"I love you." Seems a simple enough phrase, no? I've been giving some thought to those three little words, and their meanings that they hold for different individuals in my life. I decided to collect my thoughts here.
From the moment my children were born, I knew that I loved them, although to be honest, sometimes it took a few days to really feel the connection with the little stranger sleeping on me. I never doubted my full devotion to them, and knew that the overwhelming feeling I had to be near them and to care for and protect them was love. I understood then just why someone would give up their own life for someone else. It is a very pure form of love. Now, with my children at ages 8, 5, and 2, I tell them often that I love them, and never forget that those words mean that I will always be there for them, and that I will forever be willing to sacrifice anything and everything for their well-being.
For my parents and siblings, "I love you" coming from me is a reminder that I am grateful that despite our differences, we remain family, and that our bond is that of blood. We have survived fights, divorce, death, estrangements...and through it all, when one of us reaches out for help, the others immediately throw out any and all available resources to pull through together. I would have been homeless during my divorce if my mother, whom I had not spoken to in nearly 4 1/2 years prior to my reaching out for help, hadn't realized this deep bond and opened her door to me and my children. I share that same drive to assist when my siblings come to me in need of food to help them get to their next paycheck. It's just what family does. No questions asked; no request refused.
I tell my closest friends that I love them, too, and that is my seal of my devotion to our friendship. There is nothing I would not do for those friends. Some friends in my life have come and gone, others have been fair-weather friends, but some are true friends, and those are the ones to whom I profess a love. Those are they who know my strengths and my weaknesses, and still accept me unconditionally. They are the ones I know I can turn to in my times of need and they will do everything in their power to help me, and they know that they can reach out to me, as well, and I will do anything to help them. They are they with whom hours fly and feel like only minutes when we are together. They are they who can pick up a conversation after a long period of time right where we left off and we are totally comfortable talking about everything, as well as with a silence that sometimes speaks more than words. My love for them is a platonic, unbreakable love.
Of course, these words generally bring straight to mind a romantic love. I have spoken them to a few different men in my life, but not every boyfriend I ever had was worthy of hearing those words from me, so some did not. As a teenager, I felt compelled to speak them as a way to make sure that my boyfriend knew I was wanting to be there with him. I learned quickly that such a thing does not work (the one time I tried it, I was dumped the same day). Next, I felt that I should use the phrase to solidify a sexual relationship (also does not work, especially when the heart simply isn't in it). After that, I became far more discretionary, and used it only with the man I married, and that didn't work out so well, either. Although I meant it at the time, circumstances changed my life path and also altered my emotions to where, although I "like" him as a friend and the father of my children, I do not love him in the romantic sense. I have since discussed this with someone with whom I entered a romantic relationship, and realized that I now am in tune with my emotions enough to realize when that emotion is present (and when it's not), and then am quick to voice it, while he disclosed to me that with him, love is something that must develop gradually and make him realize that he would do anything for the person that he professes it to before he could utter the words. Difference between male and female? Perhaps, but I think it is more a difference of background. I want always to have my romantic partners know where I stand in a relationship, so when I recognize that I am at that point, I voice it. He had been in situations where it was voiced, but not shown, so he must make sure he really feels it prior to voicing it.
In short, those are the four versions of love that my heart beats for: parental love, love for my family of origin, friendly (platonic) love, and romantic love. The same three words profess one of these four versions of the love that I feel toward certain individuals. I really enjoy the movie "Made of Honor" where the leading male character tells the leading female character, "You're an 'I love you' slut...you say it to everyone!" That about sums me up, too. I say it to many, but now when I say it, it is because it is true, and there is real meaning and emotion behind the words, even if the meanings and emotions vary slightly depending on the person to whom I profess the love. :)