Though I certainly know some exceptions, the majority of my Asian-American friends say “I love you” and hug their parents without giving it a second thought. It’s easy to love in America—I love donuts, strangers’ tattoos, a bookmark. I love at the end of phone conversations, to avoid awkward conversations, and when I’m trying to ingratiate myself with someone I pissed off. When I’m feeling sarcastic, I love things I actually hate.
When I was a kid and visited my dad at the university science lab where he worked, I yelled “Bye, I love you!” from down the hall every time I left. It became such a habit I’d often forget that sometimes he wasn’t in the lab when we went to look for him, so my declaration sounded like it was only meant for his grad student, Sean. I was only slightly embarrassed.
I never say “I love you” in Chinese, and hugs are few and far between when I visit my relatives in the motherland. I’ve never hugged any of my uncles or male cousins, and embracing my grandma whom I’m crazy about is reserved for the first and last time I see her of every visit. Instead, we say “like” for everything, including people we want to date. Or, in my case, “really like” for donuts and tattoos.
From a chapter in “Couples on the Fault Line” by Esther Perel:
Most cultures tend to gravitate toward one pole or the other in [the spectrum of “high-context” and “low-context” societies.] Another way to conceive of the spectrum is individualism versus collectivism. In low context societies such as Germany, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, England, Australia, and the United States (often countries rooted in Protestant Calvanism) people compartmentalize personal relationships and work, and focus on short-term relationships. Factual information is stressed and is explicit verbal expression. The high-context societies are more rural and less industrialized than then low-context societies. In Latin America, Africa, the Mediterranean countries, the Arab world, India, China, and Indonesia extensive information networks exist among family, friends, and colleagues. This shared experience allows for a greater degree of tacit understanding. People are often involved in close and lasting personal relationships.
For the first time ever, I’ve been saying/writing the words (in English, or course) to a person I’m boning. When it first came up, it took me a month to reciprocate, and I still feel a jolt of confusion and hesitance every time I say it—although writing it feels easier? Sometimes I even have to rationalize in my head that the context I’m using it is no different than when I say it to a close girl friend.
Other times I’m just like, who the fuck cares. Spoken word are so easily made and easily broken. I want his time, energy, effort, thoughtfulness, touch—basically every other “love language” than words. That’s how I express my love, but sometimes I forget that my language goes unnoticed by people who didn’t grow up feeling the deep meaning behind the saving the last bite for someone else or going 30 minutes out of the way to see them for 5 minutes. (Not that I’m saying my dude doesn’t do either of these things.)* But how sad and drab not to notice and revel in those subtleties. Wouldn’t you say that the more we evolve, the more ways we should be able to express affection?
*Okay, there are definite drawbacks, i.e. how my family loves to whine about the sacrifices we make that go unappreciated by others.