Words, words, words… I will never be sick of words. You’d think since I have such a great love for the English language and the magical sentences it can create, I would be all for statements of love. Yet, I really have no interest in them. Sure, you can get all flowery like Shakespeare, and it’s beautiful to hear and to read, but when it comes to good old “I love you,” all I can offer is a big thumbs down. Wait… let me explain.
I’m guessing this wouldn’t be so much of a problem in other languages, since I know many others have multiple words for different forms of love. English just throws out that one word for us. One word to describe our feelings for God, our spouse, our best friend, and pizza. It’s a little ridiculous, right? Think of how much drama it adds to our lives – and not just during high school. “I love you… like a sister.” “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” The examples could go on. Like, adore, worship, appreciate… we have a lot of synonyms that show varying levels of intensity, but none of them can really take the place of the word “love.”
So why do we put so much weight and emphasis on uttering those three small words to someone? Don’t get me wrong – it’s great to be told “I love you.” Everyone needs that. But it’s also very easy to say “I love you” without any sense of gravitas. We say it to our mom and to our dog and to the giant burrito we are about to consume, so naturally, it becomes easy to spout it out to a significant other without really taking note of what we are communicating to them and whether it’s actually, totally, and completely true in that moment.
I’ve always thrown around the words “I love you” with great ease. “Oh my god, I love you so much,” is a quick response to someone making a hilariously stupid mistake. “Love you, bye!” is an automatic way to end a phone or texting conversation. It’s not that I don’t mean it when I say those things, it’s just a different kind of love (once again, thanks English for only giving us one word). I have shied away from saying “I love you” in a romantic way for years. The first time I said those words to a man, I was lying. Maybe I wasn’t really lying to him, but I was lying to me. I felt pressured to raise my emotions to that level, so I convinced myself that I probably did love him, perhaps, you know, enough to go ahead and say it, ‘cause why not, right? When those are the thoughts going through your head, you probably are safe to assume you aren’t in love.
After that relationship, I swore I would never tell a man I loved him again until I 100% knew I meant it. That really wasn’t easy. I’m very quick to care deeply for people I am close to, and for most people, there’s no problem in expressing that level of caring with the words “I love you.” It wasn’t enough for me though. I had that same level of caring for people that I did not have romantic feelings for, so something had to be different to create that transition to love.
In the end, I kind of just dumped the phrase altogether. I got sick of hearing it. After a few more relationships, “I love you” started to mean nothing to me because it was never backed up with actions. As the song goes, “If you’re in love, show me!” (For those of you who don’t know, I’m referencing the song “Show Me” from the musical My Fair Lady.)
As much as I enjoy hearing the words “I love you” (and I do enjoy it – I’m not saying anything against that), I would much, MUCH rather be shown love than told about it. If you tell me you love me, but never exhibit proof of those feelings, why should I believe you?
I think I could get by without ever hearing those words as long as a partner was consistently showing me love. But when the actions are there, the words become so much more beautiful and wonderful to hear. Everything ties together. You don’t have those niggling doubts that your significant other is being honest with you – or even with themselves – because they have done nothing but show you how much they truly do love you.
I’ve felt this way about showing vs. speaking love for quite a while, but I’m writing this now because I have finally experienced what it should be like. Despite fairly constant cynicism about love itself and the possibility that it could be everlasting, I believe that my current relationship could be the one to last forever. And you know why? Because for the first time, this man doesn’t just tell me he loves me. He shows me.
He showed me by choosing to start dating me even when I was pregnant with another man’s child. He’s showed me by constantly supporting me throughout my pregnancy, even from afar. He showed me by ending his work contract early so that he could come take care of me. He showed me by living holed up in a tiny apartment in Oklahoma for two months doing nothing so that I could continue working.
It’s not just the big things that matter though. The little daily ways he shows me love are just as important – maybe even more so. He cooks dinner when I’m tired from a long shift. He rubs my back when I get sore. He celebrates the things about myself that I have been self-conscious about in the past. He remembers what I like and surprises me with little gifts. If he is getting a drink of water or grabbing a snack or putting on lotion, he offers me some as well. When I needed to go to bed super early for a while, he cuddled with me until I was almost asleep and then made sure the house was dark and quiet so I wouldn’t be awoken. He laughs at my farts and dries my tears and listens to my rants.
Then when he tells me he loves me, I take great joy in knowing that it’s true. I see that it’s true every minute of every day. Don’t just talk of love. Words are easy and, unfortunately, not as meaningful as we sometimes want them to be. Actions will always mean more in the end. How have you shown love today?