How smartphones have made saying 'love you' meaningless

Sweet nothings have become nothing more than a kind of 'goodbye' suffix

10 February 2019 - 00:00
Does saying 'I love you' too often diminish the potency of the sentiment?
Does saying 'I love you' too often diminish the potency of the sentiment?
Image: 123RF/nito500

The smartphone has added some conveniences to our lives, but the prevalence of this little "can-do" piece of technology hasn't been all good. For instance, it's ruined many a romance.

Think again if you believe your WhatsApp conversations are private! Pre-cellphone, you had to go through heaps of dirty laundry before the scented note was sniffed out. Now you just have to have a partner with a poorly developed sense of personal privacy.

And while we're on the topic of privacy, most people don't realise that it goes both ways. Privacy is not only about the privilege of keeping your personal life hidden from others. It's also about sparing people the intrusion of your every emotion into their personal space. For instance, take a moment to tally up, when next you're waiting in the grocery store queue, just how many "love yous" you're being forced to overhear. "Bye babe, love you."

Writer Jonathan Franzen says of the scourge of the subject: "There is no higher calibre utterance than 'I love you' - nothing worse that an individual can inflict on a communal public space. Even 'F**k you, dickhead' is less invasive, since it's the kind of thing that angry people do sometimes shout in public, and it can just as easily be directed at a stranger."

Unless you're a relationship therapist or unhealthily soppy, hearing someone say those three braying words to someone else - who's not you - is nauseating and eye-roll inducing.

Saying them too often surely diminishes the potency with which they were once imbued.

"Love yous" are for special, private, moments. If a declaration of love really has genuine emotional weight, shouldn't we take some care to safeguard it from being overheard publicly?

New lovers used to have to wait with bated emotion, enduring anticipation-filled dates to hear "I love you"- because, after all, despite what we think, getting on with someone is more about the love than the loving.

Before the sentimentalisation of those words as a phone-convo-sign-off, when the wished-for words finally came it was like a rush of electricity through the veins, a shot of pure adrenaline, the ultimate affirmation. Now it's just a kind of "goodbye" suffix.

A few weeks ago my 10-year-old son invited a friend for a sleepover. At bedtime, the friend nervously admitted that it was his first time sleeping out. To make him feel more comfortable I stayed in the room long after my son had fallen asleep. "Goodnight darling, love you," I said casually, finally leaving him to sleep.

There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. A shaft of light from the gap in the door revealed his panicked face.

"You do mean in a friendly way?" he said.