I’m going to tell you that I love you. I’m going to figure out how. It’s not that it’s a crazy thing to say — of all the words ever spoken in all the languages in the world, it’s got to be the most common three words ever said in that combination. How hard can it be, if so many people have said it before, and if so many people will say it after? To husbands and wives and friends and fathers and mothers and children and you — lovers.
But maybe that’s why it’s hard, you know? Because I really want it to mean something. I need it to mean something. I need to convey what I mean when I say it and there are no other words for it that I can find so I just have to tell you, but I need you to know I mean it.
I need you to know I’m not just saying it the way other people have said it — halfheartedly and too often — and that what I mean is and isn’t what other people mean when they say “I love you.” Because I love you for loving me — or at least I hope you love me, or could learn to love me, or are beginning to love me. And I love you for all the ways you are yourself, for just being you, which, yes, sounds like the most trite way to say why you love someone, but maybe, if all the yous of the world are just different enough, the meaning changes just that much as the phrase jumps from lip to lip, relationship to relationship, I to love to you.
I’m going to tell you I love you.
And I don’t know if you’ll say it back, and to be honest, I don’t know if I really need to hear it back. It’d be nice, sure, but expecting you to love me just because I love you feels like too much pressure, doesn’t it? It feels a little greedy. I’m not sure where I stand on the love being patient and kind recipe that everyone’s been devoted to for so many untold years, but isn’t love a little bit selfish anyway? I love you: I want you for my own. You are mine to love. I want to be the only person who loves you. I want all of these things with you — but, in the cliché of clichés, I want you to be happy, and if you’re happier when you’re not loving me, well, that’s a risk I’ll have to take.
Because love is a risk. Love is taking chances, and trusting someone else, and being honest when you know very well that it could blow up in your face five minutes or seven days or 20 years down the line. I could tell you I love you and you could never say it back, or you could realize that this is going somewhere you don’t want to go, or you want to let me down easy and I just raised the stakes, or maybe you love me like a friend and just don’t… love me. There’s a thousand different things that could happen. There’s a thousand different possibilities on the line. Love changes everything.
I could tell you in all the roundabout ways, I guess. I could mention it haphazardly, I could say it for the first time when you’re sleeping and it doesn’t count because you don’t hear me — but at least the pressure would be off, maybe a little. I could tell you that I love your crooked smile, or how you look in that jacket, or that one thing you cook for dinner, or how you decorated your apartment, or that I love your friends, and by the unsaid extension of all of these things, that I love you.
So I’m going to tell you I love you, and I’m going to find the words (even though I’ve already found them, really) and I’ll be nervous and unsure, and deep down maybe I’d like to to hear them back. I’d be lying if I said that wouldn’t be nice. Because if you love someone, you should let them know — or so the saying goes — but I wonder if the people who have said that over the years realized that letting someone know you love them exists in all the spaces between the words, in all the things you do for each other, in all the ways you look at each other and are kind and patient and true, in all the moments when you find yourself thinking about them and hoping that they’re happy.
I’m going to tell you that I love you. I know the words, and how to say them, and everything that they mean to me and you and us. I guess the only thing that was left to do, then, was finding my voice.