The most common point of criticism my German friends have for US culture is the layer of politeness that’s slapped on top of everyday interactions.
America is a country of service, a place where you exchange pleasantries and, for the most part, say hi to your neighbors. Superficial or not, I quite enjoy it. It’s nice to be asked, “How are you?” or to receive a compliment every once in a while, even if the barista won’t be my best friend afterwards.
Germans might complain about the lack of sincerity, but they also complain about grumpy service people — which we have a ton of — and not knowing what their neighbor is up to. Regardless of where you fall on the directness vs. politeness spectrum, I think everyone should admire this about US communication culture: Americans tell people they love them. All the time.
When my American friends hang up the phone with their families, they’ll say, “Love you guys, talk soon.” When they kiss their spouse goodbye at the grocery store, they’ll toss in a quick “Love you” before they leave. It’s never a big announcement, often a small add-on. It feels almost like an afterthought — but it’s always there — and that’s the part that counts.
In my family, we’ve never been super outspoken about love, relationships, dating, money, sex, and other sensitive topics, but we’ve improved a lot in recent years. We take small steps towards sharing more, often with a good chunk of humor to make parents-kids conversations less awkward.
The most notable and important change we’ve made is that we’ve started telling each other we love each other, something we never used to do. We might say it on the phone or in passing, before going to bed or in a group message if everyone’s in different locations. We hug more, and, even though it’s obvious to all of us, it’s nice to keep hearing “I love you” from time to time. Initially, I even set a reminder to do it once a week. Now, it comes naturally.
As silly as it sounds, you never quite know what’ll happen tomorrow. People have heart attacks. Accidents occur. “Thank you,” “How are you?” and, yes, “I love you,” are phrases you almost can’t say too often. It’s very hard to overdo it with those.
Valentine’s Day is one of the most commercialized holidays in the world. This year alone, sales are expected to rise some 30% to nearly $30 billion. A lot of that money will be spent on trying to make up for what we’ve failed to do all year: Showing people that we love them. The problem is a grand gesture can’t create something that must be built brick by brick.
Love is about trust, faith, freedom from judgment, confidence, reassurance, compassion, and hope. You can’t deliver those things in a box of chocolates. You have to form them. One day, one innocuous, after-thought-like interaction at a time. Telling people you love them isn’t the only way to do this, but it’s a hell of a start.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t buy flowers as a bribe. Don’t spend money when it feels like paying bail. Instead, do something small. Call your partner at lunch hour. Send them a voice message. Drop your best friend a note. Ask them how they’ve been. Whoever you come home to at night or every once in a while, tell them that you love them. Tell them you’re grateful to have them in your life.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it can be the start of a new habit. Give yourself a break and a tiny, repeatable step. You don’t have to raise all hell to express your affection. It’s nice to do that on occasion, but it’s much more important to do it in small ways every day. So allow yourself to start small.
Valentine’s Day is like January 1st: A day like any other, as good as any to make a difference. Whatever extra motivation you find on it, don’t spend it all in 24 hrs. Use it to begin the rest of your life.
Some folks might make snarky comments, but if the people closest to you know you love them, who really cares what they think?