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7:04 p.m. - 2012-02-10
i love yous
My friend Susan is one of those people who says "I love you" all the time -- at the end of every phone conversation, every visit. As you can guess, I am not. I am the one who says "I love you too."

Why? I suppose because I didn't grow up saying it, for starters. You know how you often read about families in which you can't express anger; it's simply not permitted. In my family, at least as I remember it, anger was the only emotion that WAS permitted. That was the only emotion I expressed, for sure; I learned to keep love, hurt or sadness secret at all costs. And expressing those things, still, makes me feel embarassed and as naked as if I was standing on a downtown street with no clothes on.

Saying "I love you" scares me too; it scares me because my ex-best friend Kate was the one who taught me to say it, and my love for her scared both of us. Now I am scared that anyone I love, I love too intensely.

The few times that I have gotten up the guts to say it, unprompted, to S, I have agonized and kicked myself afterwards -- my thoughts are something along the lines of, You're coming on too strong; now that she knows how you feel, she's going to run for the hills!

Which is completely irrational; she says it to me all the time and it doesn't make me want to run for the hills -- it makes me happy.

I suppose another reason "I love you" makes me uncomfortable is that it still connotes for me a relationship that is hurtful; my angry family did not say "I love you" on a daily basis but on rare occasion the word was used to exhort my silence about my dad's violence -- "you know he loves you." You loved your family, therefore you protected its members; you accepted their violence, you accepted their abuse. If you loved someone, and they loved you, they were allowed to hurt and humiliate you without consequence.

Do I fear that love leads to abuse? I suppose. And if I don't want a good relationship to become abusive and dark, I suppose, I naturally and ironically avoid invoking love.

I do say "I love you" to my kids a lot -- mostly, I suppose, because Matt has always insisted on it. Every time he picks them up, he tells them, "Go give your mama a hug and a kiss and tell her you love her." So they do, and I give them a hug and a kiss and tell them I love them. Marley has always said it a lot; for a while, literally every 15 minutes she would stop what she was doing and say, "You know what, mama? I love you."

Yet it is still hard for me to say spontaneously. And I need to do that more.

It is very selfish to be afraid to say I love you, I think; it means I'm putting myself and my fears before my kids and friends and their happiness.

I am trying to do better.



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