I Have Never Said 'I Love You'

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have never said 'I love you'

It feels like a betrayal to use that word when I have seen true love.

All my life, my grandparents’ love for each other has astounded me.

Every time we were together, my grandmother would tell me stories of her childhood. Before I ever read a book or wrote a word, she told these rambling, fragmented stories. There was always a moral or a lesson, although sometimes they weren’t what I thought they would be.

Most of the time, she told stories about my grandfather. With him dozing in the other room, one black-and-white Western or another flashing across the TV, she spoke like a child. Like a middle school girl who’s crush consumed her, made her smile and blush and talk about him constantly and write her first name next to his last name over and over again.

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There were many things that I couldn’t understand about it. First of all, how a woman like her could love a man like him.

I saw my grandparents every week while I was growing up, but I can’t remember a single conversation between me and my grandfather. He was reserved, sometimes stern, quick to anger — never yelling, but speaking in the low growl that you might reprimand a dog with.

And my grandmother was always the life of the party. She loves to make people laugh, to tell stories, to talk about her experiences and the way she sees the world.

I wondered what they talked about, alone in their house. I wondered what he said to her to make her love him when he barely spoke to me.

And also, I wondered how two people who had been married for 50 years could still be so in love with each other. How my grandma could so clearly have this crush on my grandpa, how she could find him the most incredible man in the world when they had shared so many years and probably so many of their own flaws.

How could a grown woman light up like that, when speaking of her husband? How could she smile and blush like she was 14 years old when she knew so much of the world and had made so many sacrifices for this person?

Growing up with that kind of love around is a gift. But it is also a burden.

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To see such a great love story with your own eyes makes it impossible for you to accept anything less in your own life.

It’s given me a wonderful idea of love. Of how to treat the person you are with. But so far, I’ve only got that idea of love. So far, my own relationships have fallen short.

And because of that, I’ve never said, “I love you,” at least not in a romantic context. It feels like a betrayal to use that word when I have seen true love.

I remember the first time someone told me that they loved me in that way.

My first boyfriend said it to me one winter night, in my college dorm room. I remember the feeling of our heartbeats quickening as I laid on his chest in the space between silence and the sound of his voice, the time before he said it and time after.

Oh, I know that he believed it when he said it. And I know I must have hurt him to not say it back. But even then, I knew that he didn’t mean it in the way I would have if I truly felt it. He didn’t mean it in the way my grandparents did.

I knew that he could say “I love you” and still leave me, as he had done before, and as he would do again, just two months after that night.

When we ended things for good I said, “but you told me that you loved me”. And he simply said, “I was wrong”. He didn’t hurl the words out of his mouth in bitterness and anger and a desire to hurt me. He said them softly as if they defeated him.

It was just true, a sad truth, that he had believed in something but it was not strong enough to keep us together. What he knew of love betrayed him, and in that way, our breakup must have hurt him in ways that it did not hurt me.

I don’t know if love is really so absolute or eternal. My understanding of love continues to grow and change as I do.

But I still think about my grandparents and the way they loved each other. How they created a world for themselves, despite the odds, despite the sacrifices.

And I hope that when I do fall in love, my love honors theirs.

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Jen Sanfilippo is a writer, marketer, and editor based in Chicago. She is passionate about travel, reading, writing, and ultimate frisbee. You can reach her at JenSanfilippo17@gmail.com and find her writing here.

This article was originally published at P.S. I Love You. Reprinted with permission from the author.