like she loved me, simply repeating it again and again was enough.
[End TW]

At the same time, I am very deliberate about saying it a LOT with the mister. But because of my experiences with it, I am insistent on saying it meaningfully every time.

It’s not easy for me to say it to anyone else, though. I can be very closed about familial affections. I do hope that if a niece or nephew said it to me first, I would be able to say it back.

This is really, REALLY an important point to make, and one I wasn’t sure how to work in without making the article really long. Saying I love you is important, but actions always speak louder than words. Someone saying I love you doesn’t mean they can behave in a way that isn’t loving and get away with it because they spat out some syllables. Love is an action as much as an emotion.

Thank you for sharing your experience with your mom. I’ve known people who do this, who use their words as an attempt to mollify or diffuse a situation, as if saying it will fix everything. It won’t, not if you aren’t showing someone they are loved at the same time.

One of the best things in the world is when a little kid tells you they love you, especially if they are under around 4 or 5, because that kind of statement from a child is so pure and honest, not coming from a place of manipulation or greater gain, just a flat out expression of emotion. The other nice thing is that they don’t say it to hear it back, most of the time. It is just this spontaneous thing. If it is hard for you to say it back, they are much more willing to let you off the hook, if they even notice before running off to tackle the next thing to play with. =)

My mom also says it in a sort of habitual way with my dad. I didn’t notice it until they had some serious marital problems a few years ago, and I started thinking about it, and realizing that it didn’t have much meaning when she said it like that. I say I love you to Boyfriend a LOT, but like you, I always make sure I say it deliberately and with meaning. I should say it more to my brothers and my friends though.

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