I was speaking with my friend, Maggie, the other day and somehow we segued to family customs when it comes to giving hugs or using terms of endearment, such as “hon,” “dear,” “love bug,” “honey bunny,” soft, squishy words that can sound sweet to ears or cheaply said, sarcastic and patronizing to others.
Mags comes from a family of three boys and one girl, a father who is intensely logical and rational and a mother who appears to maintain her balance around all of ’em. Mags said that one day, her eldest brother just told everyone that from now on, they would hug upon meeting, they would tell one another “I love you.” and some other fine points of protocol. Interestingly, the kids, who were adults, all agreed and proceeded to implement it. She laughed when thinking of her Dad’s reaction to the “I love you” during a phone call. A sort of quiet sputtering and then, “You, too.” It is not that any of them lacked in loving emotions, it was expressing them where the challenge came in.
When I was growing up, especially around 12-15, it was nearly impossible for me to say, “I love you.” It was sacrosanct to me and I had observed that others just said it without any true meaning or intention behind the words.
I clearly remember one day when my Aunt Betty was visiting. As she was leaving, we were to either hug and/or yell out “I love you, too.” in response to her’s. There was a horrible long pause as I choked on it. I wasn’t sure I really loved her enough to stake my life on it. That’s how important I placed those words, “I love you.” In my head, saying those three little words had a huge commitment and force to them belied by the times I lived in. Amazingly, my Aunt Betty seemed to understand and said something to the effect, “I understand, Hunt. You aren’t ready for that yet. It’s okay. I’ll say it. “I love you, Huntie.” And, she smiled and walked out to her car. The load that came off my shoulders at her words still lingers today in my memory.
I’ve mentioned before that it was customary for my family to meet in restaurants as neutral territory. This made sure no one had home team advantage and also that no one would throw a scene. You never, ever throw a scene in public. Family law in the HuntMode clan. Holds true today, though scenes are few and far apart now that we’re older and save our energy and passion for when the battle truly counts.
It took my sister-in-law, Mary, to pry open the clan’s defense perimeter. She was tall, elegant, soft spoken and sprinkled the conversation with “Hi Hon.” or “I understand, Hon.” This is pretty mild stuff in the vocabulary of terms of endearment, but it reverberated throughout the clan in earthquakian ways. My brother picked it up and began using it, plus, “Hey, love you.” I think I practiced it for awhile, saying it out loud when I was alone, just to get my tongue accustomed to voicing it. Truly, it was like a foreign language.
Nowadays, I am fluent in the terms of endearment language, helped greatly by having been married to a very affectionate man who was vocal in his love of me and by having dogs and cats who need to hear that language. I find I have better days when I am able to be open and expressive of the affection I have for my friends, neighbors and readers. What about you?