This Is How To Really Say “I Love You”

man kissing woman
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It’s so easy to toss around these three little words.

In the past, I let these words determine my first few relationships. I tumbled them out with abandon, like wringing out rags.

In some cases, they were reciprocated. In others, they frightened away. (I mean, who wouldn’t say yes to Toblerone chocolate and a romantic mix CD of Chicago and U2? Anyone?)

Now, “I love you” is far more vexing and complicated and wonderful. It’s not necessarily more heartfelt—it’s merely got more heart to work with.

But that’s why it’s different.

I’m careful about when I say it, and how. I’m also tired of greeting cards and banners and quotes that attempt to say it for me.

In fact, I like to think I’m getting better at delivering the words our culture has turned into stone monuments and bright mountaintops.

Here’s how.

Pursue what makes your life shine

Yes, you heard me correctly. A gesture of love does not have to be about the other person entirely. It can be about you.

The cinematic, heroic version of love is all-giving. It’s a hungry, all-consuming fire. It suggests an obliteration of the lover for the sake of the beloved.

As you can imagine, philosophy and literature have been pondering this concept for centuries.

(If you want more of this, check out Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse.)

As a staunch feminist, and as one who loves being both the lover and the beloved, this concept has recently felt wrong. Yes, who wouldn’t want the movie version of The Notebook or even Pride and Prejudice?

But the brief glimpses of love we get on movie screens and in sonnets is not necessarily sustainable—or realistic for that matter. It’s important, for one thing, for both parties to exist, with identity and passion and force.

In other words, the best relationships are duos: one in which each partner is pursuing what makes him/her/them shine (at all times).

I’ve spent so many nights tangled in bed or simpering over breakfast and coffee, asking a lover What will make you happy?

The best answer I’ve heard? “For you to do what you love.”

Show your lover he or she is loved by pursuing your purpose. Dive into your passions. Live your best self. This is a gesture of love. 

Celebrate your lover

What does it mean to celebrate? To me, I think of honoring, of paying tribute, of showering someone or something with golden attention.

Instead of a smoky, whispered I love you, celebrate your lover.

You don’t have to throw your beloved a surprise party (although making your own invitations and spending hours at the Dollar Store buying cheap plastic party favors can be fun).

Nor do you have to blow up balloons, craft a cake, or jam out to Beyoncé in your lingerie (oh, yes).

Celebrate your lover in a way that makes sense to your relationship. Celebrate them by being present when they are struggling. Cook up a special meal. Write a letter from the heart. Take the time to tell your lover in person why you celebrate their existence.

In other words, throw a verbal party.

Learn your languages

I am hungry for knowledge—everywhere, everywhere. In relationships, I immediately commit to learning my lover’s language. His or her words, ways of being, habits, beliefs.

Demonstrating interest in the way your lover inhabits the world is akin to demonstrating love (at least in my book).

Take the time to learn each other’s syllables, conjugations, special vowels. Maybe you decide to try skiing (because he’s so into that). Or maybe you exchange some of your language for a bit of his or hers by sharing a vulnerable part of your past.

Simply asking, “What can I do today to get to know you a bit better?” can be a great way to accomplish this.

Think about how you light up when someone is interested in the way you move, the way you think. See what I mean?

You may also be interested in learning each other’s love language. Understanding how your partner experiences and offers love can give you more insight into better meeting his/her linguistic needs of the heart.

Follow up

It can be so easy to let arguments fizzle without closure. It can be equally tempting to lose yourself in your own schedule, forgetting about that one question, that one problem, your lover is enmeshed in.

Don’t let these things just be. Bring things to proper closure to indicate you care.

Check in with your beloved; take a deep breath and follow up about that nasty fight you just had. Don’t let your relationship create lots of loose threads unless you intend to weave them in later.

Be honest, Be stupid

Love is, as Roman philosophers and religious texts proclaim, never about deceit. True love, we’ve learned, is patched with honesty (not lies). Give your partner a gift of truth.

Instead of smoothing the frosting, cut it up a bit with your fork. But let it be an honest fork.

Don’t hide how you feel. Don’t put on a show. Choose authenticity. Wouldn’t you want this, too?

Sometimes this means being stupid. Sometimes it means (often for me) being awkward. Let yourself be stupid and awkward.

I like to think that the goofier I am in a relationship, the more absurd things that fly out of my mouth, the better the relationship.

When I care about how I express something, when I’m aware of being “awkward,” chances are, the love is inauthentic.

Be silent

Yes, words can sometimes minimize the inexpressible power of the silent moment. Let yourself feel. Let your lover feel. Let this be enough.

Sometimes we can overlook our initial intention of expressing love by drowning it out with loud things: big gestures, lots of music, long speeches.

Let the intention be enough. Be silent, lovers. Your beloveds will notice. TC mark

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