I grew up in a family that was not afraid to show affection.
I was never far removed from a random hug or kiss or acknowledgement of my existence simply because I happened to be passing by in a hallway.
We are people who love liberally and casually and overwhelmingly at times.
And the one thing we are never in short supply of are the words “I love you.”
Getting off the phone? “I love you.”
Leaving the room? “I love you.”
Heading upstairs to go to bed? “I love you.”
Standing in the kitchen eating dessert at 11 p.m.? “I love you.”
Sitting on the couch minding your own damn business? “I love you.”
Because this is how I grew up, and how my family still interacts with each other daily, I never thought I would be someone who hesitated to say “I love you.” And then I started dating.
In my first relationship, my partner was quick to say “I love you” first. But I had never said those words to someone outside my family or small circle of girlfriends, and I found myself feeling unsure about what saying those words would mean for our relationship. Did I really know what it meant to love someone in this new way? And what happened if I said “I love you,” if I got used to hearing him say it, and then, one day, those words were gone?
With time though, my fears subsided and for the next few years, I was lucky enough to say and hear those three words regularly. To let them fly out of my mouth without a second thought. Without the fear that one day they’d be gone.
Except that day eventually came. And for years after and in all my relationships after (and even at the start of my current relationship), I held back from letting those words out. Instead, I felt all that love inside and showed it in small actions while neatly tucking the words in the back pocket of my brain. The way I saw it, if I didn’t say the words out loud, I could minimize the pain that would inevitably come if they weren’t said back, or worse, if I grew comfortable hearing them only to lose them again.
Thankfully, my upbringing kicked in at some point and I realized that what had been holding me back from saying “I love you” was a lack of safety in my relationships. The fear that a love that came from outside my safe little bubble would eventually disappear. And the truth is, that’s always a possibility—but it’s also a possibility that the love, and the person attached to it, will stay.
And saying “I love you” is as much for me as it is for the other person. Love is meant to be shared. To be spoken out loud. To be shown liberally and casually and overwhelmingly at times.
The other day, I came across a poem from writer Whitney Hanson that beautifully expressed the sweetness that comes with saying “I love you” every chance we get, without hesitation:
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“I refuse to believe the words ‘I love you’ are like birthday cake. Three words reserved for special occasions only to be given out topped with candles and frosting at the perfect moment. I use the words ‘I love you’ casually and recklessly at times. But I found that birthday cake is better at midnight and ‘I love you’ is better when you don’t hesitate. When you don’t wait for an occasion to say it. So here it is: I love you. And not in the special occasion kind of way. In the coffee in the morning on a Tuesday kind of way. I love you in chalk on a sidewalk and little Post-it notes and extra smiles when you come home. I love you in the language of everyday things. And seeing you at the end of each day and listening to every word you say. I love you in the language of birthday cake when it’s nobody’s birthday.”
The next time you find yourself scared to say “I love you,” remember these words.