“Never tell a girl you love her unless you intend to marry her.” That was a piece of unsolicited advice my dad gave me when I was still too afraid of girls to even ask one on a date. It is solid advice, too. I hear a lot of “I love you’s” exchanged by young couples – or at least, “I love him/her” – and although I believe the intention is good, I’m sure it is not the best thing to be saying. To many, saying those words is the only way to verbally describe their affection for their boyfriend/girlfriend. Then you see on facebook that this person went from being in a relationship to single, no longer with the one they loved with their whole heart, but do not lose hope, because in a week, their status will change back. They’ll have a new bf/gf, and they will love that person with all of their heart, too. Apparently love is on clearance and worth less than it used to be. It seems to be nothing more than cheap words offered anytime one might lack anything else to say. And though saying, “I love you,” to someone can be an easy, meaningless expression of your like, it often means a lot more to the person receiving the faux affection. When you say it without meaning it and withdraw the statement at a later date, it hurts (so I hear. I’ve never been dumped, because no one wanted to date weird old me until Sarah). That is why my dad said it. I vaguely remember him following this with a threat related to if we ever broke a girl’s heart. He meant it.
This line of thinking and upbringing had a direct effect on my dating relationship with Sarah. No one threatened her about breaking my heart. Therefore, she told me that she loved me not too long into our dating relationship. It was on a Sunday afternoon, and we had only been dating for about a month. We were at church, before service started, hanging out with our friends in the auditorium. Yes, we were that cool and social. I don’t remember what instigated it, but Sarah looked right at me and said, “I love you.” Instincts told me to say, “I love you, too.” I wanted to say it. My emotions told me it was okay, but my brain was in control at the moment. It had been trained, and it was in control of what would be said if I opened my mouth. It all went by so quickly, but it felt like an eternity of analysis and internal debate. I had to hurry up and respond. I couldn’t just leave her hanging, so I blurted out my reply: “Thank you.” All of our friends heard it. A hush swept over the crowd. It was the single most rude exchange they had witnessed. Would she slap me in the face? Run out crying? Break up with me on the spot? I had considered all of those reactions during my internal debate, but I could not get myself to say what I should not say. And guess what! She was totally cool with it, albeit slightly confused and amused.
I have told Sarah many times since then that I love her. I have meant it every time, and it is special every time. You never get a redo on your firsts, though, and our first “I love you,” was one-sided and met only with sincere gratitude.