I’m not sure when and where I first heard the phrase: When and where was I when the two words were spoken in my direction?
It was two simple words that ought to convey all that the listener needs to know—and yet, something was missing.
“Love you” were those two words.
It seemed to me that they were missing something essential and meaningful—where was the “I”?
I have heard those two words, without the leading “I” from friends, lovers, and people with whom I share blood. I have been the grateful, though confused, recipient of two-thirds of this mysteriously edited phrase. I was grateful for being told of the love, and confused for not knowing why “I” was excised.
I imagine we have all heard, “Love you” spoken to us. It has become a common and sadly truncated way to express the deepest of all human emotions.
The first time I heard “Love you,” the words bounced around inside my head trying to find meaning and context. Unlike some languages where the person doing the action is clear—though implied—by the conjugation of the verb, in English, you need a subject.
Subject/Verb/Direct-Object word order requires that the “Love you” statement have a subject. The listener might be able to guess that the speaker is tacitly saying “I love you,” but “We love you,” “They love you,” even “You love you” are possible sentences made with the stand-in subjects “we,” “they,” and “you” because “love” in it simple, present form agrees with those subjects. You see: Any one of those three subjects work in the “____ love you” sentence instead of “I.”
Unlike “Stop!” or “Pass the salad”—wherein the listener understands the implied who is the listener him/herself…i.e., “Youstop whatever it is you are doing which is making me want to scream” or “As I cannot reach the salad bowl and would like to try that kale and quinoa salad with the balsamic reduction, I’d appreciate it if you would pass the salad to me.,” “Love you” does not have the same quick comprehension.
In fact, “Love you” is vague enough to be briefly confusing and engendering of presumption. That confusion, coupled with the resulting presumption, yields a semi-solid conclusion that the speaker is, probably, telling the listener “I love you.”
How horribly disappointing to not have an “I” anchoring one of the most powerful statements one could share.
When someone wants to express this most intimate and meaningful emotional response to a fellow human being, leaving off the “I” distances the speaker from the emotion and insulates the listener from concluding the “love” is truly felt.
If you love me, why not take on ownership of the love—even pride in that love—and say “I”?
I understand that we have become a culture of quick communication, abbreviations, and limited attention. But how much time does it save the speaker to eliminate “I”? I cannot reasonably conclude that the “I” is left off for economy of speech. When “I” goes unspoken, a careful listener notes its absence and is left to wonder why the speaker did not verbalize his/her love directly.
“Love you” comes off as non-committal, casual, maybe even flippant. And that’s not how we humans use the word “love,” is it?
Well, that’s not how I think we should use it. We lovers should proclaim that love. We who feelthat deeply ought to feel confident enough to attach the pronoun “I” to the doing of the love. Let the listener know that he or she is loved by a proud speaker.
To that end, and in honor of the singular combination which sets us apart as a species—both the capacity to feel so deeply and use written or spoken language in the expression of that deeply-felt emotion—I ask you to say and hear all three of these words equally and powerfully:
I love you.
Author: Jenna Brownson
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Helga at Flickr