Once in a while things that are common will strike me in a new, uncommon, way. Recently, this happened with the statement, “I love you, too.”
For as far back as I have memory, I’ve always noticed two things about telling someone you love them (or, rather, responding to being told that someone loves you). It seems that there are two ways in which this exchange occurs.
1) Someone says, “I love you” to you. You respond in turn with, “I love you.” Usually this response involves tonal emphasis on the final “you.” Like, “I love YOU.” (Although, obviously not in the obnoxious way the all-caps version can come across.)
2) Someone says, “I love you” to you. You respond in turn with, “I love you, too.” Like the response before, this response also usually carries emphasis on the final word – in this case, “too.”
I’ve heard both ways be used by many people and their loved ones. In my family, we tend to employ the second variation. “I love you, too.” I’ve always been fond of that one, probably because that’s what I grew up hearing and saying, but I think now I’m even fonder of it.
What’s the difference? Really and truly, there probably is no difference. But recently it seems to me that there really and truly is a difference and as you likely already could have guessed that difference hinges on the one difference between variation one and variation two: TOO.
I just used a phrase I first years only a couple years ago by a psychology professor. “Really and truly.” In class that day there was another student, a friend of mine I see not often, who had a pill bottle somewhat prominently displayed on his desk next to his book and phone and whatnot. I think the pills were some kind of anxiety medication, I don’t actually know. I also think that being able to see the pills within his reach somehow made him less likely to need them: He knew help was within hand’s reach so he was less likely to need that help. But she spotted them, and promptly told him to put the pill bottle away. He was either reluctant to do so, or was just moving slower than her patience was willing to tolerate, and so before he could (would?) put them away she verbally prodded him to do what she had asked. She said something like, “No… You need to put those away now please. (nodding her head at him) Really and truly.” I remember feeling glad not to be him and also getting caught on her usage of “really and truly.” It’s safe to say most Americans (and probably most English speakers in general) often don’t consider the difference between the word really and the word truly – unless, perhaps, one of these words randomly hits someone as being more applicable to the emphasis intended or desired. But I think it’s rare and I also think really usually wins out over truly so even when we mean truly we say really.
But the words aren’t the same, are they? Despite any linguistic parallels, they (should) have different meanings. Without actually referencing a dictionary, I’ll suggest that really is mostly synonymous with “very” and truly is synonymous with “actually.” With that difference understood, suddenly the professor’s words make more sense. The student actually (truly) and very much / to a great degree (really) shouldn’t be showing off his pills. Like: Not only don’t do that thing, but also understand that it’s important you don’t do that thing.
He put the pill bottle away.
So how does that story relate at all to the “I love you” stuff from earlier? Well, same difference. It’s about word choice and what you’re actually communicating.
When most people are told, “I love you” what they intend to communicate in return is that they love the person who is loving them. Despite my entire upbringing, what I feel is most appropriate to communicate that is simply, “I love you” in response to having heard it. Further, we employ this linguistic logic in other areas such as greetings. When someone says, “Hello” you respond with an equivalent, right? No one says, “Hello, too!” Instead, we simply say, “Hello” in return. Is something like, “How are you?” ever met with, “I’m well. How are you, too?”
No ma’am. And in reality, the response to “I love you” should probably be only, “I love you.” (See variation #1 above.) The difference I’m getting at, though, is why I’m glad my family and I say it “wrong.” You see, the word too means things like “additionally” and “also.” When you respond with, “I love you, too” you’re saying the equivalent of, “Also do I love you” from which the listener should infer, “This person, in addition to other people, loves me.”
I think it’s a sweet thing to subtly remind people that they are loved by more than the person with whom they are having the exchange and this awareness makes me glad for my family’s habit – even if it’s somewhat accidental. Beyond that sweetness this is an important thing to do.
Do you agree?
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti