These three little words that we use every day have many more nuanced meanings today than they did seventeen years ago.

I remember the first time he said them. It was right after our first kiss (which also happened to be my first kiss). I had made him wait because I was determined to make that first kiss a special one. He had been ready to say “I love you” for a while, but he didn’t want me to feel like he was just pressuring me to kiss him, so in love, he waited for that, too.

I remember the first time I said it back to him. It was a couple weeks after our first kiss. Even though he had continued to profess his love, I hesitated repeating the phrase until I was completely sure I meant it. We were driving (I can take you to the spot) when he said it again and I replied, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and… I love you, too.” He says he nearly jumped out of his skin.

Back then, the phrase was one of bubbling emotion and determined commitment, new on the tongue and full of the promise of the future. But now, some seventeen years later, that same little phrase carries layers of meaning as we repeat it to one another daily.

Sometimes it means “thank you for saving me the last bite of dessert because you know how much I love cheesecake.”

Sometimes it means “I’m very attracted to your physical person and appreciate your reciprocation of my advances.”

Now and then it means “you frustrate me, but I’m choosing to live with your quirks because I’m committed to you.”

Sometimes it means “thank you for being a safe place,” or “I appreciate the ways you take care of me.”

Occasionally it means “How did I not know this? You still surprise me.”

Sometimes it means “I’m sorry I can’t be more for you right now, but I’m still for you.”

Other times it means “I’m glad your strengths cover the areas where I’m weak.”

Sometimes it means “How on earth am I so fortunate to get to spend life with you?”

And oftentimes it means “What I feel for you is far more profound than words can express, but here’s my feeble attempt.”

I’m sure, after another seventeen years together, we’ll find new meaning in those same old words, but I can’t imagine ever getting tired of hearing it.

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