Thursday, 23 August 2007


I’ve heard it argued that you shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ too often. The phrase loses it’s power, they say. The words become meaningless, hollow. They don’t send shivers down your spine like the first time they were whispered in your ear, the impact is lessened, and soon the phrase becomes bland, like saying ‘what would you like for tea?’ or ‘it’s raining again, it’s supposed to be summer.’

I am here today to testify. Me and Owen say ‘I love you’ to each other at least fifty times a day. That’s no exaggeration. If anything, it’s a conservative estimate. On days where he’s at work sometimes I pick up the phone, dial his desk, wait till he answers and say ‘I love you’ then hang up.

He usually rings back:

‘I love you too’

It is something we do, something we have always done.

Yet the words have more power now than they ever did the first time: spoken by nineteen year old Jen, my nervous laying down of the cards before I even knew what those words really meant. I knew that by saying them, I crossed a line that would shape us forever. It was a week into the relationship. I said them once. It took Owen three months to respond. Maybe some people would have taken that as a snub. I didn’t. I knew very quickly that this would go the distance. But Owen is more tentative, more hesitant. He likes to be sure about things. He likes to think before he acts. I knew this from the first day we met. I had to accept him for the way he was. So for three long months I waited for the answer I wanted to hear. When I finally heard the words, I knew they were heartfelt. I was curled up on his lap. I had been crying. I don’t remember why. Owen was stroking my hair. His hands fell gently on my scalp, weaving patterns among my follicles. Nick cave was singing softly in the background. ‘Into my arms, my love… into my arms.’ I still don’t know if that was deliberate. He said ‘Jen, I think I love you too’. I fell to sleep with those words ringing in my ears. I smiled and dreamed about us holding hands, our ringed fingers interlocking.

Now its seven years later, we are married. We have said those words almost a million times. They have acquired a history. They have become a ritual. They are a part of us. There are stories I can tell about those words. Some of the times we spoke them stand out. Like the time Owen sang them to me drunkenly on our wedding night before he fell asleep and I felt happier than I ever have in my life. Or the time I said them to him when he had taken his first pill and he looked back at me in sheer delight and awe, like I had given him the secrets of the universe in one single sentence. But mostly when I think of the phrase it is almost as an invisible thread, weaving in and out of our lives, binding us tighter together, strengthening the bond between us.

It can mean different things. Rather than simply being a statement of devotion, these days there’s a whole art form involved in interpreting the sentence.

‘I love you’ can mean, amongst many other things:

‘Shut up’

‘That joke wasn’t funny but you still make me laugh.’

‘I want to have sex.’

‘I’m going to cum.’

‘That food was nice.’


‘Thank you.’

‘You’re annoying me.’

‘I can’t imagine life without you.’

‘You rock my world.’


‘Stop being silly. God, you’re a plonker.’


‘I’m proud of you’

‘Good luck.’

‘I’m with you.’

‘Happy birthday.’

‘Don’t leave me.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Get on with some work!’

‘That’s so typically you.’

‘Do you promise?’

‘I promise.’

‘I want to be with you forever.’

‘Do you love me?’

‘I love you. I mean really, truly, so much I’m going to explode.’


So the list goes on. We never define what the sentence means at the time. We just say the words and we both understand. It’s a language within a language. It is comforting and inspiring and reassuring and challenging. It’s sometimes a little stifling but mostly utterly utterly freeing.

Has the phrase lost it’s impact since the first time?

Well, yes and no.

The words are just words. Their power waxes and wanes with the force that moves them.

When they are said out of habit they are meaningful and nourishing but not knee knocking. However, even now after seven years, and I would hedge a bet that even after twenty seven years we will still be able to pull a mind-blowing ‘I love you’ out of the bag. It’s all in the context. The power is in the chemistry between you at the time. ‘I love you’ is the product of a reaction, a winning formula. I savour the words, I roll them round my mouth and taste them on my tongue. I have never found a more potent mantra to help me through this life. It might be a cheesy line to finish a rather cheesy entry, but ‘I love you’ is the most important thing I have ever heard, or will ever say.

1 comment:

J Adamthwaite said...

I don't think that was a cheesy entry at all It's good to have you back; I've been missing your blog.

You're absolutely right and I've never thought about it before. It does mean hundreds of things, doesn't it? I suppose that's what people mean when they say it loses its value the more you say it - what they mean is, they want it to stay pure, they want it to mean 'I love you' and nothing more. But I think it's nice when it doesn't, and I'm quite sure it never does.