Two weeks ago, almost every store in every city in the country sold Valentine’s Day in some shape or form. Stores sold everything from jewelry to stuffed animals in honor of this Hallmark holiday.
I am not afraid to acknowledge my distaste for Valentine’s Day. I dislike all commercialized holidays; Valentine’s Day is simply an entry on a long list. Yet, there’s something different about it: It is a holiday created solely for the purpose of reminding people to express their love for each other.
Generally you can find what a culture values through the number of words they have for it. In English, “love” can be associated with a variety of things, including passion, affection, devotion, tenderness or yearning. Love may have many synonyms, but most Americans seem to be stuck just using the one to express their feelings.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve never heard someone say, “I am fond of you” outside of a romance novel or a movie. An article from The Atlantic brings up the question, “do Americans say I love you too much?” This question is not meant to judge whether the tendency to profess our love for each other is right or wrong. Rather, our choice of language is a curious phenomenon when compared to cultures across the world. In many other languages, such as Polish, Spanish and Arabic, the direct translation of “I love you” brings with it a sense of deep commitment and connection between people.
When used in casual conversation, words might eventually start to lose their meaning. To have important phrases such as “I love you” mean everything and nothing at once is simultaneously a paradox and a tragedy. At the same time, though, it shows the beauty of human diversity. Nothing is set in stone and we can always change and adapt. When it comes to saying the “L-word” in particular, the importance rests on being honest with ourselves about whether we mean what we say or not.
I am guilty of having said ‘I love you’ to a significant other despite knowing it didn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to me. Growing up, I saw “I love you’s” thrown around left and right. I saw people’s feelings hurt because of carelessness with words as important as these.
I believe that “I love you” should be a phrase you would only say to your family and to any person you fall in love with. Interestingly enough, I will rarely say “I love you” in Spanish even to my family, but I have no hangups saying it in English because it simply doesn’t carry the same connotation. Language and culture are funny that way.
There is no right or wrong way for people to express themselves, just different ways. We should always remember that these differences are beautiful. I hope that next time you say “I love you” to someone, you mean and feel it. Aligning our felt experiences with precise language may help us live more authentically.
Giulianna Barahona ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She majors in political science and psychology.