I love you.
That’s it. Those are the three dirtiest words.
Disappointing? Were you expecting something sexier or more provocative or obscene?
Whelp, there’s lots of those kinds of words, too, but those words have a power that the three DIRTIEST do not. No one is afraid to say those “OTHER” dirty words. No one. They drip easily from our tongues, becoming common language and even sometimes accepted by our culture at large.
But “I love you”?
Not so much.
It’s nearly taboo to say “I love you.”
So if you’re intrigued at all, I invite you to come along for the ride while I explore the “danger” of SAYING “I love you” and the importance of opening up your heart and learning to comfortably say it…
Marguerite Heikes. “Peg” to most, “Honey” to one, “Mom” to three, and just “Gramma” to me.
Gramma was slight in stature, with her weekly “set” curly short hair, big buggy glasses, and a verbal tick– a sort of “huh”– that she’d let out sometimes as a reaction to something someone said to her, and sometimes just out of general, nervous habit. Gramma was quiet. You could never really know what she was thinking, and it was on a rare occasion when I ever saw her visibly emotional.
Gramma taught me how to garden. She taught me the names of flowers and how to care for them and that when the flowerheads died, you could capture seeds from them so that they could be planted the next year and a new flower would grow and bloom again. Such is the cycle of life, yes?
She taught me that tin foil can be used as an attractive Christmas wrapping paper when you’ve run out of “the real thing.” She taught me how to wash dishes. She stocked her refrigerator and the candy dish with all of my favorites. She played with my sister and I, pushing us on the swings on our several outings to Gallitzin State Park. And when we’d climb the stairs of the “water tower” at the park to see the full beauty of the earth from the highest point we could access, she’d hold my hand to comfort and guide me because I was convinced that the “floor” of the tower was going to drop out, and I’d drown and die in the pooled water below. “Cmon, Lizzy,” she’d gently persuade as she’d pat my blonde, curly 5-year old mop, “it will be okay. It’s not going to drop out. I promise.” Reluctantly, I believed her, and I’d walk with her, one hand in hers, the other clinging to the railing beside me, to the top of the tower. When I was away at college, she’d write letters to me. Weekly. Sometimes even twice a week because as she’d grown older, she’d forgotten that she’d already written earlier in the week.
Yes, Gramma loved me. She clearly showed it.
But she never said it.
I never heard those three words come out of her mouth.
But I KNEW she did. I just KNEW it. Because she showed it. Her actions spoke louder than words, I suppose. But I just so very badly wanted to hear it. I wanted to feel more certain.
I’m a writing teacher by trade, and I stress to my students the importance of showing over telling. “Don’t just TELL your reader something; SHOW them. Help them FEEL and EXPERIENCE what you’re feeling and experiencing,” I preach.
That advice just might be a load of crap in some respects. Because, after all, there is something to be said about making an actual CLAIM. It’s the support and reasoning and details that support the claim.
Gramma could SHOW, but she couldn’t TELL.
What is it about the claim? Why do so many of us struggle to say it? Why do these three words seem to have so much power that they render a large number of us speechless?
Gramma had a hard life. Her father, as I understand it, was not winning any “Father of the Year” awards. But I don’t know what her specific life circumstances were for certain or why she couldn’t say it; I don’t know if it was just something that her generation didn’t do or what. But Grampa said it. Many times. So maybe it wasn’t a generational thing at all. I’ll never know.
Why do we struggle to say it? What does it open us up to? Do we think to ourselves that the other person just automatically assumes that we are loved; that we just know? Are we afraid that if we say it that those three words won’t be returned, and thus we’ll render ourselves “unloved” by that other person who couldn’t say the same thing? Or are we afraid that if we say it, we are committing to something beyond the simple act of loving someone, something that perhaps we’re fearful that we cannot provide or might feel obligated to provide?
And why do I want– and like– to hear it, and why do I think you need to hear it?
Because it’s an acknowledgement.
It’s a verbal admission that you see the other person.
That you matter to that person.
Words are important, especially to people like me whose love language includes “words of affirmation.”
You can show someone all you like, but sometimes, stating the claim is just as important. In writing, without the claim, a reader is oftentimes wondering what in the hell all of the “support” is there for in the first place. The reader, without a claim, is left fending for him or herself, trying to figure out what it is that the author is “trying to say.”
And so… as I write, I am thinking about the most significant people currently in my life who play some sort of nearly daily presence in it…and what I’ve been “trying to say” is this…
Mom, I love you.
Dad, I love you.
Jen, I love you.
Rob, I love you.
Greg, I love you.
Amy, I love you.
Dick, I love you.
Patti, I love you.
You needed to know, for certain; I needed to tell you. And I know that you love me, too. It’s perfectly acceptable if you are not in this space that I am right now, ready to state the claim “I love you” to those whom I do. I am not unloved; I know this, too. I am committing myself to continue loving you, in whatever manner that means for each of those that I love.
I acknowledge you.
I see you.
You matter to me.
Telling is equally important to showing.
And Gramma, I loved you, too.
Dear Reader– will you please do me, yourself, and someone else a favor? Will you text someone, right now, and tell that person, “I love you”? That person is gonna think you’re weird. Coz telling someone that out of the blue and without context is just not “normal.” They’re going to wonder if you’re on your death bed or something because it just isn’t “you” to express yourself like that. So then send them the link to this blog post. And then maybe they’ll understand. And then maybe they’ll text someone and tell someone that they love them, too, and it will just keep going and going and going and going.
Please. Tell someone that you love them.
And maybe, just maybe…in some universe or galaxy that is pretty close to this home…
those three words won’t be so dirty anymore.