February is such an interesting time. As soon as people come down from the New Year high, they go all out and deck their spaces in pink and red. Decorative hearts are scattered everywhere for a largely capitalist venture banking on people’s sensibilities, and we couldn’t help consuming it.
Truth be told, I don’t know if I’m even qualified enough to speak about love. I wouldn’t call myself emotionally constipated (I did a couple of times, till I realized I’m just as much of a sap as the next person). But I’m not a hundred percent in tune with them feelings either.
I guess the strict Asian upbringing TikToks might actually be on to something. Growing up, love felt like such a taboo subject at home. My father seemed to be allergic to any form of affection, and my overprotective mother acted like there’s a warning bell going off whenever I breathe next to the opposite gender. I’ve since channeled much of my emotions to writing, expressing myself in subtle ways so those warning bells don’t get me in trouble.
But writing about love is difficult, and just thinking of the people I’ve explicitly said “I love you” to feels like I’m squeezing too many brain cells. Further excluding its variations “labyu,” (for the homies) “love you” (for the boo’s of flirtings past who didn’t believe in labels) and “wuv you” (for the fur babies) makes the list even shorter, rivaling my Aries sun and mars temper.
And maybe that’s just the whole point of it, that your expression of love isn’t defined by the number of times you’ve explicitly said “I love you” (or if you even said those three words at all).
You’d probably think, “Well, duh, of course everyone says I love you to their mother. Of course you’re supposed to say that to family.” Well, yes, correct.
No, we don’t have beef either. I’ve just come to a point where I’ve mastered the art of filtering what I say to family that I’ve just rolled with it.
And I kept this mutually convenient dynamic up until my mother gave me a two-page retreat letter detailing everything she wouldn’t directly tell me. She didn’t have to write one, but she did and safe to say, it was the key to opening the floodgates. As soon as I got home from the retreat, fresh from the good Lord’s holy grace, I hugged her and said those three words—two things I rarely ever do.
It occurred to me then that maybe my mother felt the same way about verbal “I love you”s as I do; that it’s something we’ve convinced ourselves to spare others of. For all the disagreements I’ve ever had with her, this is something I’m at peace with and feel we’re on the same page of.
My high school fling
My best friend will never let me live down the time I simped so hard that I willingly wasted my time writing someone’s entire reflection paper only for them to soul-search the next week with a new boo.
Now’s the best time for my brain to evolve and decide to cast this particular memory to the cerebral dumpster because that’s where it deserves to be.
It was interesting to me how stingy I was with saying “I love you” like it’s currency, like I’m saving it for some sort of future investment. Yet it was so, so easy for me to give it away casually, too.
The list may be short, but each “I love you” carries weight and further shapes how I navigate love, even the ones I’d love to never remember again.
My current significant other
I’m not sure if they’ll be reading this, but if they would, they’d be getting that classic indirect-direct explanation of why I do things like this.
They could probably count on their fingers how many times I’ve said it in person. I’m almost certain they know the way I segue every phone call to a joke when it’s time to bid goodbye and that dreaded “I love you.”
But when I’d usually get a complaint about my lack of verbal affection, I instead found understanding that love is expressed in different ways. I expected to be coerced into uttering those three words and a shuddering feeling of awkwardness after, but it’s their surprising acceptance of my stinginess (with verbal affection, money is a whole different story) that I took as a sign for me to finally accept that love is really expressed differently.
And maybe that’s just the whole point of it, that your expression of love isn’t defined by the number of times you’ve explicitly said “I love you” (or if you even said those three words at all). The list may be short, but each “I love you” carries weight and further shapes how I navigate love, even the ones I’d love to never remember again.
Art by Yel Sayo