I couldn't hold back any longer. Since the moment I'd met my now-husband in the flesh, the words had been thrumming in my thoughts so constantly, I was surprised they hadn't manifested in 3-inch letters across my forehead.
It was too soon. This man was too lovely to be true. I should wait for him to say it.
But that night, half-awake under the covers, curled together as a single creature, basking in the afterglow of having met his longtime friends (who clearly adored him as much as I did), the words kicked so hard at the back of my teeth, they just came clattering out.
Then I held my breath and waited. Three words. Eight letters. My whole self at stake.
It costs something to say "I love you" for the first time, mostly because you're taking a risk on the exchange rate. Those words don't hold the same worth for everyone. Some hesitate to spend them -- either holding them in reserve so as not to devalue, staving off buyer's remorse or just not having much extra to spare.
I spent several years with a man who never said it once. I was never sure if I hadn't earned the words, or if his account was simply running at a permanent deficit. Another cashed them in at calculated intervals. Another chastised me for too frequent use, saying it cheapened their meaning.
But I was raised by people with seemingly endless stocks of both language and affection. "I love you," was said with the casualness, oftenness and ease of "good morning," "good night," and "please pass the butter" -- and it was genuine each and every time. I was taught that the sentiment earned interest, compounding into a surplus to dip into when we were apart from each other.
I knew I was loved, because I was lucky enough to have been told. I learned both to share the wealth where it was welcomed, and the chagrin of discovering where my currency was no good.
But that night, I put it all on the table. I held my breath and before I could release it, he responded, "Oh my God, I love you, too. I'd been wanting to say it."
And we have, probably tens of thousands of times over the past nine years, at parting, at greeting, at texting, at breathing and it only accrues in meaning.
This story was first published in 2014. Kat Kinsman is now the editor in chief of Tasting Table