"The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love."
-Samantha in Her
For an excruciatingly large part of my life, it was terribly difficult for me to utter the phrase, "I love you." Saying the words made me physically uncomfortable: my stomach would twist into knots and my skin would prickle. Nothing about "I love you" ever felt right. The only times I would ever say the words were when prompted, or when telling my dog good night. It was so much easier for me to tell my dog I love him/her than to tell a person.
I'm not entirely sure when it all began, this discomfort with love. It is quite possible that it stems from being made very well aware as a child that I was a mean, spoiled brat, and therefore I felt like love and I never belonged in the same sentence. It is hard to give or receive love when you feel like you deserve no part of it. And so, throughout my life, the only times I would ever say "I love you," the phrase was usually accompanied by the word "too," in response to someone else's "I love you." Love was more of an obligation than something that felt natural.
Even after my nephews were born, "I love you" was difficult to say. Of course I love the three of them in a way that I could never have imagined, and I express my love with hugs, kisses, and ruffling of the hair. I make sure they stay out of trouble, I feed them when they're hungry, give them water when they're thirsty, and I play with them so that they know that I care. But "I love you" would never come out.
It really wasn't until the past few months that "I love you" became easier to say. For the first time in my life, I work with a group of people that I genuinely love and care about, and who I know love and care about me in return. Hugs, high fives, and pats on the back are a regular occurrence, and I hear and say the words "I love you" more than any other time in my life. Not only this, but when I tell my friends I love them, it feels completely natural- no knot in my stomach, no queasy palms. Just love.
But "I love you" hasn't quite made its way into the rest of my life yet. It's still hard to say it with my family. I never tell my sister I love her, and we rarely hug, even though she is the most important person in my life. Love that big is hard to express without feeling completely vulnerable.
Perhaps my discomfort with vulnerability is at the root of it all. Sure, I make myself vulnerable when I bellydance or when I write something like this for anyone to read, but there is still a veil between me and my audience/readers, whereas with the love the veil is drawn and everything is on display. When I dance or write, nobody has to pay attention, and I really don't care (too much) because I do those things for me anyway. But with love, there is always a hope that it will be returned. When love is not returned, the pain can be unbearable, and therefore, it is easier to keep your love to yourself.
So this is the part where I would normally challenge myself to be more expressive of my love for everyone in my life. This is where I say that I am going to make a point of making "I love you" part of every goodbye. This is the part where I tell you that real love asks nothing in return, and therefore I should have nothing to fear when I tell someone I love them because if love is true then there is nothing to be ashamed of. And yet.
I'm not quite ready for that. I may now be in my thirties, but I still have some things to work on. I see life as a continual learning experience; I'm always changing, learning, and (hopefully) growing. I don't expect myself to be completely comfortable with "I love you" overnight. I don't even expect to be comfortable with it by the end of the year. But I am learning, and I am willing to grant myself grace when I mess up. And maybe, one day, "I love you" will be the words you remember me by.