I Love You, Whether You Like It or Not.

Via on Sep 8, 2010

Photo credit: Camila Moreiras, http://alum.hampshire.edu/~cam05/

The Bhaktishop in Portland, Oregon sells bumper stickers that boldly proclaim, I love you.

Before I moved back to New York, I bought one of these bumper stickers and stuck it in a prominent place on the back of my little Subaru. Typical?

I say that this is a bold proclamation—it takes an awful lot for most of us modern folk to say those words on an everyday basis. I grew up in a family that says the word love constantly—but I have also spent time with families who rarely express their affection and appreciation for one another verbally. There are a thousand different ways of conveying love, but there is something exceptionally powerful about saying it aloud and without timidity.

The simple application of this bumper sticker felt courageous. I hoped that it would send a message: That’s right. I love you, whether you like it or not. In traffic, on the highway, in parking lots, in neighborhoods, in cities, and in towns – there would go my car like a growling green beacon of hope and friendship. My friend joked that of course I would put the sticker on the back of my car – the real challenge would be in loving the people in front of me while stuck in traffic.
It did cross my mind that people might have a good laugh over it. When I told my father about my car’s new decorative flair, he cracked up and recommended I remove the sticker before entering New York State – in fact, before leaving Portland and re-entering the real world. I did not heed his advice.

While traveling across the United States for sixteen days, it was brought to my attention that this I love you might imply naivete to some, and render my passengers and I particularly vulnerable to the ill-intentioned. It’s an unfortunate thought, but relevant. The bumper sticker became the center of a conversation about health, welfare and safety. If I was harassed, does it mean I was asking for it? Could my attempt at being open and positive lead to negative, uncomfortable, even dangerous encounters?

When this possibility was brought to my attention I immediately felt like I had violated a boundary, an unspoken social code. This is a feeling I have experienced many, many times, and it typically stems from actions and behaviors that I tend to think are appropriate, but that others disapprove of.

For example, several years ago I was on a toilet paper run at around nine o’clock on a Sunday night. I passed by a bus stop where a group of people were patiently waiting for the next bus that ran on a notoriously confusing and inconsistent schedule. After purchasing the toilet paper, I hopped back in the car, swung around to the bus stop, and asked three women and a man if they needed a ride somewhere. They gratefully accepted. It turns out they were international Rhodes scholars studying at a nearby university. More recently, a group of train-hopping hippies asked me for a ride across town while I was stopped at a red light. Once again, I told them to climb on in. They narrated their cross-country adventures from Tennessee to Oregon before piling out in front of the local co-op, and encouraged me to get in touch with them if I was ever interested in traveling by boxcar with them.
In both cases, I felt entirely safe and confident about my actions. It was only later, when I relayed these stories to friends and family with excitement at having met fascinating strangers, that I began to feel uncertain. Perhaps I had made a poor decision? Perhaps I had compromised my security? What had these people done to earn my trust? Why would I take the risk?

One of the basic rules my generation grew up with was, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t look them in the eye. Don’t stop to talk with them on the street. Don’t smile or laugh or give them any reason to think you are willing to let down your guard. And most of all, do not invite them into your car or home. This attitude stems from fear, and much of that fear comes from very real threats – abduction, theft, deception, rape, murder, etc. We were taught to believe that a warm and friendly person (usually a woman) is more likely to get hurt than someone who is straight-faced and unyielding.

I agree that one must learn how to balance general faith in human beings with a degree of caution and self-preservation. Granted, picking up strangers and putting a happy-go-lucky bumper sticker on my car are two different things, but they both received a similar kind of admonishment from parental figures. It seems that most people balk a little bit at expressions of joy and trust. I balk now and then, as well. But the very public declaration of I love you speaks to my determination to not let cynicism effect my approach to the world. It isn’t meant to communicate romantic love, but rather the aspiration towards a feeling of oneness and all-encompassing love. I want to embrace and take risks and be willing to go out on a limb for people, and if that makes me strange in most circumstances, so be it. And as the yogic story goes, one must contribute to the world what one thinks the world is most lacking. But, there is a possibility of disparity between what I believe I am putting in and what is being received.

I suppose this is where pragmatic parental concern comes in: ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think I’m saying, it matters what others think I am saying, and it is their interpretation, however unintended, that will dictate how they treat me. Taking this into consideration, what’s the solution? Do we hold back, stifle, and repress in order to avoid misinterpretation and conflict? Do we reserve expressions of love and acceptance for situations and people that feel absolutely safe? What is it about kindness that makes us vulnerable? Is it worth it to take that risk? I find this to be an especially pertinent question for young women in the world. My desire is to interact with people, all people, with kindness and compassion. I would rather not assume that the people I do not know intend to harm me. I would like my vehicular I love you to calm people down and urge them out of road rage, and perhaps make them reconsider the true nature of fraternity.  The only thing that makes me feel better about traffic is thinking, We’re all in this together, and it is this same thought that convinced me to slap that sticker on, and it is also what opens me up to the daily flow of human interaction and encourages me to be less shy, less anxious, and more accepting. I truly feel happier when I weave through the world with this sense of solidarity and connectedness. Sure, I might cast my love net a little wide, but it’s drawn in some truly amazing fellow travelers.

These quandaries of trust versus safety and openness versus reservation are always changing, making answers hard to come by. But I’d like to hear what you think. When do you choose to keep your cards close to the chest and when do you let loose your goodwill? Is there a time and a place – and therefore, a not-the-time and not-the-place – for letting your affection and acceptance be known? In any case, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you think, I send you love and I wish you peace.

About Melanie Jane Parker

Melanie Jane Parker is a freelance writer, bibliophile, and yogini. A recent graduate of Hampshire College, she writes short fiction, essays and poetry. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently studying towards her 200-hour teaching certification at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Manhattan.

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12 Responses to “I Love You, Whether You Like It or Not.”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Melanie, you're beautiful, and I love you too!
    Keep on spreading the love. I am certain that it will always keep you safe and sound, and lead you to ever higher levels of joy and wisdom.
    It is written in the yoga scriptures (I forget where exactly) that one who is firmly established in Ahimsa (non-violence as I'm sure you know) can be harmed by no one. You are protected by love when you live in love. Because that's our nature, and we are at our most powerful when we express that nature.
    Great article, I'll promote it on the EJ facebook page.
    With love!
    Ben

  2. liska says:

    I wish more people thought the way you do. I wish I could.

    Stay safe, trust your instincts, but please, keep loving!

  3. Charlotte says:

    With all the negative saying that you see on the cars these days, it's very nice to see such a positive message instead. If only more people would be kind to each other imagine how different the world could be!

  4. ARCreated says:

    I feel the same way my dear about my celebrate diversity, believe and imagine stickers :)
    I have been called names — like godless dike (one of my favorites), I have had literature left on my car and notes letting me know I was going to hell !!! YEAH!!! It doesn't change how I feel, if anything it gives me more impetus to be even more loving and in your face about it… you don't have to love me back but I believe it plants seeds. I love my naivete, and nothing will assuage me from believing in good…and perhaps it is that belief that we share that brings good experiences to us. I have travelled far and wide alone on my motorcycle and everywhere I go I meet the most amazing and generous people and those angry, scared, closed few are so rare they simply accentuate the positive. Keep loving…and for the record I LOVE YOU too :)

  5. Mel says:

    Friends,

    Thank you so much for your beautiful, heartfelt feedback, and for giving me the inspiration to keep on keeping on. I love hearing about your thoughts and experiences, and I do hope we cross paths one of these days.

    So much love,
    Melanie

  6. Mel says:

    Thank you for the work you do! Amazing, amazing, amazing. Love to you.

  7. Hi buddy, your blog's design is simple and clean and i like it. Your blog posts are superb. Please keep them coming. Greets!!!

  8. Randi Young says:

    Melanie-
    this is a wonderful article! I can't believe I'm just now reading it! I think you really touched on a nerve about our preconditioning to fear the unknown, whether 'unknown' is referring to people, places, things, or emotions. We are steadily taught that people we do not know are strangers, and should be feared instead of trusted. What a miserable life it would be to look at everyone around us, and judge them by their personal emotional proximity to us! I, like you, wish to approach the world with love and compassion. I don't have any reservations about chatting with strangers on the street or giving rides to those in need of them. I don't question the 'rightness' of these actions. They are an extension of me, my love, and my acceptance. I strive to instill these things in my children. It would be a truly incredible world if everyone had the capacity to love as you do!
    Again, thank you for a wonderful read!
    Peace and Namaste.

  9. Shanjay says:

    I believe there is an inherent trust in yourself that one always needs to have when walking the road of life.
    Whether it involves picking up a stranger on the side of the road, small day to day decisions, or the really big decisions. We must believe that whatever we do chose is the right decision, for us, right now.
    By being open to yourself and loving everyone around you, you become more open to the world and people around you. This allows us to understand and to read people better and to really learn to trust our instincts. And this is so important is making these decisions.
    I'm sure if your instincts told you something was wrong when you pulled up to the bus stop, you decision would have changed. And this is the faith in ourselves we need to have.
    We all walk our own path in life, and only you can make the decisions that veer you down any path. Sometimes the smallest of moments and interactions can be the most important and influential.
    Always love, always open.
    It would make my day if I saw that bumper sticker infront of me :)

  10. bigheadedbenji says:

    What a beautiful article. I think its poignant how you take a seemingly simple and non-committal gesture–the posting of a "I love you" bumper sticker–as a site of intersection between questions of intimacy, trust, security and mass alienation in the modern day and age.

    I relate to the issues you express here, and, while a man and therefore not subject to the same degree of safety concerns as yourself, am constantly struggling between desires to be a vessel of love into this world and the very real concerns of social and professional acceptance and/or respect that can be jeopardized by so-called displays of "naivety." And ultimately, while these emotional displays (and lack therof) are tied to political and social histories, it will require each of us to bring the light into the world in our own way–as you said, to be the positive change we wish to see in our communities in our lives, as well as our political structures and social realities.

    I guess what I'm trying to say, in a longabout way, is that it's so hard to keep the faith sometimes! Thank you for being an inspiration to us all, and keep the spark of your soul flying onto the words and poems of your digital prose.

    Stay Blessed,
    Ben Barson

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