On saying “I love you”

I think I will offer my definition of love to start: love is the natural state of being with another person. What I mean by this is that when we are with other persons and we are in touch with our emotions, we find kindness, compassion, encouragement, trust, gentleness, consideration, and warm regard naturally arising for others. When we are with others, we can verbally communicate our feelings with gentle declarations, emphatic exclamations, and earnest descriptions, but only when we are truly in touch with our own feelings. Verbally saying, “I love you,” and how one says it, is an important matter, because we oftentimes struggle with feeling our feelings and putting our feelings into words, especially our feelings of love.

Our words, in many ways, are the basic means we have to touch others lovingly, for words do touch hearts, and they do break bones.

Our words have weight.

Statements of love can have the weight to move and affect us. This concept was eloquently described by Rollo May (p. 29) when he wrote, “The interrelation of love and will inheres in the fact that both terms describe a person in the process of reaching out, moving toward the world… and opening himself to be affected.” Willfully, consciously, purposefully declaring one’s love has weight, and expressions that do not have weight don’t quite land.

There are many weightless expressions of love. “I love you so much!” “You are such an amazing girlfriend!” “I just, like, love you!” There is primarily weightless gush in these and many similar exclamations. For some people, the gush is enough and the gush matters most of all. I do not deny the experience of some people feeling loved from declarations such as these. I think of it in the same way that a person says, “I love you too”, as a reaction and not a genuine response. A true weighted statement of love is personal, is specific to the other person, is felt, and elevates. “I love you, and I feel that my life is more full for having you by my side.” “You mean the world to me and I feel strong, more capable, and a better person because of you and your love.” “I only want you to know how deeply I love you and how much your happiness matters to me.” These are some weighty statements of love. These statements touch me.

In addition to weightless expressions, there are also lowly statements of love that contain veiled hurt. “I’m lucky to love you, because you are too good for me.” “I don’t know why you love me but I do love you.” “I don’t deserve your love.” These aren’t declarations of love, for the natural way that we are with others isn’t cowering from worthlessness; these are the gush of low self-esteem. These statements can feel like love, perhaps, to people that feel unworthy of love, for whom the weight of love is too much to bear.

Saying, “I love you”, can be weighted and weightless, from a place of equally high regard or from low self-regard, and they can also be too measured. Those measured statements are the rational declarations of love, where love is presumed rather than naturally arising. “You are my wife, of course I love you.” “I love all my children equally.” “How can I hate you? I love you.” “I think I love you.” Rational expressions have an uneven quality to them, as if the brain is telling the heart what to feel. Rational expressions of love reduce relationships into tidy formulas of agreements, rituals, and greeting card scripts, which extol the necessity of saying, “I love you”, to “X” number of times a day. A part of me bristles at the thought of a person promising to say, “I love you”, a certain number of times a day, as if that measure of repetitions holds the appropriate weight of love, rather than the feeling itself.

I’ve spent a while describing the ways that we say, “I love you”, but I would also like to address what happens when we do not say those words. Choosing to say, “I love you”, out of a rational habit, without taking the time to feel and express how another person uniquely touches our heart, doesn’t quite feel loving. Choosing not to say, “I love you”, also walls us off from touching others and being touched. There are seemingly rational reasons that people give for why they refuse to verbalize their feelings. “I don’t want to say it all the time, cause then it will be over used, and it won’t mean anything.” There might also be emotional reasons for not saying, “I love you”, which can include the fear of rejection, the uncertainty of one’s relationship, or present feelings that are thought of as the antitheses of love: fear, worry, anger, or hate. Let me be clear, whatever the reasons for not saying, “I love you”, it is a choice to not verbalize one’s feelings. It is a choice that has response, which is feeling unloved.

Yes. Most of us carry wounds from former lovers, current friends, and even parents wherein we were somehow told: “I don’t want to be with you”, “You don’t matter to me”, “Go away”, “We are over”, or simply “I don’t love you”. These words wound us because they hurt our sense of being loved and being ourselves: they break our bones, or more metaphorically, our backbones, so that we can’t stand up for ourselves. In being loved by someone else, and having someone accept us and be with us as we are, we are also given a greater capacity to love ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, and to love others. It is commonly thought that to love someone else, you have to love yourself first. I think the reverse is true; to love yourself, someone else has to love you first.

I can keep writing about love, but for now I’ll end with an earnest plea. When we are with others, and we are open to feeling our feelings and open to expressing our feelings, expressions of love naturally arise. When they arise, say them. Saying, “I love you” is a simple way of putting into words that I am with you, you affect me, and we are together. I truly wish that more people would feel it, say it, and put some weight in it.

About the Author


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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn saying “I love you”

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