It is probably the most clichéd phrase in the world and yet, no other phrase may be more powerful than a simply uttered ‘I love you’. Hollywood has found very innovative ways of declaring love.
“Love is too weak a word for what I feel,” Woody Allen says in Annie Hall. “I luuuuuurve you.”
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Ali MacGraw tells Ryan O’Neal in Love Story.
“Love lifts us up where we belong,” Ewan McGregor tells Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.
Of course, in the movies, the heroes have good looks and background music to accompany their declarations. You and I may not have that privilege. So, the movies might not be the best template to follow while uttering those immortal (and hopefully reciprocated) words. When should you say it? Should it come spontaneously? Should you carefully plan it? Or should it not come at all?
In India, we have a profusion of ‘pyaar’ in the titles of our movies but very little expressions of ‘pyaar’ from our lovers. For some reason, we are loath to say I love you. Or make any grand romantic gestures for that matter. No one really goes on one knee to propose anymore, do they? And despite all your hints of diamonds being a girl’s best friend, Valentine’s Day comes and goes without a hint of sparkle.
In the months when my parents were engaged, they used to write love letters to each other. One day, my brother discovered these letters and was suitably revolted. (You really don’t want to know that your father’s “knees quake and his eyes shine” when your mother comes into the room). My brother never liked reading newspapers in the loo so he used to take a bunch of these letters and chuckle over them while he did the job. But not once, in any of those letters, did my father or mother profess their love to each other, although it seemed to be implicitly understood and obliquely referred to.
Things seem to be changing in our country. Youngsters are going all out to make their partners’ knees quake and eyes shine through gifts, gestures and freely expressed I love yous. This year, Amazon released a city-wise list of what people were buying for Valentine’s Day. While in Mumbai it was movies and music albums of Taylor Swift, Adele and One Direction, Delhi saw a spurt in the sale of books like Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend and Preeti Shenoy’s Life is What You Make it. Lovers in Bengaluru went with jewellery and watches. I know a woman who was proposed to while she was sipping champagne in a room full of roses with a student Mariachi band playing just for her. You can be sure that only one knee of her future fiancé made contact with the floor that night.
According to reports, the number of divorces increased 350 per cent between 2003 and 2011 in Kolkata and doubled in Mumbai between 2010 and 2014. Isn’t it funny that the grander we are making our expressions of love, the faster we are letting go of it? So, maybe restricting ourselves to shining eyes and quaking knees instead of saying the L-word outright is not a bad idea. And if you’re saying it, make it spontaneous. There is a book by Sophie Kinsella in which the protagonist’s boyfriend makes a request after a few months of a live-in relationship. “Can we call each other ‘baby’ and ‘honey’ from now onwards?” Ugh.
There is also the question of how you react when someone professes love and you’re not sure of your own feelings. Obviously, you can’t say ‘Thank you’ or ‘it is sweet of you to say so’. My advice is to say ‘I love you, too’ regardless of whether you do or not. You can fake it till you make it. And if you don’t make it, make sure you throw in a lot of ‘babys’ and ‘honeys’ when you break up with the poor sod.