Three loaded words. They mean infatuation, attraction, hope, desire, desperation, happiness, fear, jealousy, commitment, and a shit-ton more. We say them when we think we mean them when we hope we mean them when we know we don’t mean them when we can’t help but mean them, when we only used to mean them.
They are a watershed for every relationship, hopefully, when you’ve exhausted your ability to express gratitude and affection for someone by saying that you like them, enjoy them, adore them, and so on. You say them when you find yourself prefixing every compliment with “really,” employing more superlatives than an over-caffeinated preteen, and you are helpless to communicate your feelings in any other terms.
You say them when a person becomes the axis around which your thoughts and feelings revolve, and you know you couldn’t deny them anything it was in your power to give them. You say them when you know you could forgive a person for so much that your sanity and well-being are theirs to undergird or dismantle. You say them, like a person who is just sober enough to know that they are drunk, waving helplessly and happily goodbye to your sense of control and objectivity.
The first time you decide not to say them, when you admit to yourself that you haven’t meant them in a while, or when you would still mean them, but it’s become irrelevant, is often the most painful experience of your life. They are, possibly, the three riskiest words in the English language, and anyone who has lived, really lived, knows they are as much of a precipice as solid bedrock. When you have everything to lose and you’re willing to lay it down for someone, you say them, a prayer and a promise, “I love you.”
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