When To Say "I Love You"

When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.

― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


Romantic love has monopolized love.  


It’s the first thing that pops into my head when someone starts talking about love and that's pretty annoying.  


Not because I don’t have a romantic partner and I’m bitter (thanks society for making me even consider that) but because there are so many people that I do love and, when we associate all love with romance, it makes it harder for me to express that.


Particularly to the men in my life.  


Reading Sam’s post last week has made me (as I’m sure it made many of you) think a lot about romance and marriage.  Combine that with the release of Christian’s first episode of The Trench (which is all about relationships, though not exclusively romantic ones) and it’s easy to see why I’ve been so preoccupied with love late.  


It doesn’t help that the last two blog posts (here and here) I’ve written have been about people I very much love.  


So, in the immortal words of Celine Dion, “let’s talk about love.”


When we do, we often fall into the default that all love is romantic.  


And that’s a problem.  


Because there are a lot of people in my life that I love, none of whom I am romantically involved with, and I want those people to know how much I care.


I think it’s important for people to know that they are loved and cared for.  That I feel like they are a part of who I am, that they are a companion and an active participant in my life.  I want to be able to clearly express my feelings to my friends, and I think the word “love” is an important part of that.  


The first time I told a romantic partner I loved them, I made a pro/con list so that I could weigh: first, if I actually loved them, and second, what the impact of saying that might be.  I’m dead serious.  Because even then, I thought using the word “love” had a heavier impact than I could control.  


And I was terrified of misusing it.  


Which raises so many questions:


When is it okay to say “I love you?” Why am I concerned about when it is appropriate to say that?  Shouldn’t I just be able to say “I love you” whenever I feel like saying it?  Shouldn’t that be a nice thing to say?  To hear?  Shouldn’t people want to hear that they are loved?  Why is there such a stigma about it?


I hesitate to tell my male friends that I love them, not because I don’t, but because the idea that love is almost exclusively romantic is so ingrained in us I worry that what I’m expressing could be misconstrued.  I worry that my desire to show and discuss the love I have for other people will complicate the relationships that I hold dearly.


This is something we, as Christians, should already get on some level.  After all, we’re invited to love God, aren’t we?


It has taken a lot for me to get to a place where I am comfortable telling the people in my life I love that I love them.  And I think a lot of that stems from the culture telling us love is some grand ideal, some dramatic sweeping feeling that reserved for someone you intend to marry.  


Your “soul mate.”  


And it (occasionally) makes you feel like there is something missing from your life if you haven’t experienced that particular brand of love yet.  


That way of thinking also devalues the love that you do have.  


As lovely as romantic love is, the love I have for my friends and family is just as beautiful.  And it should be expressed just as freely.  


There’s something to be said for romantic love, of course: it’s beautiful and special and fulfilling.  But I just don’t buy that it’s the greatest or deepest kind of love on the spectrum.  There are people in my life who I know love me (even if they don’t want to marry me) and I want to be able to let them know that I love them.


And I find it thoroughly unfair that the way I communicate that is limited.  


We should all be able to tell the people we love that we love them.  We should be able to feel connected to other people, to everyone, to love and be loved without worry.  


Because that’s what we’re called to do all day every day, to love one another.  


And love is one of the most incredible parts of the human experience.  Romantic or not.


Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.