George: I might tell her that I love her. I came this close last night, then I just chickened out.In 2000, I joined the pastoral staff of a moderately large church in Northern California. It was the most huggy place on earth. It seemed whether greeting or parting, an embrace was required. At first, it drove me nuts. I have some real personal space issues. You’re only welcome to land if you have received clearance from the tower. It wasn’t just the hugs. This church was the “I love you” capital of Christendom. Public profession of adoration between friends is a fine gesture to be sure, but not exactly within my stockpile of experience.
Jerry: Well, that's a big move, Georgie boy. Are you confident in the “I love you” return?
Jerry: Cause if you don't get that return, that's a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there.
George: Aw, I've just got to say it once, everybody else gets to say it, why can't I say it?
Elaine: What, you never said it?
George: Once, to a dog. He licked himself and left the room.
Jerry: Well, so it wasn't a total loss.
New scene— George and Siena are sitting in the car again. They're listening to the hockey game on the radio.
George: You know, I could have actually gone to that.
Siena: So why didn't you?
George: Well, I didn't want to break our date.
Siena: Oh, well.
George: Because I... I love you.
Siena: You know, I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat.
You see, “I love you” for me is an expression of great import. The phrase carries with it the weight of significant depth and personal covenant. To feel love for someone else is one thing. To say, “I love you,” well, this is more than deep caring, it is a contract—a new level of spoken commitment.
In part, as a result of my brief experience at that church, I verbally communicate my feelings for my close friends more often than before. Still, it can be “a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there.” Not for lack of confidence in the “I love you return.” I’m not sure that is always so important. I mean, everyone likes to hear they are loved (whether or not the feeling is mutual), right? Ah, but therein lies the problem.
It’s all about semantics. At that church, “I love you” meant, “I appreciate you” or “I’m glad you’re my friend” or “it sure is nice weather we’re having.” For me, “I love you” means, “built on the qualities I have come to deeply value in you, I care for and trust in you enough to risk a consequential portion of the depth of who I am on my relationship with you.”
Not only are there considerable differences in what these words mean from one person to the next, but, I have come to recognize that many people (including myself) find the idea of being loved difficult. Being loved is not a passive state. It seems to carry implicit responsibilities. If I am loved by you, I must bear the burden of your emotion. I now knowingly have the power to hurt you deeply. Sometimes, however, the problem is even more straightforward and narcissistic. I feel guilty—find it difficult (or even impossible) to receive your love because I don’t feel lovable. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t feel this way. Because of your expression, I am now beholden to continue whatever charade has inspired you to develop such affections. I no longer have the option of ever “being myself.” I must be the person you can love.
I sometimes wonder if this isn’t one of the reasons westerners in postmodern society are so quick to push God away. The formidable complexities—the internal antagonisms involved in the giving and receiving of unconditional, honest, whole love appear insurmountable… or, even worse, strike debilitating terror. The issues of personal space surrounding our heart keep Him (and most everyone else) at arm’s length. What tragic, personal devastation we affect through passive resistance in the name of self preservation.
New scene— Jerry and George are at the coffee shop.
Jerry: "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat."
Jerry: Big matzo ball.
George: Huge matzo ball.
Jerry: Those damn “I love you” returns.
George: Well, it's all over. I slipped up.
Jerry: Oh, you don't know.
George: You have any idea how fast these things deteriorate when there's an “I love you” out of the bag? You can't have a relationship where one person says, "I love you", and the other says, "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat."
Jerry: Unless you're married.
George: I mean, now she thinks that I'm one of these guys that love her. Nobody wants to be with somebody that loves them.
Jerry: No, people hate that.
George: You want to be with somebody that doesn't like you.
George: I am never saying “I love you” again unless they say it first.
Waitress: Matzo ball soup?
George: That'd be me.