The most powerful and meaningful sentence I, or anyone, could ever say is “I love you.” A declaration of love can break barriers, shatter defenses, and leave both sides completely vulnerable. But “I love you” is also the sentence that I say the most often on a daily basis. Is it possible for something so recurrent to maintain its significance and power? I don’t say it meaninglessly. But even if the feelings are there every time I tell someone I love them, the more they hear it and the more I say it, the less either of us take the time to think about the implications of such a hefty statement.
The first time you say “I love you” to a significant other is a big step. You have to make sure that you are certain of your own feelings because once the words are uttered, there is no turning back. And yet, once spoken, it is no longer a suppressed confession coming to the surface, but it becomes a simple fact. The first time is new and revelatory. And the first couple times after that may retain the wonder of the newfound confidence in the relationship. But after that wears off, “I love you” may acceptably function as something as nonchalant as a greeting or farewell.
As humans, we work under the assumption that love is a point of no return. But that is not what our world tells us. People seem to stumble in and out of love like a toddler trying to walk for the first time. But despite this, we cannot escape the idea that love is a big deal. Everyone views an admission of love as an irreversible step forward in a relationship. But at the same time, even years after mutual love and affection has been established, “I love you” needs to be said repeatedly. Why are both of these true? How is love both concrete enough to be a significant milestone and unstable enough to have to be re-established on the daily?
My answer comes down to the fact that love is a choice. That first “I love you” is so important because it is essentially saying, “I see your flaws and choose you anyway.” But this is not only true for romantic love. I’m the type of person who says “I love you” a lot. I say it before I leave or hang up the phone. I say it after a disagreement. I say it with random bursts of affection. I tell my friends I love them to a probably uncomfortable extent. But I would rather them know that I love them too much than to be left wondering. Because the fact that love is a choice may begin with a boost of confidence in being chosen, but it also means that work must be put in in order to affirm that choice. I tell my family and friends that I love them everyday as a reminder that I have not and will not change my mind. I don’t remember the first time I told my parents, my sister, or any of my friends that I loved them. All of these moments came so naturally because it was a gradual realization. But every moment after that is a conscious choice to do the work to keep loving and keep reminding them that I am not going anywhere. Even if that reminder comes in the form a casual “K love you, bye.” Because every “I love you” ultimately means just as much as the very first.