Personal – On Saying “I Love You”

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I think one of the biggest steps in a relationship – and potentially the most difficult for those of us who are sensitive and afraid of non-reciprocation – is the first time you say “I love you”.  Because that’s it.  After you say it, you can’t take it back.  The words are out in the world, and you have to deal with the consequences of saying them.

If we’re being honest, I never really had a lot of opportunities to make mistakes about when to say the words.  How lucky for me that the only person I’ve said them to in a romantic and vulnerable way is the person that I’m still with, and he felt the same way at the same time.  But that’s not to say that it almost didn’t happen in a weird and awkward way, because this is me that we’re talking about.  Would you believe that I almost said “I love you” for the first time through the mouth of a hand puppet?  It’s a possibility that occasionally haunts me to this day, but in the moment before I said the words while moving my hands in a mock-verbal way, I thought better of it.  I thank God and my lucky stars every day that I paused before it happened.  Would it have been the worst thing in the world?  No, because I still would have meant it, and the words would be out in the world, but if I were speaking truthfully, I would have to tell you that I said I loved the boy through a plush carrot’s “voice” before I said it through my own.

Thank you, thank you, thank you universe.

But there is more to the world than romantic love.  One of my favorite quotes comes from C.S. Lewis and has been a part of my facebook profile for as long as they allowed quotes on profiles.  it says,

Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

I think about this most when in the past I wondered if I had reached the point where I love my stepdaughters.  Because that’s an awkward thing – they were not part of the original “falling in love with their father” plan, but came along with him as part and parcel of who he is.  Fortunately, we’ve been really lucky in our relationship (me and the girls), and I feel like things are pretty good.  And while I think it would embarrass all parties involved if I said it out loud, that quote up there is what drives my knowing that I do love them a lot.  I want good things for them, and I want their memories of our time as a family to be loving and generally good.  There may be times that their father and I make them do things they don’t want to do (chores and bedtime are a constant challenge, even with preteens), but I think they will eventually see that everything that we’ve done for them has been in their own interest – that we’ve been working for their ultimate best benefit.

The other way that I know that I love them is when I think about their relationship with their future sibling.  We began a new and more regular schedule of days and weekends with their mother, but before that schedule was discussed/established, I didn’t know what the plan was, and I was worried for them that that it would impinge on their ability to spend time with their new sibling.  Fortunately, I no longer believe that will be the case.  Things have been very flexible and worked out well so far (at least on our side), and I see this going forward as a very good thing.  But the very fact that I was so worried reconfirms that I love them, even if I haven’t said it to them.

And saying “I love you” to a child that is not your own blood is hard, and weird, and I don’t know when the right time is to do it.  Chances are that it will happen sometime in the future at an event like a graduation, and it will be natural and not feel weird at all.  But until such a time comes, I’ll just do my best to make sure it doesn’t slip out through the mouth of a hand puppet.


Ok – so happy Valentine’s Day everybody!  Does anyone else out there have a funny story about how you said “I love you” for the first time to someone?  Or how it was said to you?  Any tips on how to tell non-romantic partners and persons in your life how much you love and care for them?  Or is that more of a “show, don’t tell” kind of thing?  In any case, I love you all for reading my ramblings.

1 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    I think it’s really important to tell non-romantic people in your life (especially children) that you love them, out loud and often. It may feel like a big deal in your heart (because it IS), but I don’t think you should actually treat it that way, in this particular case. That just makes it all the more awkward for everyone and can put the recipient on the spot to feel like they HAVE to say it back right then and there.
    You have to keep in mind that they might be still adjusting and growing in that relationship, or they might be feeling as awkward about it as you are and you need to allow them to say it to you when they are ready, not because they feel pressured to do it in that moment. Kids that haven’t known an adult since they were babies may rely on the show-don’t-tell approach forever and may never be comfortable voicing those words to that adult, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. Or they might get used to it very easily; it all depends on their personality. But regardless, just the same way you have waited to say it until you are certain you feel it, you have to respect them enough to allow them the same process. That being said, I think kids need to hear those words from the adults in their lives who mean it.

    If you are feeling uncomfortable about it, I suggest starting by naming specific things you love ABOUT them during normal conversations. For example, when doing a craft, you could say, “E, I just love your creativity. That is something I admire about you.” Or when one of them is being goofy, you can say, “I love your laugh! I can’t help but smile when I hear it.” Not only is that generally affirming for them, you’ll both get used to using the word ‘love’ in the context of your relationship to them. But it’s a safe step back from outright saying “I love you.” And then one day, when you’re dropping them off somewhere or saying goodnight, you can just casually drop an “I love you!” like it’s no big deal and then it’s done. You’re there. The precedent is set.

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