I Love You: Why is something felt so deeply sometimes so hard to say?
Doritos? Love ‘em! Cheesy, crunchy, all kinds of good. Love, love, love the Doritos!
A kitten video on YouTube? Love it! Frolicsome, enchanting, cute into infinity. Love those kittens!
Sunsets? Love. Libraries? Double love. In-tune pianos, fresh mulch, chocolate lava cake, new shoes? Say it together now: Love them!
The person standing right there, who’s loyal and funny, smart and generous, the best kind of companion?
Uhh… You. You! Finger guns! Shoulder squeeze! Bring it in here for the world’s best hug, you! You’re great! I… you… um, yeah.
Why is it so hard to say “I love you”?
Beyond all the hand-wringing that the word “love” has been irredeemably cheapened, beyond all the trembling hands lifted to fevered brows as love of Doritos induces “humanity is doomed” swoons, are three words. Three little words, eight letters, important on their own, immortal when brought together.
I lo…. I lo… I loffff…. this. I loff this thing. Ha ha. Ha. (Help.)
“It’s a little like playing chess,” said Grand Junction psychotherapist Laurel Jones. “There’s a sense of ‘OK, now I’ve played my hand, you get to decide what to do next.’ There’s an element of vulnerability there.”
She acknowledged speaking in the most general terms, because there are many kinds of love and many kinds of “I love you.”
There’s even the cheap “I love you,” the insincere lie of an “I love you” whose sole purpose is to get the utterer laid. Entire episodes of “Sex and the City” were built around that “I love you.”
So, things can only get better from there and not every “I love you” is difficult — in theory, at least. Parent to child: “I love you,” said often and accompanied by many squeezes and hugs. Hopefully. Ideally. And upon reflection, there may be times when even that most basic “I love you” isn’t easy.
“You’re very vulnerable when you say ‘I love you’,” said Tycee Belcastro, a Grand Junction marriage and family therapist. “You’re exposing yourself and there’s the possibility for rejection.”
You: I love you.
Love, almost universally agreed on as the most important human emotion.
“What a small word we use for an idea so immense and powerful that it has altered the flow of history, calmed monsters, kindled works of art, cheered the forlorn, turned tough guys to mush, consoled the enslaved, driven strong women mad, glorified the humble, fueled national scandals, bankrupted robber barons and made mincemeat of kings,” wrote Diane Ackerman in “A Natural History of Love.”
Love, the ultimate four-letter word, as simple as a heartbeat. But is there anything simple about a beating heart? It is where, figuratively at least, or sometimes even literally, the first flutterings are felt: This person is great. This person is amazing. This person possibly hung the moon.
“Human love… is widely tasked with achieving what once only divine love was thought capable of: to be our ultimate source of meaning and happiness,” wrote Simon May in “Love: A History.”
Greatest weight often is given to romantic love and the romantic “I love you.” And that’s where the train can so easily careen off the rails. Say you’ve been dating for a few months, and the “I love you” is pinballing inside burning hearts and minds, but who says it first? Who takes that first blind step off the cliff? What if it doesn’t receive a corresponding echo?
“There is a humility that comes with saying ‘I love you’,” said Leslie Holzschuh, director of marriage and family life at Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction. “You’re opening your heart and maybe you don’t know how it’s going to be received.”
So, even an “I love you” to a friend can be a leap of faith. Of course you love each other, you hang out all the time, but, you know, don’t be weird, dude. And pass the pizza. Which, of course, you both love.
“Loving donuts is not the same thing as loving a person,” Holzschuh said, acknowledging the frequency with which “love” is tossed around through the course of a regular day. “I think we’re smart enough to know the difference.”
So, raise your hand if you’ve heard some variation of the “many words for love” trope (and for the record, ancient Greek had four, not the 23 or whatever that some claim; that would be a Scandinavian language’s words for “snow”). And raise your hand if you’ve heard — or personally delivered! — a rant about the absurdity of having just one word to express the infinite textures of love.
But all this is just a semantic smokescreen for the heart of the matter: saying “I love you.”
Not much can make it easier. Booze, maybe, but then its sincerity can be called into question. A written invitation? Saying it in the manner of a dorky jokester? Bambi eyes telegraphing acceptance? Skywriting of the “Tell me you love me because I love you, too” variety?
Nope, the only thing to do is say the words, to lay bare a beating heart, to hope for the words returned, to find strength from having said them, to feel alive for feeling love.