I Love You, Just Kidding: Telling Strangers I Love Them On The Phone

by Meredith Gordon
Originally Published: 
smartphone zombie

It’s the middle of the day. My cell phone rings. The caller ID shows the name of my son’s school. I sigh knowing full well that as soon as I answer, my day will be ruined. Teachers don’t call midday to tell you that your child is having a great day and they are sure your child is a genius. Schools call with bad news like some other kid stuck his foot in your kid’s lunch. Or worse yet, your kid is sick and you have to come get him even though he was fine 27 minutes ago when you dropped him off. I brace myself and answer the phone.

“Everything’s fine,” my son’s teacher says. “But he’s complaining about a stomachache. It’s been a while. He says he needs to come home.”

I try to cover up my disappointment. Today was going to be my uninterrupted workday. Today was the day to get things done.

His teacher senses the wind has been taken out of my sails and says, “Sorry, I know the feeling.”

I don’t want her to think I’m mad that my kid is sick. It’s just that I know that if he has a stomachache now, in about 30 minutes he’ll have passed whatever it is that’s ailing him and then he’ll be bouncing off the walls.

But there’s nothing she or I can do, so I say, “No problem. I’ll come get him.”

“Bye,” she says.

“Bye,” I say. Then as I hang up I accidentally say, “Love you.”

There’s dead silence on the other end of the phone.

I start to sweat. My mind fast-forwards to lunchtime when I will undoubtedly be the laughing stock of the teacher’s lunchroom.

I picture my son’s high school graduation, when I’ll probably still be known as the parent who said, “I love you,” to a teacher.

I open my mouth to say, “I didn’t mean that. I’m distracted. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so used to saying ‘I love you’ to my husband as I hang up that I just said it to you.”

But I don’t.

My son’s teacher is not the first person to whom I’ve accidentally professed my love.

Over the seven years I’ve been a parent, I’ve accidentally told four different parents at my son’s preschool that I love them. One of the four was a man.

There’s a UPS man who thinks I love him. I also over-enthusiastically hugged him after he dropped off my packages. That was awkward, especially because we’re not on his normal route. We didn’t even have the potential of history to bridge the gap between me being thought of as a desperate housewife rather than a lady who is so used to telling her family she loves them that she instead told the UPS man she loved him.

I’ve accidentally said I love you to the dry cleaner who sometimes drops our clothing off at my house on his way home to his. I’ve even changed hair salons at least twice to avoid the humiliation of facing the receptionist, hair washer or stylist to whom I mistakenly proclaimed my love.

Each and every time I do profess my love to someone I don’t love, I’m left feeling like an embarrassed criminal—as if there’s nothing worse that could happen to someone than being an object of my love.

The words “I love you” have never come easily to me. I’ve proclaimed my love for just a handful of people in my life, my husband and children being three of them. Prior to dating my husband, I told only one other boyfriend I loved him. When I said, “I love you,” he responded by saying, “Cool,” before returning to his full-time job of looking at himself in the mirror. The humiliation alone caused me to impose a self-proclaimed embargo on speaking about love. The rejection was just too much and served as a constant reminder of what I had always suspected, that my love was cool but never something that would be returned.

Then I met my husband, and I finally had someone to return my mistaken “I love you’s. It turns out I was starved for someone to say, “I love you” back to me. Despite a rocky start, our “I love you’s have never been spoken by mistake. Love, as it turns out, is the first thing I’ve been really good at. After a lifetime of failed starts, giving love turned out to be my thing. It’s one of the few things I can safely say I’m good at.

For most of my life, I’ve felt like a failed something. I was never the lucky one nor did things ever come easily to me. But as it turns out, giving love comes easily to me. I’m good at loving my people. I don’t know if I’m a good mom or bad nor can I honestly say if I’m a great wife or not, but I love the daylights out of my family, and I tell them all the time.

I tell them so much that sometimes I forget who I’m talking to, and then I tell someone I don’t love that I do love them.

So despite the UPS man asking for a new route and me having to find a new hairstylist more than once, I’m going to walk with my head held high. You can do worse than being loved too much. Just ask my UPS man.

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