This is a guest post by Alex Curry, who submitted the following essay as an assignment in Dr. Chris Patti’s course at Appalachian State University.
This essay has been featured on the Optimal Living Daily podcast – Episode 818.
For some people, it is incredibly hard to say, “I love you,” and for others it is too easy. Some people say it to fix problems; others say it when they don’t know what else to say. Hopefully we’ve all said it at some point in our lives to: parents, siblings, spouses, and significant others. We hear it on TV, in music, on walks to class, drives to work, and nights out. Love has been diluted, and it is our own fault when we say, “I love *blank*” like we say “hello.” I love that picture; I love that outfit; I love that drink; app; class; team. We have fallen in love with the inanimate. How do we find what it means to truly love? Can we reclaim the deepest sense of love?
I have been dating the same woman for five years. Hannah and I met in 8th grade, on the swim team of our small private school. I was a skinny, weird kid, and when I first asked her out, she turned me down. I know: strong start, kid. I tried again a few months later with more success. Over the next four years we both grew up—a lot. We swam all four years of high school, saw each other every day at lunch, in the hall, during classes together. We were inseparable. Now we’re at college together, attending Appalachian State. Hannah’s studying hard to be a doctor; my plan is to go into law enforcement or public safety. We’re busy. We both have less time for each other, and still I can say without a doubt, I love her more than I did in high school. I also admire, adore, believe in, feel for, and respect her. Our time together has allowed these feelings to grow and become ingrained in our relationship.
As I look back on our relationship, I can see the specific points where the seeds of these emotions were planted. I began to admire her when she told me she wanted to be a doctor. I feel admiration for her when I remember our first kiss. I have believed in her since she showed me how strong she could be while her mother underwent surgery. I felt compassion for her when she had to put down her childhood dog, Polo. I’ve respected her for showing me grace that I sometimes can’t show myself. These moments make up our love. Neither of us can remember when we first said, “I love you;” however, we know it was too early to mean what we thought it did. The more experiences I share with Hannah, the less I say, “I love you.”
Although this may seem like I love her less, I feel it shows I love her more. We both understand and appreciate the work, time, and sacrifices a long-term relationship requires. In college, we see people who want to get married after dating for a semester. I remember my father’s sage advice every time I left the house for a date: “Don’t do anything stupid.” At the time, I thought he meant I wasn’t supposed to act reckless. Now I can see he was talking about much more than that. He didn’t want me to rush into a relationship. Well, Dad has since stopped warning me. Maybe he thinks I’ve got it all figured out? I wish.
As Hannah’s and my relationship has matured, I have learned to understand and more fully appreciate what it means to say, “I love you”—what it should feel like to say the words. When we say, “I love you” is should really matter and bring up all the positive emotions associated with a person and relationship. I’m not saying don’t say “I love you.” I’ll get to that in a moment. I am saying don’t set expectations for love that hasn’t had time to grow. When you say, “I love you,” and those emotions and memories don’t come forward, be patient rather than frustrated. I promise those emotions will come with time and the right person.
We have to understand that, while falling in love is accidental—people don’t fall on purpose—growing in love is intentional. In order to find someone we truly love, we must connect with the people around us over more than shared interests and the weather that week. We must purposefully connect over each other’s struggles, problems, and joys. Dr. John Gottman, a world renown psychologist known for his research on marital stability and relational communication, states that it’s not our responsibility to be interesting, rather we are responsible for being interested in others, interested in another.
As you share parts of your life with someone, both struggles and successes, you will both be able to look back and see when those emotions you associate with love first occurred. Connect over the intangible and incalculable aspects of life, pain, loss, joy, and elation. My relationship with Hannah has never been perfect, but, looking back over the past five years, I have seen what it looks like to grow in love: two people, working together continuously, connecting and changing as life changes: growing together.
From Winston Salem, North Carolina, Alex Curry is a sophomore at Appalachian State University majoring in criminal justice and minoring in communication and sociology. He plans to go into public safety and hopes to use his education to help others in his community. Alex can be reached at curryaj [at] appstate [dot] edu.
Dr. Chris J. Patti (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As an ethnographic writer, his research highlights intimate, relational processes at the heart of human experience through listening to and richly representing stories of love, loss, and transformation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the theme of suffering and compassion. His other passions are rock climbing, longboard surfing, and intentionally doing nothing with his mindfulness meditation club Zen & the Art of Applied Communication. Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/awarenessbites
You can email Dr. Chris Patti at patticj [at] appstate [dot] edu.