Do you remember the first time you said ‘I love you’ to someone, and you were scared they wouldn’t say it back?
Or maybe this hasn’t happened to you. Some people never want to be the person to say it first. Personally, I’ve always felt like we need as much love as possible in this world, so my bar is probably on the low side.
The first time I had someone say ‘I love you’ to me first was not in a romantic relationship – it was a friend.
This was someone who was very special to me as a friend and a mentor (and not interested in women, just to make that clear from the outset). One time, we were getting off the phone, and he said ‘Love you, Al.’
I felt hot-faced, and touched, and awkward, and giddy all at the same time – he had caught me so off guard. But I realised in that moment that I loved him too. Not in the way I had expected love to be, not in the way it would be with a romantic partner, but a deep and abiding enjoyment of and appreciation for this wonderful person and the relationship we shared together.
The words felt awkward coming out of my mouth, but I said it anyway. “I love you, too. Goodbye.”
I thought maybe it was a one-off, but nope. It was the start of something new. This became our regular signoff. ‘I love you.’ ‘Love you.’ Each time it gave me that little zing of emotion – the rush of emotional intimacy.
These are words most of us don’t hear often enough, and it’s almost impossible to hear them too much.
Bit by bit, I started saying this to my friends, too. Not to everyone – just to my closest friends in the relationships I really treasure.
I think it’s important to name this and claim the value of this kind of love. Love doesn’t have to just exist in one person. Love isn’t just romantic. The ancient Greeks had words to explain different kinds of love. Maybe we need something like this in modern day English.
Or maybe not.
There is the same anxious thrill of saying it to friends as there is in saying it to a partner. The fear of loving and not being loved in return never goes away. But there is a heady magic in this vulnerability.
I know some people think that using these words too much cheapens them – but I have found the opposite to be true.
Being willing to say ‘I love you’ – to recognise my most precious relationships – has undoubtedly helped me draw these people closer.
In that moment of emotional risk-taking, we create the opportunity for an even deeper friendship. I love the moment of surprise the first time the word “love” is brought into a relationship. It’s nerve-wracking and exciting and awkward and wonderful all at the same time. Every time I say them, I get the same buzzy glow and can see this on my friend’s face as well.
Yes, there is a risk that you might not hear them back. But that’s okay. We as human beings programmed to look for this reciprocity. And crossing a line of intimacy can put people’s guard up – but if you’re saying this to true friends, this is a risk worth taking.
And its’ worth remembering that just because someone can’t say the words doesn’t mean they don’t care for you in the same way. And being bold in cherishing each other is a wonderful feeling, even if the feelings or the words we use to describe them don’t entirely match up.
If you feel shy about it, start with just ‘…love you.’ Somehow it feels less formal and less official once you leave off the ‘I’.
Everyone deserves to feel this magic.