The meaning of ‘I love you’

Image by the excellent Stuart F Taylor

I don’t want to say ‘I love you’ yet again. I only say it because I’m too lazy or too tired or too wrapped up in it to give you eloquent specifics. What I want, instead of these ‘I love yous’, is to be able to describe the shape and weight of your presence in my life. I’d like you to see yourself through my eyes.

We say ‘I love you’ many times a day. And most of the time, it comes as a reflex.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Have a nice day, I love you!”

“I love you too, don’t forget to bring back milk!”

Sometimes it’s little more than a superstitious gesture – like saluting a magpie or genuflecting or throwing salt. I say ‘I love you’ because the words just tumble out of my mouth, and I forget what they’re really meant to mean.

Sometimes I say ‘I love you’ and what I mean is ‘I find you hot.’ The quick movements of your hands when you’re working on a problem or a flash of your stomach when you reach to the ceiling to stretch… they give me pangs in my chest and throbbing warmth in my crotch and it starts to physically hurt to leave this desire unspoken.

Other times, they mean much more. As I watch you from a distance, distracted and cute and messy, focusing on something and oblivious to me… I say ‘I love you’ and you mutter ‘hmm? Thanks!’ And you don’t realise that the reason I said it at that exact moment was that my heart would burst if I didn’t let the words out.

Sometimes, the best times, I say ‘I love you’ in the manner of someone screaming out warnings in a nightmare.

When you do something so wonderful that the value of it hits me like an almost physical force: you respond with kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it. You drag me into playful childishness at the moment when I need that the most. Or you use your words and your body and your smile to make me feel for a second like I’m important, and loved.

“I love you,” I say, choking back the lump in my throat and the tears that are coming too quickly.

And you reply with “I love you too,” like it’s absolutely nothing at all.

Like you haven’t really understood just how much I really love you, because those three words can never hope to paint a picture. I am Cupid crossed with Cassandra – screaming hopelessly that I love you love you LOVE you. Not in the way you think when I’m asking you to pick up milk, but in the way they sing about in musicals at the climax of the show, a desperate, rending love that feels akin to heartbreak.

And so while ‘I love you’ sometimes means ‘I’m comfortable and happy here’ and other times means little more than ‘I want to remind you that I’ll be happy to see you when you come back from picking up milk’, sometimes it means ‘I want to take this feeling and put it inside your head.’ I want to be able to record the brain waves in a playable format, then upload them to your mind so that whenever you’re down or stressed or bored you can press a button and experience this overwhelming surge of love for you – that aching way you make me feel sometimes.

I wish you could see yourself through my eyes. I wish I could paint you a proper picture – hand over the substance of my love, so when you caught it in your hands you would stagger under the sheer weight of it, and truly grok just how good you are. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you, and I kick myself for being unable to conjure ‘I love you’ in detail, so you can feel what I feel when I really fucking mean it.


Last night I told him all the things that sucked about me: my failings and my fuck-ups and my worries and the stabbing guilt that I will never be good, or kind, or brave. He listened while I poured it all out, then just replied:

‘I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.’


  • Bex says:

    Can we turn this into a Valentine’s card or something? You are an incredibly insightful writer and manage to convey feelings I didn’t even know I had to convey.

    Obviously your sex writing is pretty awesome but your feelings writing resonates every time.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you! That’s really kind of you to say. Ihave mentioned to Stuart that this pic would make for a lovely V-day card!

  • When I say those three words to my husband, they mean different things on different days, depending on what is happening, what has to happen or what has already happened. Isn’t it lovely that we can convey so many messages with only three words, and isn’t it even more lovely that they see us so much different than we see ourselves? Sometimes we are just too hard on ourselves… and they even love that part of us…

    Rebel xox

  • Phillip says:

    Grok? I’m am apprised of the attentions that I have not paid and that I hope are not too late. Anger is a wind that blows out the light of the mind.

  • D says:

    Your writing about sex and the human body is amazing. But your writing about emotions and how they tie into, lift up and pull us down in our day to day lives is something else. My limited vocabulary can’t think of something that transcends ‘amazing’ so I’ll just say that I love this piece.

  • This post is amazing & should be made compulsory reading for SRE classes. The succinctness with which you sum up the essence of a loving relationship… <3

  • David Self says:

    Just beautiful, nothing more needed.

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