Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and death. Not the loud romantic love, or the fall-off-a-cliff death, but the quiet sentiment at the end of a voicemail from someone who would never call again. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about words left unsaid, voicemails never left and connections broken before they were made. That brings me to question this week: does speaking of love make it more true?
In a recent “This American Life” episode, a segment talked about letting your loved ones know your feelings before you’re mortally separated. One thing this piece specifically touched on was how reserved men were versus women with letting their loved ones know that they loved them. I immediately thought of the man I love the most in my life, my father.
My father has never been reserved in telling me that he loves me, nor I him. As he even said, “You know that I love you, if I love you. I never have a hard time saying that.” Regardless, I wondered if there was ever a time when he cared for someone and didn’t let them know, and had simply forgotten because he had never said his feelings. I asked him point-blank and his response was: “I don’t think that anybody on the planet hasn’t felt like they could have said more; that’s obvious.” My father said that he believes that saying how you feel and choosing not to isn’t a gender question but more an inevitable situation each individual has to face, and tends to shy away from. When asked for a specific example, my father was just as shy. Speaking of love unsaid, it seems, doesn’t come easy even after the fact.
I know this to be true from my own experience with saying less. I’ve found that even if I do feel deeply towards another person, not even in the romantic sense, just in the “Hey, I know you and I love you” sense, if I get stuck in a rut of not telling that person how much they mean to me, then I won’t start back up again. My aunt and I have a very close relationship, yet I haven’t told her I loved her since I was a kid. As my dad reassured me, “A lot of the time it goes unspoken. Saying it sometimes means more for the sayer than for the person hearing it.”
I put his theory into action. I resolved I would say it — I would tell my aunt I loved her on our next phone call, and see what impact it would have both on the sayer and the receiver. It’s important to note that I don’t consider myself an emotionally private person. I say “I love you” to the man at City Convenience who gives me doughnuts. This, however, was the real deal, not doughnut-love but true, vulnerable emotion.
This was, at least, doughtnut-and-a-latte-love. The problem was that I hadn’t said “I love you” to her in so many years, and though I know she knows it, it would seem oddly formal to say, like asking her for a loan or to take me to the school dance.
I couldn’t manage the full “I love you,” when it was time for our goodbyes. I managed a quick “Love ya, bye!” and quickly hung up the phone. I’m not actually sure if she said it back, and I’m not sure if it was better for me to say it or for her to hear it, but at least, I know that we now both know that it was true. If I’ve learned anything from my quandaries on love, perhaps it’s not the weight of our words, or our words unsaid, or even our actions, but the power of honesty that comes from words spoken.