Growing up, my family was never big on the “love” word.
When I tell my grandmother I love her, she giggles nervously. “I was always taught love something is you show. You don’t need to say it.”
But that’s not true. You do need to say it. You do.
There are many different ways of showing love. Plenty of us have read that “love languages” book. (It’s how I thought I was going to save my marriage.) Some people feel loved through acts of service, while others like gifts. Some want words of affirmation, compliments. Others need quality time.
But something magical happens when you tell a person, simply, “I love you.”
I can’t explain what love is. I don’t know why we feel it so passionately for some and not enough for others. I don’t know why we love people who don’t reciprocate, or we love someone for a while and then watch it fade like melting snow. But I know the sentiment matters.
I have started a practice of telling my friends I love them. When I feel it welling up inside of me, the gratitude I have for this person in my life, the way they’ve been there for me, listening to all my bullshit, I send them a message. I don’t know if it makes them uncomfortable, and that is not my intent. But if I feel it, I want to say it, because I am a person who shares how she feels. And if someone feels that way about me, I like to hear it, too.
Don’t hold back your feelings about someone. Don’t hold back from telling a person how magnificent they are. You both might die tomorrow.
When I was at a job that dulled the light in my eyes, a job that felt like it was killing me from the inside, my friend and I began a tradition of morning tea breaks. We met each other outside or on an empty floor, and we talked for a few minutes, and we hugged. We both really needed that hug. We were lonely and unhappy, and we felt spent by the responsibilities of life and motherhood. We just needed to hear someone say, “I love you,” with no strings attached. With no sense of obligation. The pure magic of those words helped us get through many bitter days.
Why are we ashamed to tell people we love them? What are we afraid of?
Mostly, I think, we’re afraid of showing the nature of our hearts, because we don’t know if they love us back. (But you do usually know. Love is something you can feel.) We’re often afraid to put ourselves on the line about our feelings, and have someone stay silent, or think less of us for having feelings at all.
But we all have feelings. We were born with lots and lots of emotions. We just have a choice about whether we want to voice them or keep them locked up inside.
There are so many people who go through this world feeling unloved, never hearing those three magical words. So maybe they build walls up around themselves, force their spirits to live in a cave. These are usually the sensitive people, people who think their sensitivity is a burden or a problem, something that has only caused them harm. At some level, they may feel they don’t deserve love—that they are not worthy of kindness and affection. They feel, or have been taught, that they are inherently wrong in some way. That their existence is some fatal flaw in creation.
You are always worthy of love, no matter what you’ve done in this life, or what you haven’t done. No matter what mistakes you have made. You do not have to live in the dark hole of your body, pushing everyone out, pretending you are an island, that you don’t need love or affection. If you convince yourself you don’t need love, you’re lying. There’s something you’re not looking at, something you are afraid to face.
Loving someone never means you get everything you want. Loving someone doesn’t mean you get to stay with them forever, or that you’ll never fight, or that there will never be a rough patch or a moment of anger or venom. Loving someone just is. It’s the current that runs through all things.
I love many people in my life. I do not understand them all, and I can’t always spend an entire afternoon with them. They don’t always “get” me, or I them. But I love them anyway. I’m grateful that they exist.
So tell your friends you love them. Tell your family, too. No one lies in a hospital bed waiting for the angels to come, wishing they’d made more money, or they’d kept their hearts locked longer in a cage. They wish, instead, that they had spent more time with the people they loved, been more generous, shared, more often, the deepest stirrings of their hearts.