Waiting for the Elusive “I Love You”

Drinking my coffee on a fine Fall Sunday morning after a very hard week at work, listening to some smooth Pandora… Nat King Cole comes on with his sultry, “(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons,” and I swoon.

His words trigger a deep longing in me and I tear up (just a little)…inside I’m whining…that no one has uttered those words to me for a long while – which isn’t really true – just how it feels.

But as I sing along with Nat and sip my morning brew, I realize that what I miss most of all as a “single” is the feeling I get when I hear myself say ” I love you!”

Now, I certainly have people in my life who I love and care about who are not family, so why wasn’t I saying it more often?.? Why do we reserve the “I love you’s” only for certain people – family, very close friends and lovers? Why aren’t we more free with our expressions of love?

I began to think about all the reasons why I was holding back on letting people know I loved them…even though that “holding back” contradicted what I wanted – more love in my life! Was it possible for me to be more proactive when it comes to love?

You see, growing up, my mother told me that each of us only gets a few “real friends” in an entire lifetime…”the rest,” she said, “were only acquaintances.” Love, in our house, was a rare commodity to be selectively bestowed – not an everyday occurrence. For my family, expressing appreciation for others was simply NOT a family value. So if you’re at all like me and you grew up believing love was in short supply and that you had to be selective with your feelings, then you probably have two problems with the words, “I love you.”

One, you probably don’t believe them. It might sound crazy to say it, but you may have a difficult time believing in the truth of Love. Others may have used the concept of love to affect and control your behavior, doling it out only in certain circumstances. You may believe that love has strings attached both in giving and receiving. So…you may not know what love really means. You might falsely believe that others have to do or be something magical or special to warrant your saying those words. You might believe that you too must earn the love in sacrificial and hard won ways.

Secondly, holding back on saying I love you is how we protect ourselves from the inevitable tough and sticky challenges of relationship. If we don’t admit the way we feel about someone, then when they do something that hurts our feelings (an inevitable effect of letting people get close to us) then we can fool ourselves into thinking we didn’t really care about them anyway. Not loving means we can walk away more easily when we feel hurt or disappointed. So we test people by withholding our feelings…until we feel certain they won’t leave or hurt us in any way – a false certainty at best.

It seems that when we consider love a commodity, then we focus way too much on getting love in return rather than focusing on how much love we have to give.

When we don’t express love to ALL of the people we care about, we’re really hurting ourselves. We push people away when we don’t appreciate them or give them a sign that their efforts at caring are noticed. We essentially block the stream of love in our lives. Getting clear on this, I began to think of all the people I’d miss if they were gone and I knew I had to get better at letting them know how I feel. I had to risk saying the words that might open the door for looking stupid, getting hurt, being misunderstood, or suffering the pain of loss… as it most surely might some day come.

I challenge myself to be the first to say I love you…to look for opportunities and situations where love is present and acknowledge it. I figure there’s really nothing to lose …

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