“I Love You”
The first time I told a boy “I love you” it was an accident. We were in Cape Cod on his family vacation and his parents decided to let him take the car, so we could go on a solo dinner date. We were 18, newly minted high school graduates, and definitely oozing hormones from every pore.
I had crushed on this guy all of Senior year. But we were friends. He knew how I felt, I’m sure of it, because he made a point to exacerbate my feelings by asking me advice about other girls. Perhaps because I’m a closet masochist I gave him advice, but I was also uncompromisingly convinced that he liked me too.
Then he invited me to Cape Cod. Two weeks with his family, a beach, and a bedroom to myself with him “sleeping” on the couch just a drywall space away from my headboard. It was the closest I had ever been to a “real relationship” and naturally my naïve romantic heart played the harpsichord for the duration of the trip.
And then there was dinner. And the time I said “I love you.”
I had thought I loved him for a while. After all, he made me smile, blush, and get all…you know…south of the border, so love was the obvious conclusion.
But I knew he didn’t feel the same. I knew he didn’t love me. But in my 18-year-old, naïve, romantic head it didn’t matter. I had spent the past 6 years baby-sitting my neighbors three rising Disney princesses, considering the poster the woman of the household had hung in their guest bathroom. The poster listed “Life’s little lessons” and I had frequented the bathroom enough to burn one message into my brain: “Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.”
And so I intended to tell my 18-year-old, knight in shining armor, Ivy League school bound, not-my-boyfriend-just-the-guy-that-goes-down-on-me, friend that I loved him. But I didn’t intend for it to happen the way that it did.
So we were driving to the restaurant he had chosen for our big solo night out in Cape Cod. He was driving, as knights in shining armor tend to do, and I was sitting in the passenger seat. My left hand adoringly stroked the back of his neck, allowing my fingers to become intertwined with the short spikes of his brown hair. I became entranced. I can’t remember the song that was playing on the radio, I can’t remember what my knight in shining armor was talking about, and I can’t remember the name of the restaurant where we ultimately dined. But I can remember feeling, in that moment, transfixed by the warmth of love. Once you realize you love someone it is empowering. Suddenly, nothing matters in the world. Children can starve, wars can be waged, and economies can crumble, so long as you have someone to love to carry you through.
“I got my haircut,” his voice cut through my haze.
“I love you,” I responded automatically. IT! You IDIOT! IT! I love IT!! I was mortified. It had escaped my lips so innocently that I hadn’t registered my confession. I stumbled to recover and we both let it go. I kept stroking his hair.
It wasn’t until we returned home and his family had gone to bed that he asked me what I had said. So I told him again. More confident, more certain.
“But how do you know?” he wondered.
“I know I love you in the capacity that an 18-year-old is able to love. I don’t know that I’ll love you tomorrow or 10 years from now, but I know that I love you now.” Pure brilliance.
Looking back, I’m proud of how I responded. And I’m glad that I told him. There are few people outside of our family and friends with whom we get to share love. So despite my mother’s concern that I wear my heart on my sleeve, or my friend’s warning that I don’t want to share too much too soon, I will always take the advice on the poster and encourage others to do the same: “Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.” Because after all, what can it hurt?