The people who I love know that I love them, even though I don’t always say the words.
I’ll sometimes say them in response to hearing someone say them to me, muttering one of those half-assed “I love you toos” or abbreviated “Love yous” but we all know that those don’t really count. They don’t really count for me because I don’t feel anything when I say it. My most recent girlfriend used to joke that I was dead inside. But really the exact opposite is true.
When I do say the three little words, I feel them so deeply that it hurts. It’s the good hurt. That usually brings tears to my eyes. So basically you know I really love you when I start crying.
This has mostly happened with my kids, and these days, mostly occurs when we say goodbye. Rob was visiting me the other day and one of the sweetest things about him has always been when he says, “I love you, Daddy.” He’s been saying it ever since he was a little boy, and maybe it’s because I’m not getting any younger, but when he says it now and I say it back, it feels less like father and son and more like two old friends — one who just happens to be crying like a little girl.
Maybe my reaction to “ILY” is so intense because I hardly ever heard it when I was growing up. My mother said it sparingly and my father, not at all.
My sister Patti says “I love you” all of the time and mostly I just repeat it back, but there have been many days, usually after listening to me whine about some crisis or another, that I’ve told her that I love her from the bottom of my heart, and my guess is that she can always hear the difference.
The truth is, I haven’t said “I love you” to all that many people. I’ve never said it to my two best friends, Tony and John, and yeah, I know, I know, it’s a guy thing, but still. I have said “I love you” to my ex-wife, but not nearly as much as a husband should. I usually waited for a birthday or anniversary or some other Hallmark occasion because it was easier to hide my feelings behind a Shoebox card.
I’ve also said it to a handful of other women in my life and it was never easy and I’ve always meant it and it hasn’t always been reciprocated, making it even more difficult to discern exactly why I was crying at the time.
We all know that love hurts, but I say — bring the pain.