I’ve been going through a rough patch these past couple months. Basically, I’ve never felt so terrible in my life, which perhaps says more about the wonderful ease of my existence on this planet than anything else.
When shitty things happen, it’s human nature to want to find something positive in all the dank. I am no exception to leaning toward the light, however dim it appears. There were two silver linings to my personal crisis:
- I lost 4 kilos (8.8 lbs) and can fit into everything in my closet, including the sample sale clothes I’d relegated to the “my daughter will wear this one day” pile
- I was reminded of how many incredible people I have in my life and the magic of “I love you”
All the immigrant kids (especially the Asians) will nod their heads when I reveal that “I love you” was not something I often heard from my Korean parents. I didn’t know the Korean translation of “I love you” until high school or college when some dude with yellow fever tried to impress me with a phrase I had literally never heard before. (Douchebag says, “What?”)
There were a weird couple weeks when my mom watched too many Lifetime movies and forced us kids to give her and dad hugs before bedtime and say “I love you” to each other. The awkward was unbearable and the five of us silently, mutually dropped this skin-crawling American custom.
Because unselfconsciously saying “I love you” was definitely American, i.e. something white people did. My best friends’ moms in high school gave me tight squeezes and told me they loved me when they saw me, but it felt strange and I rarely said it back. Maybe a tentative “me, too” would inch its way out of my mouth. When I was older, I told various boyfriends I loved them, the romantic version sitting easier than any other kind. I had friends who were free with their “I love you’s,” and I got a little more comfortable with the weight of the words, but it was never something natural.
Then I had children.
With two kids, a husband and a couple cats, I must say “I love you” at least a dozen times a day. I say “I love you” when I see everyone off in the mornings; if there’s a boo-boo or crisis; when the children or the cats are being adorable; several times before bed. This household is an alphabet soup of “I love you’s” and I’m not complaining. The first garbled “I love you” from your baby makes your heart feel like it’s exploding from fullness. Much the same way the first “I love you” from your first love does.
During this horrible time when I couldn’t tell if gravity worked on me anymore, I was blanketed with “I love you’s” from beautiful people I’ve known for decades and some I’ve known for weeks. (Thank you, white people, who have no hangups about saying “I love you” to new friends!) All that love went a long way to healing my split heart, those three words cradling me with the gentleness and care I desperately needed.
I realized why we need to hear and say “I love you” from the day we’re born until the moment we die, really. We are all children walking this earth in grownup suits, carrying around a lifetime of hurts with gritted teeth and bent backs. Another human being reaching out with the tenderness of “I love you”—even as an emoji-filled line of WhatsApp text—goes a long way to relieving those burdens for a bit and making us feel a little less alone. Like our parents should have done for us. This act of reaching out is profoundly courageous and compassionate, the height of humanity. How sad to reserve that TLC for only our romantic partner or our kids. We Asian people have it ALL wrong.
I’ve decided to be completely free with my “I love you’s” from now on. I’m giving them away like Facebook likes, dispensing them like unwanted advice from crabby French grannies on the bus. I hope to make this sometimes difficult world a little less cruel and hurtful with my uninhibited, unconditional love. So try not to be creeped out when you’re the recipient of one.
I love you. I love you. I love you. Have I told you?
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