Giving “Love” Some Respect
Here’s a true story:
About six years ago I was dating a pretty brunette from Massachusetts. One night as we were making out on her couch, I inadvertently made some strange mouth noises (it can happen to the best of us). Apparently, one of my mumblings sounded very close to the words, “I love you.” I discovered this when she suddenly stopped kissing me, looked up at me with eyes rapidly swelling with tears, and enthusiastically declared, “Oh, I love you too!” It was a powerful moment, and one I had been thinking might eventually happen down the road, but not just yet — not that way. Proclamations of love need to be made from the top of the Eiffel Tower, not from a horizontal position on an Ikea futon. But it was out there and I needed to do something about it. At first I was stunned and then words and phrases started spilling out of my mouth. None of them seemed to be helping: “I’m so honored!” and “I’m not quite there yet!” and worst of all, “I really, really like you!” It was a mess.
I relay this story as we celebrate Valentine’s Day — the time of the year when the four-letter L-word sees more action than Hugh Hefner on a grotto binge. It’s all over the place, from those doily cupid cut-outs hanging from the ceiling in doctor’s waiting rooms to those little heart candies that tweet, “EZ 2 LUV.” While some say share the love, spread the love, embrace the love, I say spread the joy but covet the word.
If there’s one thing I learned from my wayward smooch, it’s that I needed to start thinking twice about how I used the word “love.” Though I’d said it for years, I really didn’t love Bon Jovi’s seminal album, “Slippery When Wet” — I just really appreciated its power ballads. Would I love to meet up with my buddies for drinks? No, but it sounds like a real fun time. And when I’m asking people to get back to me, would I really love to hear from them? No, but it sure would be swell to get a prompt reply. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was debasing the most precious of words by using them as a lazy stand-in for more specific sentiments, such as, “That’s super!” or, “I have a preference for this.”
But undoing a cliché isn’t easy; it takes time in your head to replace that all-encompassing L-word with something else. I began my turnaround with emails. “I’d love to talk you” changed to “I’d really appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you.” “I’d love to see what you’re up to” became “It would be great to meet up.” Both not nearly as sexy, but more real, and I think in the end people know when you’re being sincere and when you’re a phony baloney.
Nowadays, that New England brunette and I are married and proud parents of a precocious three-year-old girl who’s keen on learning the ways of the adult world. We tell her we love her every night before we tuck her in and remind her to tell her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that she loves them, too. But sometimes she extends her feelings a little too far. Not long ago she bade farewell to the mailman by saying, “Bye, I love you.” My wife and I smiled at her mistake, but the mailman was tickled.