I Love You, Always Will
I Love You, Always Will
‘I love you,’ I told Julian as he scooped up his bag and swung it over his shoulder, heading out the door.
‘I love you,’ he said, matter-of-factly, ‘Always will.’
I walked him to the door, kissed him goodbye, and bade him safe travels on his train back home.
Earlier in the evening, in the car on the way over to Drink where we had grabbed cocktails, I had been telling a story about Ben, shipped to sea. At the close of it, Julian had said something along the lines of, ‘People are important to you. That’s why you keep them in your life. Even your exes,’ and had given me a knowing squeeze.
There Are No Words
English does not have enough words. I’m for creating and co-opting them continually. I’m for borrowing the best phrases and terms from other languages when they express an idea better than their English counterparts, or when they fill a void in our lexicon.
Our language shapes our ability to think—to form thoughts and opinions about a subject, and to express those thoughts and opinions. It seems dangerous to me to settle for something less than what is necessary to do so effectively—to settle for Newspeak, to settle for having our ability to form opinions on a subject curtailed.
I’m constantly breaking down the power of certain words, the impact and the implications of them.
One word I’ve never been comfortable with is ex. Ex-what? Ex-boyfriend? Sure. But current best friend. Current, for lack of a better (English) term, annoying older brother. It makes more sense for me to describe the people in my life—for they are still very much in my life—in terms of our current relationship status, and to disclose the fact that we dated, considered marrying, whatever. These are the facts, presented. Make of them what you will.
While many people are ex-somethings, they are also current somethings else. I do not want to define them by why they aren’t, but by what they are.
One Down, One-Up
Julian—while I am loath to admit it—is right. People are important to me. My people are important to me. I would not allocate time in my life to anyone who was not worth it.
I’m someone who prefers to be doing exactly what I want to be doing at any given moment, and I’ve worked hard to hone my ability to identify what that is—and it is indeed difficult, and always an effort, to introspect and to be brutally honest with myself to determine that in any given situation.
I won’t spend time with someone who’s not worth spending time with. I always appreciate when someone gets to know me well enough to recognise this, because it is at once a more intimate stage in our relationship, and an ego boost for them. I would not spend time with them unless it was worth it, therefore if I am there with them, they are worth my valuable time.
Living this way—sort of a relationship extension of one of my overarching life philosophy of having few things, but of high quality—I tend to keep people around, in my life. Sometimes they leave it for years at a time, like Julian did, but they’re never truly gone. I will reach back out, with a birthday text or a call or flowers, I will answer, ‘When are you coming to see me!?’ with plane tickets to Alabama to see someone with whom I last spoke in college. Relationships are an investment; I will not enter into them unless I expect a positive ROI.
It’s clear to me that not everyone lives like this, but it’s not clear to me why.
On a date recently, I talked of my best friend, living for a year in the UK. My date asked what she was doing there, and I answered that he was working to grow the UK division of his company, sighing inwardly at gender-based assumptions and what I knew would come next.
‘Your best friend’s a dude?’
Having little patience, I replied, ‘Yes. We used to date for five or six years, too, but we broke up.’
‘Your best friend is your ex!?’
‘Yeah, we’re looking into buying property together.’
‘But if you live together, you’re going to start dating again!’
‘I wouldn’t live there.’
My date seemed visibly uncomfortable, and I’m sure I seemed amused.
I was pleasantly surprised when the opposite happened recently on a date with Matthias.
When the inevitable moment came that it made sense to mention Ryan in my storytelling, to qualify him with our relationship to each other, I once again mentioned he was my best friend.
Matthias was unfazed, and I was quizzical.
As if to one-up me, he disclosed that his best friend was also of an opposite gender, was also a friend from college, and was named Megan (I’m probably spelling that wrong). It was as if he was saying, ‘I see your my-best-friend-is-a-dude and raise you my-best-friend-is-a-woman, and she shares your name.’ I fold.
It’s impossible to explain these situations to those who don’t share a similar philosophy of interpersonal relationships. I usually give up and exasperatedly explain something like, ‘Ryan is my best friend. I love him, and I would jump in front of a bus for him, and I reiterated this to him just last week. It makes more sense if you meet him.’
And it does. It makes more sense if you can witness and experience our interactions in person. It is impossible to convey the subtleties and intricacies of interpersonal relationships using words alone. Words fail. These things make more sense in person. People make more sense in person.
It seems to me to be similar to how every single person who ever met my father had the exact same reaction: ‘Ohhh,’ they would say, nodding, ‘You make a lot more sense now.’ I can’t explain it, but something about our personalities, the way that we interact—how we tell three or four strung-together stories just to make one simple point—was identifiable to others in such a way that my idiosyncrasies were somehow more excusable because they existed in another human being as well, one who had clearly passed them down along to me genealogically.
I’m fascinated by the concept that language—the tool that we are given to express ourselves—shapes and limits our ability to express ourselves. When we say ‘words fail,’ we also say that the tools that we have been given are not good enough.
I like to borrow words from other languages to express concepts that we haven’t defined in English. I collect untranslatable words.
In Hawaii, ohana means family—both formal, informal, and adopted. We don’t have a well defined concept like this in English, so I find myself frustratedly fumbling for words when describing some of my relationships:
- He’s like my annoying older brother
- He’s the family that I chose, but am also sort of stuck with in the way that you’re stuck with family
- She’s mine; I’m hers
- They’re my…outlaws, sort of like in-laws, but more badass
- He’s technically not quite my adopted step-nephew, I guess?
- She’s the closest thing I have to a sister
- They’re just cousins—not first cousins, but second or third or removed or married in
- She is my future children’s favourite aunt
The best way that I can think to describe what I refer to as family is, ‘People who love you regardless.’ It is incredible to me to be surrounded by people who love me regardless, who accommodate my quirks (and know how I love to be accommodated), who forgive me, who accept me. I think a part of that is because they know that I accommodate, forgive, and accept them, and establishing relationships in which each and every individual is free to be her- or himself and be accepted as such is such a blessing.
Our blood relatives are the first to do this. Our parents feel a powerful love for this newly minted human being whom they have created—they accept and forgive this little thing, and don’t begrudge it loss of sleep and permanent bodily damage.
Our siblings learn that they are stuck with us, and thus have to find a way to love us. I suppose I’m excluding single children, but I also can’t relate to that. There’s something in learning that you have to care for this other human who annoys the hell out of you—I think it sets you up for a better chance of succeeding in relationships later in life. The skill of letting go is something that we can all learn, but siblings have a head start.
One summer, in middle school, my friends and I were out on a boat on the lake, as we were wont to do during the dog days. I had been forced to drag my little brother Mark along, because he couldn’t be left at home alone.
‘Hey look,’ one of my friends pointed out. Mark turned to peer over the edge of the boat, and Josh tossed him into the lake, glasses and all.
I forced Dave to turn the boat around to pick him back up. Josh had to dive to the bottom to retrieve Mark’s glasses.
As much as I wanted to leave my little brother in the middle of a lake, I understood that I couldn’t practically do that. My friends decided to test that hypothesis, and on that day we all learned that you can’t totally abandon your family. You’re stuck with them, and sometimes you’re stuck with their family, too. You have to find a way to stick it out.
So you’re stuck with family, bound by the fact that you will love each other, always, even when you do not like each other.
The people in my life are like that. I love Julian, always, even when he is pedantic and patronising and embarrasses me in public because he is excitedly talking about some topic on which he is particularly passionate—so passionate he doesn’t realise it’s not necessarily appropriate for little ears, which are sharing the sidewalks of Brookline with us. I love Julian, always, especially when he brings an extra sweatshirt because he knows that I will inevitably be cold, when he pours my beer because he knows that I hate to pour my own alcohol, when he carries me over puddles because I have worn impractical shoes.
The way that we describe our families is also limited by our language. We have a few limited terms, almost all of which are gender-based:
- Mother/father: Female/male parents
- Sister/brother: Female/male sibling
- Aunt/uncle: Female/male siblings of parents
- Cousin: Children of siblings of parents
- Grand, second, third, etc.: Degrees of separation, generational or otherwise
But in other languages, words exist for things like:
- Younger/older sibling
- Younger/older siblings of parents
They distinguish based upon age, instead of gender. I think that distinction is a better choice when describing family, since our relations to one another tend to differ more based upon age than upon gender.
Here is another example in which our language limits our ability to fully convey the nature of something in as few words as possible, since the nuances of a relationship cannot be easily described.
These people are my family. I can’t think of a better way to describe it, although I know that it isn’t totally aligned with the definition of family in our common language. It is ohana, it is ‘the people who love me regardless, and always will.’ It’s refreshing to be surrounded by these people, and probably part of the reason why so many of my friends become family, and I do not tend to devote a lot of resources to a relationship that I expect only ever to remain a friendship.
Why would I bother to spend time with someone for whom I wasn’t prepared to jump in front of a bus?