Why the L-word makes us crazy

| Scene Reporter

There are three little words we’ve all heard before—in books, movies or songs. The words, of course, are “I love you.” Sweet, right? Well in these cases, saying “I love you,” means that the good guys have won, victory for the poets and artists, and a rainbow arches over two embracing individuals right before the book ends, the credits roll or the song stops.

But what happens in real life? What happens when saying those three words isn’t the end of something, but the beginning of something—of a real, vulnerable relationship?

What happens is panic.

This phenomenon is everywhere. In a hit show about meeting mothers, a ballsy television reporter runs up to her boyfriend to tell him how she feels, and instead of saying, “I love you,” he exclaims, “Falafel!”

Over Christmas break, my best friend, a beautiful, confident Red Sox fan with a mouth like a trucker, told me about the first time she said those fatal words to her boyfriend: She blurted it out by accident in the middle of a fight, and then ran out of the room, blushing, before he could process what had just happened.

What is it about saying the L-word that makes people so crazy? And why is it such a big deal when we do or don’t say it?

I can’t tell you exactly who is to blame for it. Authors with a romantic streak, overly sentimental songwriters and even our own parents and friends have loaded that one word with so much meaning that it is absolutely terrifying. If you’ve never said it before, it’s scary, because you don’t know how you’re “supposed to feel,” and if you’ve said it before, it’s overwhelming, because it makes you question whether getting this serious is worth the potential heartbreak.

What’s really a shame is that all the hype about saying it has ruined it for the rest of us—all of us normal folk who know what it’s like to care about somebody to the extent that you’ll kiss them even if they have mono, or bring them coffee in the library at 6 a.m. on the day that their thesis is due. All the craziness surrounding it forces us to attempt to quantify our feelings.

While you try to figure that emotional mess out, you don’t have to say, “I love you.” With the weight that it carries, it’s best to wait until you literally cannot hold it in any longer. And it brings with it a kind of vulnerability that can be almost painful to open yourself up to. I won’t deny it. But if that person were to be gone tomorrow, what would be worse: them being gone, or them being gone and not knowing how much you care about them?

If the amount that you care about them is enough to move your relationship from “I really like you” to “I love you,” there’s nothing better than hearing that person say the same thing back to you.

In the meantime, though, you don’t need to give in to the pressure. So just relax. Despite what people may tell you, it’s OK to be completely happy and at peace with the hand that’s rubbing your back at 2 a.m. as you’re trying to finish your next article.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.