How To Say “I Love You” Like A White Person

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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:

  1. 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
  2. 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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About Author

Maggie Kim

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.

8 Comments

  1. Is it really white people, or a brand of Americans, mostly from California? The words were never uttered in my family, and we’re as pale as they come! In fact your description of cringeworthy close encounters with the 3 words as a child reminded me of the same, going hand in hand with minimal physical contact and no nudity under any circumstances.
    No problem either uttering the words at home since my daughter was born, but still need to brace myself to say them elsewhere.
    But you’re right, not only does it not hurt to do so; it can also brighten the day of any who require the sustenance of a blanket of warmth on a cold dark day.
    Hope things will get better soon. Luv ya! (One of my compromises )

    • Maggie Kim

      Lol, our Lifestyles editor was like, “Idk, WASPs are pretty cold.” 😀 It’s a broad brushstroke to say only white people say “I love you,” just like it is to say Asians never say it… but there’s a definite cultural difference (plus it’s a clickbait title!) And things are better. I love you back!

  2. Ann

    Love this article, Maggie. Clever and profound. I love it and I love you, and all you’re doing. *heart heart* *Hug emoji*

  3. Darling Maggie,
    First, I’m so glad your well. But I have to tell you in my African American household it was the same. Maybe it’s universal, this aversion. Or maybe the expression of love is so filled with vulnerability and hope, and caring. Personally I’ve always wonder about people who toss it around so freely.

    • Maggie Kim

      Dear Tracy, I love that, “the expression of love is so filled with vulnerability and hope and caring.” Exactly right and beautiful.

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