It’s amazing how three little words can change your life. I spent my whole life taking love for granted. It was something I didn’t have to go looking for, it was always just there. I had an enthusiastically loving mother, she would say the words every day. She would text, email, write notes and make up songs. Love oozed from her pores. As a child it mortified me. I would wipe away her cheek kisses and mumble “love you too” in a mocking tone. When I reached my twenties and thirties I would often cringe at her public displays of affection. Luckily my nephew and niece were born and mum had new children to worship and smother with kisses.
In relationships my mum’s habits and open declarations of love rubbed off on me. I often found myself being the first to say “I love you” and made sure to repeat the sentiment daily. I am also that friend who will tell you how much she loves you after a few glasses of wine. If I feel it, I say it. A habit that has gotten in me into trouble over the years.
I never comprehended how much of an effect not hearing those words and reciprocating them would have on me. When my marriage broke down my emotional stores took a hit. I lost a best friend, a partner in crime and the person I stood up in front of my closest friends and family and declared my love for. It was a real knock but I still had my family to help build me back up again.
Then mum found out she was terminally ill. We all tried to squeeze a lifetimes worth of experiences into 14 months. Every emotion became heightened. As a family we all became more affectionate and compassionate. I found myself at the age of 31 holding my mum’s hand walking down the street, snuggling into her shoulder on the couch while watching the TV and even climbing into the hospital bed that was moved into the living room during her final weeks. I blurted out declarations of love to everyone I cherished, in case I never had the chance to see them again. I took it a bit far when I ended a phone call with my driving instructor with “love you” out of sheer habit.
When mum died the word “love” disappeared from my life. I wasn’t in a relationship and was frankly in no fit state to contemplate one. My dad, who has never been forthcoming with affectionate words, closed off completely. My brother, sister in law and their kids were in their own family bubble and there wasn’t room for me. I was alright for a while. I had three decades of loving words and happy memories saved up. Turns out grief can burn though your emotional reserves fairly quickly.
A year passed and I realised I had never said to anyone “love you too.” I had declared my love for family and friends but never had the sentiment returned. This revelation was like a knife in the heart. I felt physical pain and anguish like I had never experienced before. That day I must have cried for five hours solid. Something had gone and I thought it was gone for good.
Another year passed and I had almost completely stopped telling people I loved them, I no longer saw the point. Then I thought back over things that had happened during that year. Friends who had helped out when I was in an emotional state. Having a meal cooked for me on Mother’s Day because it was a difficult day. Being given presents “just because.” Going on holiday and making new memories for myself. Going on dates and enjoying meeting new people. The cup of tea that is ready for me in the kitchen when I get up every morning. I was too busy looking for the words and almost ignored the little acts of love that happened every day.
I have vowed to top up my emotional stores myself. Others may add to it as time goes on and there may be partners that come along in the future and contribute too. But it has to start with me. So if you feel it, say it. You never know how much that person needs to hear it.