I never noticed the missing "I" before my mother brought it to my attention. She was at the kitchen sink doing dishes. We had just had a conversation about something I do not remember. I was most likely going into the kitchen to eat something (again) before delving into the pile of homework on my bed. I told my mom I would be in my room, to which she replied,
"Okay, honey. Come say good night when you're done. I love you."
I kissed her on the cheek and said,
"Okay, love you too."
To my surprise she stopped doing the dishes, turned to me (quite annoyed) and said,
"Let's put the 'I' back in 'I love you', people. I mean, really!" She threw her arms up in the air and continued, "What is that even about?"
I laughed at her over dramatization and said,
"I love you, too, mom."
As I turned on my heels (dragging myself toward my textbooks) I got to thinking, what is that about? Since that day, I have been fully aware of every time someone says "love you" rather than "I love you." My mother was right to say people because (as I soon realized) many of us lose the I in the phrase. In my search to figure out why, I began to compare the people that use the I to those who unconsciously leave it out. These are my three theories as to why:
1. We are lazy.
We have all forgotten the I from time to time. It obviously does not mean we do not love the person. But it could suggest not entirely meaning the phrase when we're saying it. The night I told my mom "love you, too", I was thinking about all of the homework I had to do. When I said it I was not actually expressing my love for her. Instead, I was giving a mindless response to her mindful statement of love. Although this is unintentional, it is also not okay. The phrase I love you should never be said carelessly or as an automatic response. Become present to when your expression of love is lacking meaning and perhaps you'll find that you too were missing the I.
2. We just do not mean it.
I have found that love you has become a phrase people tend to throw around at random. I love you is intimate. Making it a sentence by taking ownership conveys that the speaker takes on the responsibility of truthfully meaning that statement. Perhaps omitting the I is a sort of loophole that gets us out of owning up to authentic love. Most of the people that tell me "love you" are friends who I myself care for but do not truly love. They are the same people that I also use to say "love you" to. Ever since becoming consciously aware of the love you versus the I love you, if I cannot say the I then I just don't say it.
When the I is left out of the phrase I automatically feel as though something is missing. Usually, this missing component is love itself. For the record-- that is okay! It is perfectly acceptable to care about people without loving them. Acknowledging the difference is commendable, actually. If you don't mean it-- don't say it; with or without the I.
3. We are insecure with saying I love you.
After categorizing all of the love you's into either laziness or meaninglessness, I was miffed to find that there are people who do not fit either theory. These are the people in my life that I do love (and who I know for a fact love me) but continue to leave the I out of the phrase. I also ruled out laziness because it is every single time. I came to the conclusion that they must fit into theory number three: they are insecure in their I love you.
My family is BIG on saying I love you: every time we hang up the phone, every time one of us leaves the house, whenever someone goes to bed for the night, etc. Because of this I have always been entirely comfortable with the phrase. When I verbalize my love for someone, I am confident in it. There is no nervous giggle. There is no hemming and hawing. And there is most definitely an I in the statement. As I grew up and became aware of other family dynamics, I soon realized that not all families say I love you. One day it hit me that my friends (as well as a couple of ex-boyfriends) rarely hear it; therefore, they rarely say it. The majority of people who do not say I love you are the majority of people who reply "love you, too" because they are uncomfortable with the phrase. This, again, is okay. Showing someone you love them is infinitely greater than having to say it. At the same time, the idea of insecure love you's is the one that irks me the most because the emotion should never be said with hesitation.
If you mean to vocalize your love-- say it with intention. If you do not feel true love for another person-- do not use the word at all. If you feel love but cannot say it, express it. If we cannot take ownership of the emotion then perhaps we should ask ourselves if it is an emotion we truly feel. I hope to see the phrase love you regain the integrity of the I. Become aware of the expressions of love around you. Which theory do those who forget the I fit into? Which of these three ideas is the reason you say love you instead of I love you? Whether it is out of laziness, insincerity or insecurity, be mindful not to throw the phrase around, forgive those who do and remember to show love more than you say it.