My wife has a peculiar habit. Sometimes it’s endearing, sometimes it’s overly prosaic, but most of the time, it’s just sweet and adorable.
She tells me she loves me. Quite often, actually. Like, all the time.
The habit of which I speak is all about the timing of my beloved’s use of this romantic phrase. The last words I hear before I go to sleep is, “I love you.” The last words I hear before I run to the grocery store is, “I love you.” The last words I hear before I go to play golf is “I love you”…right after she reminds me to hit the ball long and straight. In fact, whenever I leave her company, her last words are always “I love you.”
For two years now, I have pondered this frequent articulation of her affections. I generally have thought that such expressions convey more meaning when used less, rather than more often. Fearing my words of devotion might sound routine and robotic, I express them less frequently than my wife. Besides, men are not known for expressing their emotions. Transparency and testosterone rarely coexist in the male DNA. No surprise to the feminine gender, but guys tend to be less verbal than women. I know I am. I tend to demonstrate my love for my wife through consistent actions rather than words. Still, her habitual use of the “L” phrase has me wondering if I say it enough.
I also have noticed that she closes every conversation with her children with the same “I love you” statement. They, in turn, do the same. How quaint. Cute. Charming. I hope that doesn’t sound sarcastic. It really does remind me that I do not tell her, or my children, enough that I love them.
But still…is it too much of a good thing? Can one overuse such alluring verbalisms? Can its repeated use cheapen its meaning?
This week, our housekeeper, Etta, arrived on cleaning day. When she walked into our house, Patrice and I froze. The pained look on Etta’s face was foreboding. Was she about to be sick? I expected her to grasp her chest and complain of a heart attack. It was THAT kind of look.
Before we could inquire if she was ok, she blurted out, “I just got some bad news.” Just as she pulled into our driveway, she received a text that a friend and her children had been involved in a car accident that very morning. The three children had died, and their mother was in critical condition. Neither Patrice nor I knew the young mother, but we knew Etta. Seeing her shaken and overcome with emotion, one could easily feel the depth of her pain, her shock, her loss. Simultaneously, Patrice and I stepped towards her and put our arms around her. A few moments later, we prayed for the family whose life had just dramatically changed. Loss is something of which we are both familiar. We insisted she forget about cleaning and come back at another time.
After Etta left, Patrice and I both had to sit down. Our hearts were broken for a family we did not know. Life has a way of delivering a gut punch when you least expect it.
But what does this have to do with a spouse’s frequent expression of romantic affections? Later that same day, with the tragic events of the morning still somberly fresh in our minds, Patrice explained why she always says “I love you” whenever I leave for a trip to Atlanta, the grocery store or even the mailbox.
We both know that life can change in a heartbeat. If life happens, and one of us unexpectedly and suddenly leaves our earthly body, I just want those last words between us to be “I love you.”
How do you respond to that? I just smiled and nodded my head in understanding. I might add, to her credit and my delight, she always says it like she means it. It never resonates like a commonplace banal platitude. It still sounds like it did the first time I heard it.
Frequency of use doesn’t necessarily mean insignificance. Habitual comments do not always translate as commonplace. Verbal affirmations of romance, regardless of their regularity, resound as sweet music to the ears of a spouse. And I have been hearing a symphony these past two years.
The poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote of her husband, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…” (Sonnet 43). I suspect she voiced those words to her spouse quite often.
I probably should too.