When I came to the U.S. for the first time, this sentence probably confused me the most. People I knew for only a few weeks so easily said this to me, to each other at the end of every phone call, at the end of every meal we grabbed together. “You can’t love me just yet,” I thought to myself before saying it back with a forced smile on my face. I felt awkward and insincere, not because I didn’t enjoy their company, but because the word “love” itself bore so much weight.
Of course, I had to get used to saying it — just like I had to learn Fahrenheit as a part of my adaptation to America. It was a big cultural difference. Even though Turkish people often come across as warm and genuine, it is very rare that we leave a friend saying “love you!” Because of its strong connotations, “love” is often reserved for more special occasions, not necessarily shouted on the streets. That is why, perhaps, the most liberally I have ever said “I love you” was to my parents. It wasn’t necessarily a choice, but instead it was a need born out of the fear of losing them at an unexpected time.
In English, however, “love” seems to gain more gravity when we add the pronoun “I” in front of it. I don’t hear many people shouting “I love you” to each other loudly and cheerfully. That “I,” for some reason, changes the whole meaning, turning the sentence from a cliché goodbye to perhaps the biggest symbol of vulnerability. We feel exposed while admitting that we truly care for the other person, whether they are a friend, a romantic partner or even a family member. In the arbitrary line between like and love, the prospect of opening up to someone completely and letting them hold power over us becomes the most dangerous game, the biggest risk of all.
In a world of controllables, love remains the most uncertain. And as we struggle to navigate school, growing up and securing a future, choosing the uncertain becomes almost unthinkable. Confessing to someone how we truly feel while knowing that they might not feel the same seems doomed from the start. That is why, hiding between exclamations of “love u” or “miss u” is often the closest we get to acknowledging our feelings. The fewer syllables we use, the more secure we feel. On a more toxic level perhaps, I even remember making a list of bad things in my mind about people so that I would stop feeling strongly about them. And it worked most of the time. But in hindsight, I wish it did not.
“Loving people is what makes me human,” said one of my friends very recently. “In every other aspect of my life, I am no different from a robot.” My immediate reaction was of course to dismiss her claim, secretly accusing her of being overly sentimental. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We put so much effort into our work to have the career, the financial stability, the bright future we want. But personally what scares me the most in that bright future is not having the people I truly love beside me.
Is this to say that we should all start declaring our love for each other? Certainly not. In fact, acknowledging my love for people made me stingier with my “love you’s.” But there is significant value in accepting and welcoming that feeling when it finally comes. It might be the most unexpected, perhaps the most inappropriate. It might feel wrong, strange, confusing in the beginning. But dismissing it as nothing is never the answer. As cliché as it sounds, life is too short to fake love but never to feel and appreciate it fully. And coming to terms with this is perhaps the biggest lesson of all.
SUDE YENILMEZ is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column, ‘Piecing Together,’ runs every other Thursday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.