January 20, 2005
The ‘L’ Word
How do you spell crippling inability to connect?
That's how I spelled it. After months of trying to
make myself say the "L word," I finally managed only three of the letters. And I wish I could say it was on a handwritten note or even e-mail, but no. It was the lowest of all forms of emotional communication, the last refuge of pre-pubescents and British soccer players, the fleeting, written on the wind, maybe-this-doesn't-count world of the text message.
It gets worse. The exact message was, "luv u2," which not only employs the writing style and emotional nuance of Avril Lavigne, it also suggests that he actually said "I love you" and I said nothing, got in my car and text messaged my sad little missive from the safety of the 405. And I've been dating the guy for 10 months, and he's been saying "it" for six.
"Have you said it yet? Have you?" asked my friend M, who's been asking me ever since she lost a $20 bet that I'd say it by the end of April. Some people just don't know how to lose.
My friend B leaned in, peering at me over her quesadillas and cinnamon tea at a booth at Swinger's. I lowered my cup slowly.
"Yeah, I said it." Disbelief lingered in the air with the smell of tea and jack cheese. "OK, I text messaged it."
M snapped her head toward me with a rush of recognition. In a tone so acute it pierced through the Swinger's dinnertime din, she yelped, "You wrote L-U-V didn't you? Didn't you? It was L-U-V, not love!"
How she knew this I don't know, but M should seriously consider a career finding missing bodies. That both of my friends immediately understood the difference between love and luv and knew why I had chosen the latter seemed clear, however. If love means never having to say you're sorry, luv means never having to say you're needy. Luv you can take back. Love is going to have to stick.
"Can I say something mean?" asked B, and without waiting for a response, she continued. "I would have broken up with you."
This from the friend who does Hatha yoga and never gives her opinion without first gently inquiring, "Do you want my feedback?" This from the friend you'd most want talking you off a ledge or tending to your tomato plants.
"That's really bad, Teresa."
I tried to soothe B with some of my previous attempts, tried to explain that I just had a little Fonzie-type problem with the actual word.
There was the time he wrote on a Post-It "I love you, baby" and left it on the refrigerator. Several days later, I pointed to the yellow sticky and at him, and back to the note and back at him, like a game of intimacy-impaired charades. Nothing screams, "I reciprocate your vulnerability and openness" like mime.
There was the time I flashed the sign language version of "I love you." I really thought that was going to be a breakthrough, but he just looked at me and sighed, discouraged.
A few times, I'd go so far as to get my tongue in that "L" position behind my front teeth. I'd silently rehearse, "I love you. I luh ... I luh ... I luh ..." but I never could spit it out, as if saying it would curse the whole situation, or chain me to it, and I wasn't sure which was worse.
I tried to explain to him that just because I couldn't say it, didn't mean I didn't "feel things," that I didn't grow up in a lovey-dovey environment.
He was lucky enough to see this firsthand when we visited my mom in Vegas. We got to the door, bags in hand and she backed away like I was selling life insurance. Mom doesn't hug. I have the only Jewish mother that out-WASPs Mary Tyler Moore in "Ordinary People." So I stood there, dropped my bags and wanted to whisper, "See? I'm not faking this. Is it cold in here or is it just my maternal relationship?"
Before my resentments could really let their hair down, Mom sat us down at the kitchen table. She'd been cooking for days, chocolate cake from scratch for him, vegetarian lasagna for me, loaves of homemade bread. It was her pointing to the Post-It and pointing to me and pointing back at the Post-It.
At the diner, B had second thoughts about dumping me: "Wait. Do you show love? Maybe I wouldn't break up with you. If your actions were loving, I could live with it."
She could live with it. But like getting your affection in the form of noodles, it would always be a labor of luv.
Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She's on the Web at teresastrasser.com.