There is one Valentine’s Day gift that never goes out of style, doesn’t cost a dime, and means the most.
Tell someone you love them. Or not, depending on whether it’s your habit to say the words out loud.
Pat Dillon of Bothell tells his wife, Aleeta, he loves her.
He tells her every day.
And she tells her husband she loves him, every day.
“I say it because I think that it’s important to reaffirm, in words and actions, how I feel about the people I care about the most,” Dillon, 45, said. “Our 4-year-old daughter, Taryn, says ‘I love you’ a lot. She’ll say to me, ‘Daddy, I need to tell you a secret,’ and then whisper into my ear, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ ”
It doesn’t get any better than that, Dillon said.
We did a lot of “I love you” talk at the O’Harran house. My middle son, Brody, never left the house without calling “I love you” to me.
One time at a football game, I was sitting next to his friend’s mother. She mentioned what a nice boy Brody was.
“He told me he loved me the other day when he left our house,” she said laughing.
I didn’t mind that Brody shared his loving habit with another mother.
The “I love you” question was discussed at Normanna Hall in Everett, said Barb Brevik of Snohomish.
The three words are generational.
“Most of us were raised in Norwegian or Northern European-background homes, and, while we certainly felt loved by our parents, those words were seldom or sparingly used,” Brevik said. “Every single one of us agreed we had not ever heard those words spoken by our fathers. Some of us may have occasionally heard it from our mothers when we were children.”
Times have changed for the group, mostly grandparents.
“I am happy to report that our daughter married into a family which says ‘I love you’ often and without hesitation,” Brevik said. “Our grandchildren (ages 2 1/2 and 5) tell us ‘I love you’ so frequently, that we have now ‘loosened up’ and can easily respond.”
Brevik friends report that they tell their grandchildren often that they love them. Much more so than they did with their own children, she said.
“And the consensus is that this is a very good and positive thing. But not hearing or saying those words does not necessarily mean we aren’t loved or don’t love someone.”
Saying “I love you” is about daring to trust part of ourselves to someone else without any guarantee that it will be returned to us, said Paul Stoot, an Everett pastor.
He has seen love in action. He’s seen love call people to help those left homeless by an earthquake in Haiti; seen love give a bottle of water and a sandwich to someone holding a sign asking for help; seen love stand vigil by a hospital bed waiting as the end draws near.
“It is love that calls us to pick up those who have fallen down,” Stoot said. “It is love that calls us to give even though we may not have much ourselves. It is love that calls us to stay when it would be easier or more comfortable to go. Whether we know it or not, whether we can verbalize it or not, every action that calls for us to put someone else ahead of ourselves is a way of saying, ‘I love you.’ ”
Neil Neroutsos, who works in Everett, said if it’s real, it should be loud, frequent and unedited.
“Isn’t that what we’re all here for?” Neroutsos said.
The three words are overused, said Rufus Rose, 73, of Clinton.
“I think demonstrated love is more important than the casual use of those words,” Rose said. “I’m more of an ‘I’ll tell you what I think,’ rather than a ‘sharing’ kind of guy.”
He does say “I love you,” but probably not often enough, Rose said. He loves his wife and family in different ways than he loves individual “freedom” and “liberty.”
“Unconditional love” is also a term he thinks is overused, Rose said.
“It is a degree of commitment that, when applied to another person, can be too easily misunderstood. It can mean license to abuse. Loving a person includes lots of mutual cooperation, understanding and forgiving at times. Loving a person involves personal commitment and trust. Loving individual liberty involves an acceptance of the idea that all humans are created with the opportunity to do the best they can with their natural and educated abilities.”
Breanne Laureano, 17, of Snohomish, is quite eloquent about love.
“When you say ‘I love you,’ you are promising that no matter what the cost, you will do what is best for that certain someone,” Breanne said. “Even if it’s something neither of you want, you understand it’s what they need. With this definition, you can love your son. You can love your spouse. You can love your mother-in law, your friends, co-workers and that weird neighbor next door.”
The words can be said out loud, she said, or in private.
“Or, you don’t even have to say it at all. Love will only go as far as your dedication to what this truly means.”
Alice Jackson said her marriage is so strong, the couple even has a special way to say the words.
“We decided early on that these words were very special for us, and have a special way to say them,” Jackson said. “We did not want to ever say ‘I love you, too’ or ‘me, too’ or ‘ditto’ in response to one of us saying ‘I love you.’
Dennis Jackson created a special response so they could each take in what was being said, and really enjoy the moment. Here’s what they do:
“I love you.”
“I know you do,” responds the other. (Pause to allow it to be absorbed.) “And I love you.”
(Pause before answering.) “I know you do.”
That works for the Everett couple and keeps them from falling into the “I love you, too,” routine which doesn’t sound real.
She expresses her love to her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
“It’s so simple to say ‘I love you,’ you might think it would pall over time,” said David Preston of Bothell. “To the contrary, these three words have grown over time in meaning and depth by magnitudes unimagined. What was a quavering and plaintive solo of youth has grown, as Susan and I approach our 38th anniversary, to a rich symphony of music, with chords, tones, progressions, shadings and depths of meaning and passion that deepen with each passing month.”
Being able to say “I love you” is the ultimate luxury, he said, as a mark of your great good fortune to have a life of love.
“As much as I enjoy saying ‘I love you’ to Susan, there is one thing that surpasses even that — hearing her say it to me.”
Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, firstname.lastname@example.org.