I’m not sure when and where I first heard it. When and where was I when the words came out — directed at me and meant to express a deeply-felt human emotion? Was I with a friend? A lover? Someone with whom I share blood?
Whomever it was and whenever it happened, that foray into being on the receiving end of those two words was not an instance in isolation. I would come to learn there was nothing unique about it.
The reason I cannot remember the first time is because it has happened over and over and over again since that initial jostling hearing of it.
Who knows where or when I first heard this:
The words left someone’s mouth, came to my two ears, and bounced around inside my head trying to find meaning and context. For unlike some languages where the person doing the action is clear — though implied — by the conjugation of the verb, in English you need a subject.
Subject/Verb/Direct Object requires that the “Love you” statement take a subject. The listener might be able to guess that the speaker is tacitly saying “I love you,” but “We love you,” “They love you,” even “You love you” are possible sentences made with the stand-in subjects “we,” “they,” and “you.” Any one of those three work in the “____ love you” sentence instead of “I.”
Unlike “Stop!” or “Pass the salad” wherein the listener understands the implied who is the listener him/herself, i.e., “You stop whatever it is you are doing which is making me want to scream” or “As I cannot reach the salad bowl and would like to try that kale and quinoa salad with the balsamic reduction, I’d appreciate it if you would pass the salad to me.,” “Love you” does not have the same quick comprehension.
In fact, “Love you” is vague enough to be briefly confusing, engendering of presumption, and — once confusion and presumption yield to a semi-solid conclusion that the speaker is, in fact, telling the listener “I love you” — horribly disappointing.
When someone wants to express this most intimate and meaningful emotional response to a fellow human being, leaving off the “I” distances the speaker from the emotion and insulates the listener from concluding the “love” is truly felt.
If you love me, why not take on ownership of the love — even pride in that love — and say “I”?
I understand that we have become a culture of quick communication, abbreviations, and limited attention. But how much time does it save the speaker to eliminate “I”?
Try this: Say “I love you” out loud, now say “Love you.”
I cannot reasonably conclude that the “I” is left off for economy of speech because the difference in time is, maybe, a micro second.
But there must be a reason, right? We are highly-intelligent beings. Some rationale must support the active choice to not include a subject before the verb.
When “I” goes unspoken, a careful listener notes its absence and is left to wonder why the speaker did not verbalize his/her love directly.
“Love you” comes off as non-committal, casual, maybe even flippant.
And that’s not how we humans use the word “love,” is it?
Well, that’s not how I think we should use it. We lovers should proclaim that love. We who feel that deeply ought to feel confident enough to attach the pronoun “I” to the doing of the love. Let the direct object/listener know that he or she is loved by an identifiable and proud subject/speaker.
So to that end and in honor of the singular combination which sets us apart as a species, i.e., both the capacity to feel deeply and use written (or spoken) language in the expression of that deeply-felt emotion, I ask you to hear all three words equally and powerfully.
I love you.