“Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.”
-Leo F. Buscaglia

I love. I love earnestly, deeply, tenderly, and without any expectations of reward. I love easily. The way that I love has caused me some heartache and heartbreak over the years, but on the whole, I think I’m happier.

Those of you who know me, my friends, know that I often (more often than not) end a conversation saying, “I love you.” For some of you this has been off-putting at times. I have a certain “macho” friend who literally freaked the first time I told him that I loved him. I backed off a bit and didn’t try it again for a while. Several months later he said to me, “Nathan, do you love me?” “Of course,” I told him. “I love you too,” he said. He almost always tells me that he loves me now — he’ll beat me to the punch on the phone.

I love. And I want you to know that I love you. To live in this world, today, in a time that is uncertain in so many ways (and I’m not even talking about eschatologically uncertain times), it is important to let people know that we love them. Yes, I love all people generally — that’s why it’s so easy for me to rationalize bad behavior in others, to let personal slights and insults go, to accept people as they are, but I also love people specifically. Like family.

I have friends that I call “brother” or “sister”. If I could pick my family, these people would be it. You know the kind of relationship I’m talking about. These are the people I wouldn’t want or choose to live without; these are the people who keep me sane and keep me grounded. It’s a short list, but I think I have more of these kinds of relationships than most. I talk to some people about their closest friends and I have discovered that many people don’t have the kind of relationships I describe with ANYONE. I pity them. Who can read their minds and their souls? Who can hear their voice and immediately detect joy or heartache even when they’re trying to hide it?

We need close friendships. We need love in our lives — and not the EROS, bum-chica-wow-wow kind. Sure, there’s a place for that — a big place — but that kind of love does not sustain us, that kind of love doesn’t last (it comes in waves, even in committed relationships). For many people, married or committed people, their closest friend is their spouse or partner. That’s not inappropriate — in fact, it makes life a joy. To love, on multiple levels, the person you’re spending your life with is a gift.If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him. I find it could no otherwise be expressed than by making answer: Because it was he, because it was I.

If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I.
– Michel de Montaigne

I try to love, we should try to love, without any expectations. That’s a hard thing to grasp for some people. So many relationships (what some people might call “friendships” but I’ll prefer to call “acquaintance”) are based on mutual benefit. You give, I give, we both get something. That’s fine, but it puts an invisible burden on a relationship. We should love purely, without expectation of reward or benefit. This is hard, yes, but in the end, if you’re disappointed in a friend, you can say to yourself, “I love this person; I shouldn’t expect anything of them but love in return.”

More generally, we should love EVERYONE without expectation. The man on the street, the asshole who cuts you off in traffic, the dipsh*t that won’t shut up in the elevator (and he’s there every day)… When we decide to love people, all people, we let anger slough off of our souls like a second skin and I promise that we’re happier. Some of you have heard me say, “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed.” That sounds like something a parent would say, but it’s the truth in my case (most of the time). I am more often disappointed than I am angry — and disappointment is not a sin in any religion that I can find. Anger is an emotion; disappointment is a learning experience.

I love tenderly. I’m a soft-hearted kind of guy. When those I love hurt, I hurt. When they are disappointed in life, I find myself disappointed. Sympathy? Empathy? I dunno, but, that’s what love SHOULD be. When we love, our hearts resonate with the songs in the hearts of others. I’m supposedly easy to read. A friend told me recently (on several occasions) that she can “read my face like a book”. I don’t know about that — she didn’t do so well if you ask me — but it’s true that those who know me well (perhaps those who love me?) *can* hear in my voice, see in my face, observe in my behavior my TRUE mood (and not the one I’m projecting to the general public). Tender love is gentle and caring, not pushy and abrasive. Tender love caresses our hurts and cheers our joys.

I love easily and readily. More than two years ago, I was reintroduced to a young woman who I’d met several months before. She went with me and some friends to eat and then to hang out. When we dropped her off at her apartment, I got out to walk her to the walk (I didn’t go to the door). She thanked me for the invitation and I hugged her — I stepped back, looked into her eyes, kissed her forehead and said, “I love you.” She looked at me strangely, with a slight grin on her face, and blushed. I meant it — right then. I’d spent several hours with her, only several hours, and I realized in that time that *this* was one of the most important people I’d ever meet in my life. This was not a false revelation. She has become a true friend, one of the people I’m closest to in the world.

We should be ready to love. We should be open to love. If I had sent out applications for “best friends”, I doubt I would have picked the young woman above. If I had not been ready to love, easily and readily, I might not have recognized her value and worth. As it was, I was ready, our hearts were open, and most amazingly, they resonate now, almost two years later on the same frequency, they sing different parts of the same song.

So… I say, “I love you.” I mean it. I say it often, but it doesn’t mean less — it means more. I am not afraid to love; I am not afraid to admit I love. I fear a future without love; I fear a future without my friends.

Receive love with an open heart. Tell people you love them. Love without expectation, deeply, tenderly, earnestly, purely, simply.

Originally published June 9, 2007