The Truth Behind What ‘I Love You’ Means To Other People

by Emily Rella

Three words, eight letters, infinite connotations. To most, hearing these three words offers a sense of stability; for the true dreamers, they mean that you’ll never be alone again. Your heart is now in the protection and care of someone else and that person will do everything in his or her power to guard and guide you. Who doesn’t want to be told that he or she is loved?

In our darker hours, we feel alone and unworthy because we cannot feel love from others; maybe it’s been a while since we’ve been told that we’re loved or maybe we just feel a sense of confusion and emptiness. But, at risk of sounding like your therapist, you are loved, always. We are all loved and the people who love us tell us every day, we just don’t always know where to look for it or how to uncover it.

We say “I love you” when we lay flowers by a grave and gently kiss the tombstone as we walk away without looking back, even momentarily. We say “I love you” when we tell the person getting in the car to drive safely and to be careful, even if we know that person is only going 10 minutes down the road.

We say “I love you” with a hug lasting four seconds longer than necessary, when we fold our loved one’s clothes after his or her laundry is done, and when we go to get a cup of coffee and ask if anyone wants us to pick up anything. We say “I love you” when we tell someone we need him or her, that we can’t live without that person, that he or she is more than important to us and that we never want to lose him or her.

I, being the somewhat sadistic, twisted bundle of fun that I am, say, “I love you” when I tell someone he or she is an idiot and laugh out loud (playfully, of course).

I say “I love you” when someone asks for a Starburst and I give that person a red one. I say “I love you” when I pick someone up from somewhere at 3 am in my pajamas sans bra and when I pick a fight with that person for no real reason at all other than wanting to see if he or she will fight back in the name of passion (I love a good passive aggressive argument almost as much as I love a loud screaming match).

But I really say “I love you” when I say “I miss you” because I feel love when I feel someone’s absence, when I recognize a sense of vacancy within me that can only be appropriately filled by one person. Each person I love and have loved has served to fill and secure a different piece of me, like pegs on a pegboard.

But of course, we all say “I love you” differently because we all love differently. Some, like me, feel absence and feel love. Some feel fulfillment and know that that’s love.

Some of us are closed books with many pages missing, rarely read and hid in the corner of shelves too high to reach because their fragility is somewhat frightening, their spines bound to unravel at any moment. These people say “I love you” much differently than the extroverts, the loud lovers of life, like stereo systems that pump out loud words and displays of emotions for others to hear all the way down the street.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle, our heart’s compartments a unique and eccentric mix of open and closed. We can’t expect the same things from different people, just as different people can’t expect the same things from us that they would from someone completely different; it’s just impossible and senseless.

Maybe someone doesn’t tell you that he or she loves you the way that you wish he or she would. I know I’ve been there; I think we all have at some point in our lives. We envision the way someone’s voice will sound when he or she utters those three words to us for the first time, or how our lives will be full of friendships where we are constantly being told we are adored and cared for. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work in that way… at least not in the way we expect it to.

At this moment, there is someone insanely in love with you. There is someone who considers you to be his or her best friend in the entire world. There is a family member who knows he or she could not survive without you. There is someone whom you may not know but who thinks you’re absolutely wonderful and wishes to know you better.

The people in your life tell you that they love you every day, each in their own way. Just as you show these people that you love them in the best way you know how. We owe it to each other to start taking notice of the love surrounding us.

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