The other day I was sitting in Mac with a friend chowing down on some mid-afternoon breakfast like so many BC students do on the weekends. At one point, when the conversation turned to discussing someone she’d recently begun to hang out with, she announced that she “loves him.” While I didn’t say anything out loud, the need to chastise her ran through my head almost immediately after she spoke the words. To me, it was obvious that this was far too strong a word to describe such a minimal relationship in her life.
Unfortunately, I hardly have the authority to talk as this is a misuse I am guilty of committing myself. I slur the word in reference to several trivialities in my life such as food, movies, and articles of clothing. Our misuse of the word is not an isolated incident. A recent article in The Atlantic delved into the widespread overuse of “love” in America, using recognition from other cultures as support. By overusing “love” and failing to express its meaning with our actions, Americans are taking a word with a heavy connotation and letting it shrink before our eyes.
Do we even know what love is anymore? And I’m talking real love here people, not holding hands on the playground in grade school or lustful weekend trysts. It sounds like a deep philosophical question about humanity, but maybe it’s one that needs to be asked. Love is more than a word, but is American culture losing sight of the meaning?
We exist in a society where love is driven into question. The views of love presented before us are skewing the word’s meaning. Movies display perfect, unrealistic representations of love stories and under our roofs many are met with the opposite effect. Living in a country with one of the highest divorce rates in the world manifests itself in dozens of ways, one being a cynical view of affection and love.
Seeing love on a college campus with a hook up culture as far stretching as BC’s only makes seeking the existence of love in our everyday life all the harder. Romantic love, while undeniably still alive, loses its luster when random, in-the-moment, sloppy displays of passion are the norm. I knew before even coming here that dating wasn’t BC’s scene, which is probably why I stare when I see couples here. They are the Chestnut Hill equivalent to Sasquatch or UFOs.
This evidence of skepticism could explain why Americans are so quick to throw the "L-word" out in everyday conversation. The phrase “I love you,” one I utter to my family as I hug them before leaving home, is also one I am comfortable throwing around casually with people who I don’t actually love. People of other cultures often cited, in a study mentioned in The Atlantic article, that the equivalent of “I love you” in their language—be it Chinese or German—is too strong to be used in the manner that Americans do.
Perhaps language is a worthy player in this blame game. Many times, via the internet or through conversations, I come across words in other languages that don’t have an English equivalent. Oftentimes these words capture an emotional feeling or tendency that we have no way of singularly expressing in our country’s most common language. Our overuse of love is perhaps one that we have to resort to because of a lack of other affectionate terms.
The existence of a happy medium between love and like would be a worthy start at expanding English terms of endearment. Just as love loses its meaning, “like” has become a syllable we utter when our brain can’t find the words we desire to say fast enough. Its status as an expression of affection is teetering. This demotion makes the jump from liking someone to loving them larger than ever, skipping a step or two…or ten. A step should exist between the two because realistically there is a level—or more likely levels—of affection that exists between them. Worthy contenders are few and far between.
Words may leave a lot to be desired, but that’s what actions are for.
In America we hide behind our words. Declaring our love for someone or something means less and less the more we say it and the less we act on said love. By failing to express this love through our actions the word, now associated with these actions, loses its credibility. Letting our actions speak for us can transform any phrase of endearment into love. As my mother often jokes, my brother says “I love you” by uttering the words “You’re so annoying.” The words don’t need to be spoken to signify his love, his actions do. This begs the question: Do Americans walk the walk or just overly talk the talk?
Knowing the meaning behind everything is important—not only when it comes to gaining trust from others but also in order to truly and beautifully experience life. I’ll admit ignorance is bliss in some cases, but love is not one of them. Love is a right we are all afforded not just as citizens of America but as human beings. Regardless of how often you use the word and how many of those times you actually mean what you are saying, when you feel real love you will know that you don’t love the Tuscan Veggie or Breaking Bad.