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The Life-Changing Magic of Saying "I Love You" More Often
Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love without reservation
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Above: Love, that which lifts up all those who latch onto it.
To know me well is to understand that I am creature of verbal habit. Despite my best efforts, I am very much the human manifestation of that old dog (if my sprouts and tufts of gray hair are to be believed, in any event) who cannot be taught new tricks
I lean on a repertoire of tried and tested refrains to joust and jest, roast and retort, counter and compliment. I have accumulated these sayings, adages, and one-liners in travels near and far — at both the local pub and destinations the world over.
Sometimes I pick them up from a stranger in passing. Other times I steal them from a family member or friend. After all, as they say imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Whether “living the dream” or “if I was doing any better, I would be you,” I am nothing if not consistent in my Thomistic turns of phrase.
Though this repertoire has its fair share of barbs and zingers, it also includes more gentle, heartfelt remarks. In fact, one of the more common “Tomisms” I employ is made up of five simple words: Love you and God bless.
For as long as I can remember, nearly every conversation I have had with someone meaningful in my life — friend, family, colleague, confidant — has ended with that benediction.
I wield this five word phrase indiscriminately; saying it to people in all walks of my life — a stranger here, a Domino’s deliveryman there (This I would not recommend, but that is another story for another edition of White Noise). In a way, it is an affectionate tic of sorts, though not of the Tourettic variety.
My rationale for this is simple. If these were the last words I were to ever say to my mother, father, brother, good friend — to any person, for that matter — why wouldn’t I want them to be ones of blessing and charity?
Though that may sound ridiculous or even morbid, one thing that I have learned in my old youth is that as you make plans, God merely laughs.
Now I should say that quantity is not quality. Repetition leads to redundancy, after all. Additionally, we frequently utter these words without thinking and fail to express them in earnest. Put simply, we all too often do not mean what we say.
That said (pun intended), love is not zero-sum or finite. Rather it enlivens, strengthens, and reinvigorates the latticework of relationships that make life worth living.
In his Faith, Hope, Love, German philosopher Josef Pieper — a usual suspect in my writing — defines love in a remarkable way. His definition is simple in its message and striking in its depth. For him, love is no more than an extreme form of affirmation:
Existence itself, “la présence effective dans le monde”, this simple “act” of being in existence – this being that is so completely incomprehensible and subject to no definition whatsoever, is conferred upon us and all other beings by love and by love alone. And precisely this is what we know and corroborate when we ourselves love. For what the lover gazing upon his beloved says and means is not: How good that you are so (so clever, useful, capable, skillful), but: It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!
…It is God who in the act of creation anticipated all conceivable human love and said: ‘I will you to be; it is good, very good, that you exist, (Gen. 1:31).’ But, as we know from experience, it does not suffice us simply to exist . . . What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is the explicit confirmation: ‘It is good that you exist; how wonderful you are!’ . . . we need to be loved by another person . . . the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love.
In this way, love’s very power comes from its frequent expression. Repeatedly saying “I love you” does not dilute either its meaning or message.
In fact, I have come to believe that one of the essential jobs of a human being is to love; to reduce another’s anxiety by affirming his/her existence, by saying “yes, you are enough.” By doing so, we allow love to build upon itself, like a snowball tumbling down a wintry bank. Love begets yet more love.
It is made exponential, becoming stronger and stronger as it increases in breadth and depth.
It is complete and self-containted; not an ends, but rather a means in and of itself.
It is dependent on nothing, for it is the outcome.
Love is scary because it demands a temporary surrender of security. It lays bare the soul and renders one raw and vulnerable. Often, it may mean giving up on familiar but limiting habits, safe but unrewarding work, or things that have lost their meaning.
But it will change you, if you let it.
For, by truly loving others, you aspire to better love yourself — to decrease the distance between your aspirational self and your actual self. It brings within that which you put without.
In short, if we do not love, we do not grow and if we do not grow, we do not really live.
As Fyodor Dostoevsky once put it, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
Instead, I contend that the real fear should not be of action, but of its cousin: inaction.
The word not said.
The hand not extended.
The kindness not shown.
It is one of the great ironies of life that until we have felt the pain associated with a deep sense of loss, we may never know the transformative power behind the love we gave or received.
As George Saunders said in his truly masterful commencement address:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
If you don’t take Saunders’ word for it, perhaps those of John Steinbeck or C.S. Lewis will do the trick:
[Love] is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable…
[This can] release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had…Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it. The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it…
And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away. — John Steinbeck
Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity. — C.S. Lewis
Live it. Say it. Mean it, dear reader. Doing so has led to countless bouts of spontaneous joy and serendipitous delight in my life.
Thank you for the precious gift of your time and attention. I love you and God bless.
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.
With sincere gratitude,