This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but “I love you” is said too often and too casually in our culture. A powerful phrase is becoming meaningless because of overuse and laziness.
On the first episode of the sixth season of Mad Men, the creative team is trying to come up with a campaign for a “No Fumes” oven cleaner. The tagline is “Love is in the air.” Don Draper, the creative director, is going over the copy for the campaign:
Don Draper: Why do they all have ‘love’ in them?
Female copywriter: They asked for it.
Draper: It’s a big word.
Male copywriter: I guess they heard it on the news.
(Don looks at the mock-up ad. It features a newlywed couple coming home from their honeymoon and entering their kitchen)
Draper: What the hell is this?
Female copywriter: They’re newlyweds.
Draper: This couple doesn’t exist. Anything matrimonial feels Paleolithic.
Female copywriter: What are you suggesting? A little Haight-Ashbury colonial?
Male copywriter: A couple of longhairs in love? That’ll get Dow going.
Draper: As much as I’d like to join all the ads making fun of the ubiquitous San Francisco hippie, let’s try to trade on the word “love” as something substantial.
Female copywriter: I don’t think that’s possible in this context.
Draper: So why are we contributing to the trivialization of the word? It doesn’t belong in the kitchen. “I love this.” “I love my oven.” “You know what I’d love? I’d love a hamburger.”
We’re wearing it out. Let’s leave it where we want it. We want that electric jolt to the body. We want Eros. It’s like a drug. It’s not domestic.
What’s the difference between a husband knocking on a door and a sailor getting off a ship? About 10,000 volts.
If an empty advertising man, who will use the sacred to sell anything and claims to have invented the idea of romantic love to sell nylons, says using the word love too often will “wear it out”, then maybe we should examine using the phrase “I love you” too often as a substitute for feeling and demonstrating the real thing.
Ad men value and appreciate the power of the word “love” to sell things, so much so that using it too much while selling those things trivializes the word. And thereby diminishes their ability to make an impact and make sales.
Shouldn’t we value the word “love” just as much? Yes, hearing “I love you” in any context is nice to hear. It’s better than “You suck”. But, to use the words to say farewell, out of fear, out of obligation, or because you didn’t hear it as a child, and not because you genuinely feel love trivializes the words. Love shouldn’t just be part of a valediction, have an agenda, or be connected in any way with fear or obligation.
“I love you” is becoming just words. Hollow words. This saying “I love you” as part of every encounter you have with a loved one business started because most of us grew up never hearing the words from our parents and vowed to rectify the situation by always saying them to our children. There are rules about when “I love you” should and shouldn’t be said in romantic relationships and what it means if one partner doesn’t say those words when the other one has. Some people don’t even bother to say “I” or “you”. Just “love ya”.
I get it. Some people need to say and hear those words in order to demonstrate love and feel loved. It’s part of their love language. I respect that.
But while hearing “I love you” is lovely, it isn’t real love. Words, no matter how often they’re spoken, are still just words. You don’t love someone more because you say “I love you” more. Doesn’t everyone want to feel the real thing?
My 10-year-old niece, Blair, has two parents who say “I love you” to her often and she rarely says it in return and she is one of the most loving and lovely people I’ve ever known. Loving — that’s what’s important. We focus on the words, like we focus on money, when the words and money are just symbols. Saying “I love you” does not make real love and having a lot of money does not make real wealth.
You know what kids need more than “I love you’s”? Parents who are present, who see them, who light up when their kids enter a room.
You know what I’d rather have than a 1000 texted “I love you’s” in a relationship? Being loved, where love is a verb. Loving makes love, as Tom Robbins wrote, not saying the word “love”.
I love words. I was thinking about how important words are when I got the idea to write this post. Words mean a lot to me. The words I Love You are among the most significant words you can utter in your lifetime. Life as a human being is all about relationships and hearing and saying “I love you” should be meaningful. Hearing those words should hit you like an electric bolt. No, feeling love should. This can only happen when you don’t hear “I love you” 50 times a day.
The most touching moments in any story are not when the lovers say “I love you” but when you know they love each other and they don’t say it. It’s easier to use the trite “I love you” than it is create an affecting story that reminds the audience what love feels like. It’s difficult and complicated. Love is difficult and complicated. It’s difficult to communicate your loving feelings in a genuine way, but doing the difficult, genuine thing is worth it. Saying or writing “I love you” repeatedly is a quick and cheap substitute.
I’m not cold-hearted or unsentimental (Although hearing “I love you” all the time leaves me cold). I just think special things should be treated specially and carefully. I shouldn’t wince when I hear those three words or not notice when they’re being said because they’re always being said.
Say it only when you mean it so it means something.
Do something loving as much as possible.