“I love you.”
That's what she told me as we hugged in front of her parent's house.
We had just finished an amazing conversation and it was time for me to head home.
I was in high school and only seventeen.
Yes… I was in love with a girl.
“I love you too,” I said with a huge smile and another hug that backed up my words.
Was I professing love for the first time to my childhood sweetheart?
The girl was my best friend (and still is). And I have never been romantically in love with her.
Her name is Erika.
She gave me one of the greatest gifts I'll ever receive: the knowledge and confidence that telling someone you love that – you know, you actually love them – is beautiful.
For the giver and receiver.
Regardless of relationship, romantic feelings, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or anything else.
Erika's three little words on that muggy summer day were transformative and I want to show you their impact. It's my challenge and pleasure to help you overcome any difficulties in telling the people you love, “I love you.”
Because little else has as much positive power with such simplicity.
But first, a story about the empowerment from “leading with I love you.”
I talk about strange things in bed.
No… not that kind of pillow talk.
Just ask my wife Melinda: I get super-philosophical in bed before we turn off the light.
It's like all the things that baffle, amaze, frustrate, and animate me need to be spoken before they fade from my terrible memory.
Recently, Melinda and I were about to get our snooze on. But before we could say our typical last words of the day to each other – “I love you” – my reflective side leapt into action like an acrobat pounding energy drinks.
I said to Melinda, “If telling someone ‘I love you' is so powerful and so important, why do we wait until the end of our interaction to say it? Why is ‘I love you' reserved for when people say good-bye or good night?
And why don't we tell the people we love that we actually – honest-to-goodness – love them?
What's the most important thing that I can tell someone that I love?
‘I love you.'
I wasn't done, so I continued with, “If I have massive news, like I'm getting married, having a kid, just got into my top college, had a death in the family… I'm leading with that news when talking to friends and family.
If we benefit from, and other people appreciate us leading with our most important words, why don't we lead with ‘I love you?'
Who decided that ‘good-bye' and ‘I love you' were synonymous and should only be said in relation to each other?
Why can't I make ‘hi' and ‘I love you' synonymous and just freakin' lead with ‘I love you' when I start talking to someone I love?”
Melinda gave me the standard, “I'm sleepy… why are you taxing my brain with your crazy thoughts again?” look.
So we smooched, told each other “I love you” (of course), turned off the light, and she drifted to sleep.
I didn't fall asleep though. I was genuinely disturbed that I had never thought of greeting a friend or family member with “I love you.”
And I was determined to change that for me… and every other willing person I interact with.
Thus began my personal “Lead With I Love You” challenge.
I'd be honored if today is the start of your personal “Lead With I Love You” challenge too. There's plenty in it for you.
Why Saying “I Love You” Is So Important
I don't agree with Stephen King when he said, “The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.”
Words make thoughts real (and pictures work too). They solidify.
So I much prefer Robert Brault's perspective when he said:
A good speech has a beginning, a middle and an end, the best example being, ‘I love you.'
If you need some good reasons (among many) why saying “I love you” is so important, chew on these:
- It builds self-confidence: Letting someone else experience the inner sanctum of our heart is thrilling and builds confidence. If I can tell you that I love you, I can tell you a lot of other things that might need to be said.
- A –> B –> C –> D: We often feel grateful when someone says “I love you.” Knowing you're loved leads to smiles, positive feelings, a decrease in stress, and lots of other groovy stuff (science and research will back me up). All of these things lead to better health for your heart, body, mind, and soul. And you're generally happiest when you're healthiest. Viola! A magic elixir for great health and longevity!
- I love you = dopamine: Shawn Achor's research in his TEDTalk states that dopamine – which floods into your system when you're positive – has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way. My reaction is this: you can train your brain to become more positive by simply uttering “I love you.”
And if you like simple perspectives, Oscar Wilde has something to say:
Who, being loved, is poor?
A Small Change in Big Clothing
Now that you're feeling the power of “I love you” – assuming you weren't already before reading this – here's the big trick.
Telling someone “I love you” instead of (or before) you say “hi,” “hello,” or “how are ya?” is a surprisingly small change. But you can freak the daylights out of someone if they're not prepared for it.
If a starfish has the moxie to lead with “I love you,” you can too.
You may have other methods, but I've found these steps are a great way to build up to leading with “I love you” to someone important:
- You've already said “I love you:” Leading with “I love you” will be especially awkward if you've never previously said those words to someone. If that's the case, first tell this awesome person “I love you” at the end of your next conversation and explain why. What has this person's relationship meant to you? What have they provided you that nobody else can or ever will? Remember: reciprocity of “I love you” is not the goal. Expressing how you feel and telling them how important they are is.
- Comment about how nobody “leads with I love you:” This is where you plant the seed. In your next conversation with this lovely person, talk about how vexing it is that nobody seems to lead with “I love you.” Use an analogy they'll understand about waiting until the end to say “I love you” (like I did when I wrote about not leading with your most important news). Here's a script if you're coming up empty on something original: “It's OK to tell the people you love about your biggest fears, struggles, joys, and triumphs… but it's not socially acceptable to tell these same people that you love them – regardless of relationship, romantic feelings (or not), gender, age, religion, or anything else? How does that make sense? Why can't I just tell the people I love that I love them or, heck, open a conversation with “I love you?”
- Lead with “I love you:” In your next conversation, just hit 'em with it. Lead with “I love you” and be ready for any reaction. They could be stunned, visibly confused, flash their biggest smile, or give you a bear hug. Be prepared to remind them about your previous conversation and why leading with “I love you” is one of the best gifts you can give each other.
This is simple in theory, but can be hard in practice. Don't rush it. Don't force it.
Just embrace the challenge to tell the people you love how you feel right away.
Because releasing your love immediately is liberating. There's no better way to instantly create a feeling of gratitude, trust, respect, and generosity than leading with “I love you.”
And please. Keep saying “I love you” when you part ways, hang up the phone, or fall asleep with your partner. Just don't limit when – and how often – you tell the people you love:
“I. Love. You.”
Liberate yourself and everyone else from this social norm and watch your best relationships become even more wonderful.
This is too important not to do.
For the comments: who's the first person you'll honor by leading with “I love you” and when will you do it? Will you follow my steps, or will you find your own path to “Leading With I Love You?”