I’ve been thinking, possibly too much, about saying, ‘I love you’. According to hints from those who know they’re my loved ones, I don’t do it enough; say it aloud, that is. I’m not sure I want to.
How often is enough? My Joda reply - that ‘say’ may be important but so is ‘do’ - doesn’t get me off the hook. Anyway, if I am saying it too rarely, a dismaying number of people are making up for me.
Everyone’s at it: on the train, at the school gate, on the phone, in TV dramas. At every temporary parting (it's probably OK if you’re about to fly to Australia or sail around the world single-handedly) someone is telling someone that they love him or her.
‘I love you’ is losing its identity through being wrapped ever more tightly around ‘goodbye’, as in, ‘bye, I love you’. Or it's being replaced altogether: witness, daily, the waved hand followed by, ‘love yoo’, often chanted without a backward glance at the object of this most perfect sentiment.
I don’t doubt that those beating ‘I love you’ to death do love those to whom they say it. I do doubt the need to say it ALL THE TIME. Drowning each other in daily doses of it, degrades a wonderful sentence (where it is a complete sentence) into something prosaic and trivial.
The phenomenon is related, in an era of positive affirmation, to our tendency to reach straightaway for a superlative when describing the merely good or nice. ‘Oh, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen’ about a welcome (or not so welcome) gift. But what do you say when presented with something that is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? Worn out superlatives won’t be up to the job.
I digress. As 14 February looms, I wonder if turning ‘I love you’ into daily gabble, along with ‘whatever’ and its ilk, could kill the joy of Valentine’s Day itself. Think of youngsters – the most highly exposed recipients of this quotidian term of farewell – when opening Valentine’s cards that say, ‘I love you’. How will they know whether they’re being dumped, or their admirers actually love them?
Familiarity breeds… etc. Receiving the most potent message in the English language several times a day weakens its impact; and if ever a message was meant to have impact it's ‘I love you'. Do we need to fear for its power even when whispered in the personal, intimate situations that it normally electrifies? Hope not.
‘I love you’: the most beautiful words we can hear. Let’s keep them for best.
Bye (and not, absolutely not, 'Love yoo')