The Words We Say
I love you.
According to some research 73% of Americans want to hear those words from their partner every day.
I got thinking about it sitting at an airport waiting for my son to arrive. I watched the people as they met the passengers they had come to receive, and I heard those words uttered many times.
There is plenty written about these three words and its use and abuse across the World. Many people, much wiser than me, have commented extensively on this. It really got me thinking about what the words mean in my life. Do I have to say the words to the people about whom I might feel a connection that is truly deep and meaningful? And therein lies the conundrum, who can these words be used with? And when? And why? Are these just words that have become so routine that they are meaningless or are they needed as a reminder of the contract between people.
It is as if not saying it regularly calls some contract into question or saying it is sufficient to keep the contract in place. As if that utterance offers the sufficient evidence to renew the contract. It is as if you are continuously renewing a contract by the statement whereas much of the other things in the contract can fall by the wayside, but that utterance ensures that the contract continues.
Perhaps it is best not to say anything and the proof of the value of the contract lies in precisely the actions you do. Utterances are mere camouflage for failed action. I would much rather have someone do than say. Perhaps it comes from the origins of the culture I come from.
Silence is more precious than the pointless mouthing of inauthentic statements. A bondhu once pointed this out to me, “you do so much.” In that doing I have tried to express the emotion, and when the bondhu sees what I do and acknowledges that it is much more authentic than the three words.
And some people understand it, they look for the action and not the statement. But then, as the one expecting those words to be told to us, we too need to look for what is being done. Some people state their feelings in the silence, a bondhu once told me, “I do not say much.” And in that confession lies the clue for those around to look for the sentiment, in the silence, in the tiny little things one does.
Not in grandiose events but in the simple acts of knowing what someone likes, maybe a food that one enjoys, the “I love you” is stated in that simple gift of knowing what the receiver of the gift enjoys, and not in giving what the giver thinks is a good gift. The three words covers up our actual lack of understanding of the person to who it is stated. Indeed, it can be an excuse or a statement to hide behind.
But then, if you do not say it as frequently, then how do you let the other person know. Actions are good, but perhaps there is something beyond getting the appropriate gift, that special earring or packet of tea from the duty-free store or that special dark chocolate that the person enjoys. Is that enough? I wonder, it seems that the real emotion is too complex to be expressed in three words that seem to want to distil some really deep and vital feelings into a tag line.
Perhaps we live by tag lines nowadays; an industry of greeting cards has been built around elaborate tag lines, but is it not enough to get a brown paper bag with an insignificant piece of paper with some heartfelt promises written on it, sufficient to replace these tag lines, or an emoji on WhatsApp that sometimes says more than any tag line can, or even a simple “OK” in response to a message.
Sometimes that is all that is needed and the artificiality of the three-word phrase is replaced by the simple act of sitting by the person quietly and remembering silently the memories the deep feelings have produced.
We cannot say “I love you” to the departed, but we can cherish them and always know they loved us as we love them today. Nothing can be said. OK Nothing need be said. It is in our actions. It is in our mind. It is in our music, as Frank Sinatra said, “Killing me softly,” those are the moments one needs to look for, not the three words only. OK.