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By Danna Colman and Thom Garrett

All you need is love. Love is patient and kind. Love is a many splendored thing. To know her is to love her. Do you love me, now that I can dance?

Some people say it so easily, I have to wonder if they even notice they say it. “Love you!” It’s like when someone sneezes in a store and a stranger shopping in the next aisle says, “Bless you.” No connection, no emotion, just a couple of words. Other people sit you down and look you in the eyes and say, “I just have to tell you something right now or I’ll explode. I love you.” In either case, the meaning is open to interpretation.

When I say “I love you” to a friend, I am saying, “I treasure our friendship, and you are very important to me.” When I say, “I love you” to my daughters, I am saying, “I cherish you with all of my heart,” and “You are more important to me than life itself.” When I say, “I love you” to a romantic partner, my heart is full of love, and I want to tell him how I’m feeling. I am saying, “ I want to share all of me with you, and I want you to share all of yourself with me.” I am telling him that I am here in this relationship, no matter the challenges.

I think most of my friends know what I mean. I’m certain my daughters know what I mean. But my lover? Maybe not. Romantic love can be confusing. When I tell him I love him, does he understand it the way I intended? And when he says it to me, does he really mean what I think he means? When you say, “I love you” to your lover, what do you mean?

When you and your partner feel connected, the love you feel is sincere and pure. When you say, “I love you,” it is an unconditional gift, no strings attached. You express yourself freely and spontaneously because there are no walls between you, no hidden corners, no back doors. You want nothing more or less than to share yourself totally with your true love, and you want to say the words. If you don’t say it, it feels like your heart might burst. When you give this love to your partner, you are saying, “ I love who you are, and I want to be on this journey with you. I want to open my heart to you.” You are saying, “I want you, I need you, because I love you.”

But sometimes love is flipped upside down. You say, “I love you,” but what you mean is, “I love you because I want you and I need you.” When you are feeling empty inside, you have no love to give, and the words are really expressing neediness. Sometimes they look the same on the surface, but there is a huge difference between love and need. When you express need to your partner, you are looking to receive love rather than wanting to give the gift of love. At these times, your heart is not filled with love, and your expression of “I love you” really means I need you. I need you to love me so that I can feel better about myself. I need you to pay attention to me. I need your approval.

With all the love songs and all the love stories over all the centuries, you’d think we would have found a few more words for all the ways we feel when we express our love. The Inuit have all those words for snow. A box of eight crayons has one green one, but Sherwin Williams has countless shades of green. We say that wine is bright or buttery, crisp or complex, silky or steely. But we say to each other, “I love you,” and we hope it says it all. Maybe it does, if you say it with all your heart.

Writer and copyeditor. “What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about” ~ J. Wright

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