These three words, when strung together, are probably the most emotionally moving in the English language. Delivered correctly, they can make you feel better than you could ever imagine, and when delivered incorrectly they can completely destroy a relationship beyond repair. They have started wars and ended lives. They carry an enormous amount of feeling and power. As we all know from our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. You have to be careful of how, when, and to whom you utter this magical phrase. You must also be aware of how often you say these words, or you run the risk of not only saying it to the wrong person at the wrong time, but also of diminishing their incredible power.
Now, I know that some of you are thinking that there is nothing wrong with telling people you love them as often as possible, and that it is actually beneficial to do so. I don’t disagree with saying this phrase in general conversation or to end a phone call. I also don’t have a problem with saying it about objects or events. For example, I love my car, and I love bacon more than any human should, and I will shout it from the rooftops. What I am talking about being judicious with is something much deeper. I am talking about those moments when you look someone in the eye in silence for a few seconds, feel that tingling sensation in your belly, and utter those three little words. If you do this too often, you risk taking the meaning out of the phrase. It is basic supply and demand. If you flood the market by saying it too much, the desire people will have to hear it will go down.
I was first exposed to this idea by my father when I was probably 10 or 11 years old. As anyone who knows him will attest, my dad is a man of few words. He also is fairly reserved and plays his emotions close to the vest. This combination, coupled with the fact that he is extremely intelligent and well read, means that when he speaks, you should listen. One day, out of the blue, he asked me to take a walk with him. We were walking along for a while, not saying much, and he began speaking. He said, “Scott, I know sometimes it seems like I am angry with you when you struggle to do something because of your disability. I want you to know that that is never the case. I am angry at the situation, because I have to watch you struggle and suffer and there is nothing I can do to help you. I love you. I know I don’t say it much because I think it takes the meaning out of it, but don’t ever forget that.” I said ok, as what he had said hadn’t really sunk in yet, and we walked back home.
I have thought about his words countless times over the years, and what they mean to me. I of course always knew that he loved me, but there were times in my childhood when I felt guilty for causing his frustration and anger. After this walk however, I never had those feelings again, and I could think about his words and know he loved me. If he had told me every day that he loved me however, this powerful message would not have carried nearly the same meaning. His cautious use of those three words is what makes this touching memory so special to me, and allows it to provide comfort to me every time I think about it.
As I have grown up and thought about what he told me that day, I have come to agree with his philosophy. Outside of my family members, I have only said these words to three people, and two of them I know without a doubt loved me back and said so. Even within my family, I rarely say this phrase. There is only one moment when I always say it. When I get really sick, and I am in the hospital, when I get scared that I might not make it, instead of saying so, I will take my mom’s hand in mine, look her in the eye, and say, “I love you.” This is our little code for her to know I am scared, and it also comforts me to know that I told her how I feel about her one more time. Since I so rarely say these words, it makes these emotionally charged moments that much more powerful and memorable.
Even if you don’t agree with my thoughts on this meaningful phrase, I hope that you will at least think about what these words really mean, and how often you say them. It is very important that you say them enough that your loved ones know how you feel, but if said too much they will lose all meaning. As with everything, it is all about finding the right balance for your life. Also, remember that you can often portray how you feel about someone much more effectively through your actions than through your words. Perhaps by showing them you love them, you won’t have to tell them as often. At any rate, keep in mind your use of these powerful words, and make sure you use them in a way that truly illustrates how you feel.