When friends decide it’s time to use the L word

I’ve really been feeling the love lately.

More accurately, I’ve been hearing the love.

Who do you need to hug and say

Who do you need to hug and say “I love you” to?
Photo by Jennie-O used under Creative Commons license.

I have been conscious recently of how many of our friends will give me a big hug and say, “I love you” or maybe more often “I love you guys,” wrapping me and John into the declaration of affection.

This feels relatively recent. While a few of our oldest friends have used the L word with us on the phone for years, I don’t recall hearing it in person from newer friends until maybe a year or two ago.

At first I thought maybe it was a function of us reaching the nine-year mark in New York. Maybe we’ve known people here long enough that we have deep connections, not just social playmates.

But then I thought about that and realized we have friends in New Orleans who openly share their love with us, too, and though we visit often, we’re far still from rooted there.

Maybe it’s something about midlife, when more of our friends are parents who are comfortable telling their kids they love them and that practice follows into other parts of their lives, and more of us have lost someone close so we’re more aware that our time together is precious? Maybe we value our friendships more as we age?

I believe the meaning of life is loving and being loved. Loving someone else, whether a family member, friend or pet, opens your heart and lifts you outside your own selfishness to care about the wants and needs of another. I believe all human motivation simmers down to love or fear, and I try as often as I can to choose love.

So why is it in every case I can think of, when a friend has first said “I love you,” I’m temporarily knocked off balance and don’t immediately reciprocate? Why can I not think of a single case where I was the first to say it, even when I would chew glass for a friend I love deeply?

A Wall Street Journal article headlined “I Just Called to Say, Ahem, I, Uhh, Love You” lets me know it’s not just me. Writer Elizabeth Bernstein says directly, “It isn’t necessarily less risky to express love to a platonic friend than to a lover.”

To minimize our emotional vulnerability, many of us have found easy-breezy (read: “safe”) ways to express our affection: “Lots of love.” “Hugs and Kisses.” “XOXO.”

Here’s the problem with this: It doesn’t make us feel any closer to each other. “Throwing out a ‘love ya’ as a catch phrase isn’t the same as saying, ‘I love you’ with real intent,” says Dr. Kirschner. When we look a friend in the eye and tell him we love him, or vice versa, the brain releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, she says. This doesn’t happen when we fire off a quick “Luv U” text.

We joke about the drunken “I love you man” dude declarations of affection, but maybe sloppy and slurry feels less risky? In that environment, it’s OK if the other person doesn’t say it back because, hey, we were just wasted.

Isabel Chalmers wrote a beautiful piece titled “Why Are We So Scared To Tell People We Love Them?” On ThoughtCatalog.com, she writes:

We’re all so afraid to tell people we love them. We’re so frightened and nervous to show our true dependency and admiration towards the people we care about. We think it makes us look weak. We think it’s a socially abnormal thing to do and unfortunately it kind of is. But how bloody strange and backwards is it that confessing our love to someone is socially bizarre yet posting 10 selfies a day isn’t?

Let’s collectively band together and change this. Hell, let’s change it right now. Let’s all go tell the people we love that we can’t live without them. Seriously let’s tell everyone we love just that. Let’s say, “I love you.” Let’s look them right in the eyes when we do it. Let’s say it unapologetically, without hesitation or inhibition. Let’s say it loud and fiercely. Let’s tell it to everyone we can.

Let’s say it to people who wouldn’t expect to hear it. Let’s say it to people who are more than deserving of hearing it. Let’s say it to people we’ve said it to before. Let’s say it to people we’ve never thought of saying it to before. Let’s say it a bit too early, maybe even for some a bit too late. Whatever the case; let’s say it. Let’s say it right to their face.

If you love someone and haven’t told him or her, if you’re shy about showing affection to your beloved, I urge you to read Isabel’s call to arms.

And I shall go forth, wrapping myself in the warmth of our friends’ love and telling them in no uncertain terms I love them, too.

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Categories: home and family, lifestyle

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