The DOs and DON’Ts of I LOVE YOU

Look, if nothing else, it’s always great when someone tells you they love you.
–Ross, Friends, “The One with All the Kissing”

I’m not particularly fond of Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had anyone to enjoy it with. Maybe I just think it’s a commercial holiday that says, “This is when you should love each other the most.” I dunno.

Maybe it’s because I think it emphasizes romance a bit too much. There are all kinds of love. There’s the love that parents (should) feel for their children, that siblings share, that friends share. And I don’t think people express it enough.

My whole life, one thing my parents have always said to me is “I love you.” Multiple times per day.         My dad is a very masculine guy – he’s a carpenter, bricklayer, concrete finisher, and he served in Vietnam. But he tells me he loves me every day, unless it’s a day that we don’t see or talk to each other. I get the feeling it’s not something he heard from my grandfather very often, and he wants to make sure it’s abundantly clear to me. It seems like fathers often don’t say that to their sons, especially as they get older. Sons seem to not want to hear it. Which is sad.

And you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to say it to your friends, either. I have no problem telling my friends that I love them, though I just realized I rarely hear it back. But it doesn’t matter. I know they do, too. Or I assume they do. 🙂

Conversely, some people use it entirely too much. Teenagers say it, often before they realize what it means. Some people say it to get others into bed. Some people say it because they want it so badly that they think, by saying it, they can will it to be true, or just to get someone to say it back because they want to hear it so desperately.

And that’s really just as bad as not saying it at all. When you actually love someone, you can’t overuse “I love you,” but when you don’t and say it anyway, it loses all meaning.

So here are my rules.

  • DO say “I love you” to your children. And mean it. Seriously. Let your kids know all the time that they’re loved and accepted.
  • DON’T say “I love you” to someone you’ve been dating for a week, especially when you’re a teenager and everyone else is pairing off and you just feel left behind.
  • DO say “I love you” to your partner, as long as you really do love them.
  • DON’T say “I love you” to your partner out of some sense of obligation. That degrades it.
  • DO tell your friends (and cousins and siblings, etc.) you love them. Even if they don’t say it back, they’ll like knowing how you feel. Sometimes, they may need to hear it, even if they don’t realize it.
  • DON’T tell someone “I love you” out of pity or guilt or just to reciprocate. Just because they say it doesn’t mean you have to say it back. And it doesn’t mean they necessarily want to hear it. If you feel like you have to say it, you probably shouldn’t be saying it.

Life screwed me up a lot as a child, and I’m still working on unscrewing it. It’s not anyone’s fault, really, but a combination of a variety of factors that I just wasn’t wired to deal with. But one thing I’ve never felt is unloved. I’ve felt unliked, unappreciated, unrespected, unencouraged. But I’ve never felt unloved. And I owe that to my family. No one has ever told me that they loved me without meaning it. I’m grateful for that.

“I love you” isn’t masculine or feminine. It’s a unisex term. It transcends culture and ethnicity and religion and sexual orientation. And when used correctly, it’s the most powerful phrase human beings are capable of uttering.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day, you should let everyone you love know it, instead of just reserving it for your partner. Make your kids heart-shaped pancakes. Send your friends an e-card. Whatever. Let’s make Valentine’s Day about all kinds of love, not just one specific type.

And let me know your “I Love You” rules, too. If I like them, I’ll add them in.

And if you like this post, you might also like my earlier post, What is Love (Baby, Don’t Hurt Me).

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2 responses to “The DOs and DON’Ts of I LOVE YOU

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