Yeah, you know which three little words I mean.
And, no, I am not going to say them, write them or even think them too hard.
But, I’ll tell you why. You see, as much as I enjoy them, words don’t mean a thing. Especially those three words which seem to mean so much to so many people who can’t ever hear them enough. Those words have been used as tools. Tools to get what the speaker wants from whomever they speak those meaningless words to with no weight behind them. I’ve heard them spoken so many times by people who need something from me, want something from me, that they aren’t even sharp tools any more. They’re rusty and corroded and they could use a little oil because they squeak when they rub up against each other. Too many times I’ve heard those three words, spoken by someone who wasn’t even aware that she needed something from me so that I don’t trust those words any more. They’re far too easy to say and way too hard to mean.
Worse, I’ve used those words that way myself. I’ve said them not knowing if I meant them, but knowing only that who I was with wanted to hear them. That’s what I thought they were for, to give someone what they needed or thought they needed. That was more important than actually meaning anything. Getting and giving. That was my only compass, my only guide. What did I need to get and what did I have to give to get it? Three insignificant words. Three one-syllable words. What harm could it do?
Most of the time, I didn’t even need to hear one of them.
If you say it right, the first word is implied. When spoken, those other two words can only be directed at someone else, someone close. The problem is, physical proximity and real intimacy aren’t the same thing at all. There’s a lesson no number of words can teach. At least, not to me. Not even the same two or three words repeated over and over and over make up for any lack of real trust, real empathy. And, really, if everything else is right, only one word matters. Probably not even the one you might imagine. I remember hearing that the most magical thing you can say to someone is their name. Not that anyone’s done it, but I imagine the most intimate thing a woman could do is to stand toe-to-toe with me, look me in the eye without fear or guilt or guile and just whisper my name. Short of that, and something that has, thankfully, happened, would be to just start or end a sentence with a whispered personal pronoun. And, yes, the whisper is a pretty important, because, again, it adds the required intimacy that makes even that most generic personal pronoun beautiful to hear. But, you know, I’ve never told anyone I was with that, even though I’ve whispered a name or two my own self.
But, true intimacy doesn’t need the words, not really.
And, before you get too far down the road there Mario Andretti, just throttle back on where your mind is racing because when I use the word “intimacy” I don’t necessarily mean physical intimacy. Granted, I’ve used the three words in question to advance my agenda toward the physical, but that’s far from the limit of their utility for expression. The Greeks had words for all kinds of emotions and intimacies, for degrees of friendship and levels of romantic entanglement. And, I can honestly say the three words that everyone eventually wants to hear to people who I’d really rather not see naked. I’m not sure that was always true, but, you know, growth happens. I don’t know how it works for anyone else, but my growth always includes pain at some point. If it doesn’t start with it, or end with it, then the pain is all along the way. My personal growth from the place where I could only say those three words in the hope of sweaty, vigorous, “Biblical” exercise, to mix a metaphor, to a place where I might say those words to someone not hoping and wishing for them to return the feeling has been filled with and punctuated by more pain than I thought possible for a single person to feel. Some of it was even physical. But, that’s what it takes, or so the judge told me. Okay, maybe she didn’t really tell me that, but I think one of the lawyers did. Or my therapist at the time. Someone, anyway.
Not that I know much about it, really. Intimacy, I mean. The non-physical kind. Not that I’d imply any special knowledge of the physical kind either, but, frankly, I think that’s easier than the other. It’s mechanical. A skill that can be learned, refined. Something that they print manuals for, like a home-study course in small engine repair or locksmithing. And, yes, it is something I’ve spent a little time working on. It’s not the most measurable skill, but, still, it’s easier to gauge that than how good I am at intimacy, friendly or otherwise. I mean, I’m not bragging or anything, because, I’m not claiming to be anything better than average, even when I was at my most “connected”.
But, that’s not the point and I digress…
I get all wrapped up in the words and start to think they’re what’s important.
But, really, I’d rather see how someone feels about me, than hear it. And, I’d rather show it, than say it.
I hope I do. I hope the people who matter know when I take panicked phone calls in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, why I pick up. I hope it’s clear to them why I fix their computers, when I don’t really work on my own after getting home at the end of the day. Why I’ll make their wireless network sing, when my home network limps along. I hope they understand that I can’t say the words, but can find the money to buy lunch, even though sometimes, my bills are late. I pray the know why I hold back the words I do, not just those three, but the other words, the harsher truth, sometimes, when I don’t think that’s what they need to hear. I pray, too, that those people I can’t say those three words to, for fear of being rejected, know why I cover shared pain with jokes, even the dark jokes, sometimes.
Most of all, I hope that all my interactions with the people who matter most to me show what I can’t say. That every minute we spend together is about why they’re still there in the first place, why I haven’t burned that bridge after burning so many in my life.
I wish I could say those three words instead. It’d be easier. But, as much as I enjoy words and using them, they don’t mean much. Not compared to how I live and how I teat the people who mean the most to me.
So, I hope they know how I feel about them, without me saying it.
Or, those three, little words.