Happily Even After
by Joshua Noem
Closing a phone conversation by saying “I love you” is important business.
Movies generally get this scene spot-on. Picture the new lovers speaking on the phone. The man is at work or among a bunch of guy friends. The woman says, “Good bye, I love you.” And suddenly the man is faced with a huge decision to make. Does he unabashedly commit to the romantic relationship and publicly declare his love, or does he capitulate to his circumstances and privately snub his lover?
Pause for effect, then he says, “mm-hm… you, too.”
Being married 12 years, I have no qualms whatsoever about saying “I love you” to Stacey on the phone. But I have gotten out of the habit of doing so lately and this came up in a really funny exchange yesterday.
Some years ago, I had occasional contact with a woman over the phone for some parish business. She always signed off by saying, “Bye-bye.” Having young children at the time, I was familiar with this as a way to say farewell to youngsters. I found it rather funny that this grown woman used this send-off without a trace of irony.
Amused, I decided to start using it myself, but with a good bit of irony.
So, whenever I spoke with Stacey and she said “I love you” to sign off, I would respond (with a great deal of comic irony in my own mind) “Bye-bye.”
I give Stacey a lot of credit for putting up with this. Formal, public acknowledgments of relationship are very important to her. She simply saw my farewell as another example of her silly husband, whom she loves because of his silliness.
This is a great comfort to me—knowing that I am known through and through and loved because of what is known, not in spite of it. It makes me feel free to be who I am.
Yesterday, though, as we finished a phone conversation, she asked me if I could say, “I love you” to close a conversation. She said that if one of us were to die in an accident, she would need the assurance that the last words we exchanged were words of love.
I realized I may have never explained why I said, “Bye-bye” in the first place, and simply told her the history and that I find it silly. She said that’s what she thought, but that she needs to hear “I love you.” I said okay and then hung up by saying “bye-bye.”
Mind you, all of this is taking place, from my end, in the office and in the presence of a student worker.
She called back immediately and said, “You did it again.” We clarified a bit more, both laughing pretty hard by now, and then agreed that I would say “I love you, too” sometime in the process of signing off, but that it would be okay to still use my silly “Bye-bye” at the end. I said “Okay, thanks,” she said “I love you” and I said “Bye-bye” and hung up.
15 seconds later she called back and we laughed some more, and by this time, I’m laughing with our student worker as well.
We’ve been finding a lot of humor with one another lately, which is fun. I’m grateful we can laugh with one another, and I’m grateful for a wife who loves me so well.
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