Growing up, my family was very free and liberal with the phrase "I love you." Not in a careless way. We truly, 100% loved each other (even when we hated each other). No matter what was going on, no matter how we behaved, no matter the occasion, we said "I love you." Sometimes, we would say it when someone LEFT THE ROOM. They were coming right back! We knew they were coming right back! And yet, we still made sure they knew it before they left our presence. It's how we say good bye on the phone: "Love you, bye!" We are a very loving family that is not afraid to show it.
This is not to say that our home was paradise or that we never fought. Sister and I shared a room until I was 12, so you can imagine the carnage. We fought like cats and dogs; we BRUISED each other frequently. There was the normal amount of raised voices and tempers and frustrations that any family has. But we never, for one second, doubted our love for one another. A lot of this comes from our faith, which is at its essence built on love. If we truly believe what we say we do, how can we act in any other manner?
Anyway, my point is not to brag about my family, although I do think they are incredible people and I'm so grateful to have been raised in a home like this. My point is, even with never going a day without hearing and saying that phrase, I was fully an adult before I became comfortable with saying it to anyone I was not related to. Maybe this is common? I'm not trying to pull the Special Snowflake card here, I swear. But I remember most of my friends saying "I love you" to boyfriends at an age younger than one would expect someone to HAVE a boyfriend, let a lone be in love (and we can argue about whether they even KNEW what love was at that age at some other time). So maybe this comes from me never having been in a romantic relationship. I've never been in love, so I've never said "I love you" in that way. I don't know.
What I do know is that, despite coming from a loving home and despite growing up in a faith defined by love, I was...embarrassed? hesitant...UNCOMFORTABLE...with telling my friends I loved them. I have no idea why. I maybe thought they would judge me? Like that word was too big and too potent to attach to a normal friendship? Maybe it was a fear that they didn't feel the same way and then we're both left in that awkward space where there's pressure to say it anyway and there's unintended rejection if it isn't said. Maybe I believed, erroneously, that that phrase is only for blood-relatives and romantic love (that would be the dumbest rule ever, if it were true).
And now, nearly 600 words later, I'll tell you that that information? Just ground work for the thought I was trying to tweet earlier. So now you can see why I couldn't fit my idea into 140 characters. THIS is that thought: One of the greatest joys, one of the best discoveries, of my adulthood so far is realizing that I CAN say "I love you" to people who are not related to me and also that I have people in my life to whom I WANT to say it and who willingly say it BACK.
Like I said, probably not earth-shattering. Probably, most of you do this without thinking. But the magic of the Internet is those "me, too!" moments, so I thought maybe I'm not the only one. I have struggled for much of my life (again, despite the loving family and my faith) with feelings of inadequacy and fear of rejection and the expectation that people do not actually want me around. Typing it out like that, it sounds so WOE IS ME, but it's not like that. It's just this stupid, insidious, ugly thought that creeps into my thoughts when I'm in a group of people or spending time in someone else's home: "They don't actually like me or want me here. They're just putting up with me. It's an obligation to them. I'd better leave before I make it awkward for them to ask me to go." Ugh. Not pretty. And not true for most situations.
So the fact that I have people in my life who are not biologically programmed to love me, people who are not only willing to spend time with me, but are willing to say out loud that they LOVE me? That's pretty much the best thing ever. I still hesitate infinitesimally before I say it sometimes. Or I allow them to say it first, just to be sure. I'm still pretty awkward with it (although I would submit that there is very little with which I am NOT awkward). But it's become so common that I almost take it for granted. That's what hit me today. How normal and average and unremarkable it seemed to me when my friend said it right before she hung up the phone yesterday. Because it actually isn't--it's really rather extraordinary. I hope you this in your life, too.