In life we can say so much by uttering so little. ‘Sorry’ is only five letters. ‘Thank you’ is just two words. So is ‘you’re fat.’ You can ask someone to marry you with the same amount of words as you use to ask for a divorce.
Really, it’s the smallest things we say that mean the most.
Some words, when put in a particular order and said with the right amount of emphasis, can change the dynamics between two people irrevocably. There are three in particular that do this like no other. I won’t patronise you by spelling them out for you. We all know what I’m talking about.
Now. The last time those words were said to me (well in a romantic way anyway- my mum, R.D., C.F. and most of the rest of ma palz like to say it on the reg) I was probably still in college. Being at home over Christmas gave me the opportunity to dive into my old diaries (and to writhe around in physical discomfort at how much of a drama queen I was and how seriously I took all my bullshit problems.) Anyway, there was one name that came up again and again and again: my high school boyfriend’s. I said those three words to him very prematurely, and, as recorded in a diary entry circa 2006, he said them to me even more outrageously early (before we’d even started properly seeing each other.) In fact, he first told me how strongly he felt over text (as a result of me falling out with him for calling me by another girl’s name over the phone. CUTE!) The next 50 pages or so of the aforementioned diary concentrate on one subject and one subject only: how to avoid saying it back to him. Once he’d got the words out (albeit electronically) there seemed to be no stopping him. My 15 year old self lamented about how he’d blurt it out at the end of every phone call, use it as a way to round off every text (ludicrously unnecessary), type it midway through MSN conversations (retro), pass me notes that said it, and even occasionally say it out loud (turns out he did have a real voice too...)
One particularly memorable page of my diary contained these frustrated sentences:
(I've blurred his name out to preserve his identity... Poor little smitten mite...)
From these melodramatic reactions, it’s relatively clear that I wasn’t in love with this person at that point. And, although you can never speak another person’s mind, and even less so their heart, I’m willing to bet that he didn’t really know what he was saying either, and was more likely just using the words purely to entice me into being his girlfriend. Which, admittedly, probably did absolutely no harm at all to his cause.
Well anyway, we carried on saying ‘I love you’ for the couple of years we were together, and even after we broke up... And maybe the teenage me did love him in my immature little way. Maybe he loved me too, but nothing can take away from the fact that I put off saying it until the very last possible moment, when I felt (somewhat) comfortable with the meaning of it. What I’m trying to say here with this stupid long-winded anecdote, equipped with diary excerpts, is: that putting it off and ignoring it and pretending you haven’t heard them for as long as it takes is C O M P L E T E L Y fine. Completely. Fine.
But... What happens when it’s the other way round?
What happens when both of you know exactly how you each feel, and more importantly how each other feels, but you just. can’t. say. it? Be that because you don’t feel ready, be that because you think it’s probably a bit too early, be that because you just can’t bring yourself to be the first one to say the words out loud... It happens. It happened to me.
But you can’t help what slips out your mouth sometimes...
J.G. has little to no filter on his mouth at the best of times, but when it comes to matters of the heart he doesn’t hold back at all. So once we’d started out that was it.
We soon found many (less committal) substitutes for those pesky words. In the heat of the moment we’d shout ‘LIKE YOU!’, ‘FANCY YOU!’, ‘CARE ABOUT YOU!’, ‘ONLY WANT THE BEST FOR YOU AND EVERYONE THAT MATTERS TO YOU!’, and occasionally, as a treat, a classic: ‘FOND OF YOU!’
But sometimes this control over what we said would slide. Not from me. (Never from me.) But J.G. has a tendency of eulogising. So, unavoidably, talk would sometimes fall to me and him, and him and me, and us. And I’d get an, ‘I love you to bits,’ or an, ‘I love the spiky little bones of you.’ Now. They don’t really count. OR DO THEY?! Once you start adding bits, or even if you say it in the wrong tone, it isn’t really that anymore, is it? It’s more just a friendly way of announcing that you care. Well. That’s what I like to think.
The strangest thing is that me and J.G. had already said it. We'd already said it loads. Ages ago. We'd actually said it openly and frequently right up until the day that we first kissed. We stopped saying it right after that.
That's because up until that day he'd been as R.D. is to me- a friend. A really close friend. So we both knew that we cared that strongly about each other from the start, but you can't possibly just carry on saying it, because then what the fuck do you say when it flips to that different intensity?!
There aren't many words that are sacred or powerful anymore. Believers used to only write the words 'God' or 'Christmas' with capital letters; people used to gasp at the word 'cunt', (even I did, until I read 'Atonement.') But 'love' is still scary, and it still means something, and it should. It always should.
So did me and J.G. ever get round to saying it out loud? Well I couldn't possibly say. And do you know what? I'm going to stop right here because I've already disclosed too much, and even though when I told J.G. that I was writing a bit about him he said, 'you can say whatever you want,' I don't think it's quite right to say anything more.
I'll just say that trying to say it is just as hard as trying not to say it. And that it doesn't matter if you see it coming a mile off or if it catches you completely unawares, it'll always be the peskiest of all the teeny, tiny phrases...