There’s something special that happens when someone tells you they love you (though I guess I should qualify that this is true only if you love them back). A bond is created. A feeling of safety. Of security.
A feeling of I have value because someone loves me.
But what, really, does love even mean?
Recently, a man told me he loved me. I told him I loved him. Cue the confetti, the celebratory balloons, the fireworks. LOVE IS IN THE GODDAMN AIR, THIS IS A SPECIAL MOMENT, PEOPLE.
I call bullshit. Yup, truly and genuinely. It means nothing.
The words “I love you” mean nothing. Why? Because anyone can say them. Strangers I don’t even know say it to me. “Oh my gosh, thanks for holding the door for me, I love you.”
Acquaintances I’ve barely spent time with say it to me. “You’re fucking hilarious, I love you.”
Those three words have lost all meaning to me. They are thrown around as carelessly as a socialite’s hair on a windy day at the beach.
I see couples say “I love you” and I wonder: what will your boyfriend do when he finds out you’re texting your ex, telling him that he’s the one who got away? What will your girlfriend do when she finds out you’ve been hooking up with your co-worker for over a month? What will your husband do when he finds out that you’re unhappy but you’re afraid of leaving because you fear financial insecurity? Do you think he would stay if he knew you were only with him because you don’t think you’d find anyone else?
But still, they say the words. “I love you.”
When this man who is not really my man lay next to me, and I said the words to him and he said the words to me, the little girl in me squealed in delight. After my marriage ended and I found out that my ex-husband didn’t even wait until the ink had dried on our divorce papers before replacing me, my self-esteem died a horrible and painful death.
But here was proof, before my eyes, that a kind, sexy, intelligent man could love me! I AM STILL LOVEABLE!
But that little girl inside of me who thought all these things is just that – little. Teeny-tiny, inconsequential. Because the truth is, words mean nothing. Love is action. Love is effort. True love takes patience, dedication, sacrifice, and work.
Words mean nothing when they are not supported by action.
“I love you” does not mean I will call you and make you feel heard. “I love you” does not mean I will hold you when you are hurting. “I love you” does not mean I will inconvenience myself to be with you, to support you, to help you. “I love you” does not mean I will at times make myself uncomfortable to do the thing you need me to do. It does not mean I will do anything, really.
Doing the thing is what love is.
And what is doing? It is having the hard conversations. It is remembering important details that the person has shared with you. It’s going out of your way to make sure that the person you care about feels cared for, protected, supported. It is giving your time, your energy, your attention even when you feel you don’t have much to give.
True love exists even if the words themselves are never uttered.
“Show, don’t tell” isn’t just reserved for writers. It should be the motto, the slogan, the mantra of lovers everywhere.
“I will not tell you that I love you. I will show you.” And then actually do that thing.
The day a man says those words to me, and then actually follows through on his declaration, I will know he actually loves me.