“Love you, love you,” I said in Armenian, as I ended a phone conversation with my sister, while waiting to pick up a cup of coffee at a local joint. A beautiful elderly woman smiled and asked if I had just said I love you in Armenian. She said it was the one phrase that as a young girl 70 years ago she had learned to say because she had had a crush on an Armenian boy in middle school. I gave her a puzzled look. She said, “You never forget how to say I love you in whatever language,” she said. The telescope of her memory brought out my own.
Somewhere in every person’s heart is the memory of at least one young crush. I can still remember the many crushes of my middle school years. It was a time of fantasy and romantic imagination; a potent mix of idealization and infatuation. It didn’t require being well acquainted with the person I found attractive. It meant wanting to be around that person, creating a fantasy world of excitement while scenarios of “I love you” in different languages danced in my head. I wasn’t alone in these idealizations. It was the rage then among my closest friends and me. We attended schools that had an international population of students from so many differing countries and cultures that we each wanted to know how to say, “I love you” in as many ways and languages as we could. Each of us took on a language, or two or three, that we were convinced would forever be our way of saying “I love you.” I took on nine, (oh yes, I had nine crushes). Each language was more beautiful in rhythm and sound than the previous. I learned how to say the words and then spelled them out phonetically in English and repeated them throughout the day in school as though I was chanting a mantra or the rosary.
As children, we grow up with the romantic ideals of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White thinking that true love is the happily ever after of fairy tales. As early adolescents, we move onto the corny sentimentality of crushes and infatuations. By mid adolescence, we experience young love, the Romeo and Juliet kind of love with its wild and impetuous, skyrockets and roller coaster rides, where we think we know true love. At the end of adolescence we begin to understand that love reveals over time as we grow in maturity and experience. And when we do learn to love and know true love, we fall in love with love. We surrender to it, because “The heart loves who it loves. The beauty of giving our heart to another, and having that heart love reciprocated is a gift from God.” (John Three One Six, Kristi K. Mendoza).
Love is a nutrient essential to living. It is real. It is delicate and tender yet tough and passionate, and when it pours into the heart, love cannot be stopped or denied. But often I hear that the phrase “I love you” has lost its meaning because of overuse. Where love once stood for a strong emotional attachment or a deep spiritual connection, it is now a substitute word for a temporary feeling. Even I carelessly toss the phrase “I love you” around. I once told my Uber driver ‘I love you’ because he weaved me through seemingly impossible traffic. The other day I went to my hairdresser of 15 years and when she cut my hair I exclaimed, “OMG, I look amazing. I love you. I can’t wait to show myself off!” On Saturdays and Sundays I frequent my favorite local coffee bar and I take my first sip of coffee for which I’ve been dying and tell the barista, “This is perfect. Love you for making my day start just right.” My aunt ends a phone conversation with me and says she loves me. A best friend departs with a swift trill of her fingers and says “love you, friend,” as she walks away. I see my neighbor cuddle his dog and utter loving words acknowledging her (the dog’s) never-failing ability to make him smile and cry at the same time, and I’m convinced that any reason to keep on living for him would disappear if he lost this bond of love. “I love you,” I whisper to my grandchild as I put him down in his bed for the night. That sweet phrase “I love you,” exhausted and abused, forms the foundation of our lives. To love abundantly is to live abundantly.
I’d be silly to think that saying “I love you” means the same thing to each person to whom it is said. My mom didn’t give me or get from me the same kind of love that I give to a best friend, husband, hairdresser or kitty cat, and that doesn’t mean I care for one more than the other. So, no matter how you say it or to whom you say it, keep passing on the love — even if those words accidentally slip out when you’re talking to the bartender on a fun girls’ night out as I did the other day. I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with verbalizing my feelings on a regular basis. This world can always use a little more affection, a bit of extra magic. So go ahead, love others, and love yourself because Love begets Love.
As for my corny sentimentality of an adolescent, in the words of the beautiful elderly woman, “You never forget how to say I love you in any language.”