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I recently noticed that in most pictures that I take with people, I have an arm around the shoulders of the other person. It is a curious habit that I have picked up unknowingly over a period. When I rewound my memories of the photo-ops, going through the motions mentally, I recalled that the first thing I did when posing for a photograph was to extend my arm and hold the person in a grip of camaraderie, expressing my affinity and closeness quite unconsciously. Perhaps, it is not a common gesture and might be considered akin to the friendly embrace that many people detest, but to me the expression of sentiment to the people we hold dear is as important as loving itself. I gently hug people when I meet them in informal settings and give them at least a pat on the upper arm while taking leave.

No, I am not advocating public display of our affections in a way that would violate common decency; I am only highlighting the importance of being communicative about our sentiments. Of letting people in our lives know that we care, with our words and gestures, of telling them more frequently that we love them and showing them through our little actions that they have a significant space in our lives.

I grew up in times and in a milieu where open demonstrations of affections were unknown even between parents and children, or between friends. We didn’t tell each other that we loved; we didn’t make our deep commitment for each other apparent. We merely spent time together without letting others know how much we meant to each other. It is a dearth that has left deep impressions on me and in some ways, it shaped the way I interacted with people as an adult.

It would only be fair to assume that people who are more extroverted may have a greater propensity for baring their heart than those who are withdrawn. But it need not be so. Often, people who have higher emotional intelligence will be able to articulate their tender feelings towards others than those who are frigid in their relationships. Not all talkative people are open about their feelings, nor are all emotional people very verbose. The tendency to hold back feelings of love and appreciation comes from a lack of practice, and a belief that open expressions are uncouth and unbecoming.

Spouses love each other, parents dote on their children, children idolize their parents – it’s a given, so what is the need to bring in words and expressions to demonstrate it, right? Wrong.

We have all been fed an erroneous assumption that relationships that are fundamentally strong will survive even without having to tend to them with liberal assertions. We take people in our lives for granted and our interactions with them a routine affair where a compliment, a romantic declaration, or a tender acknowledgment seems superfluous.

I remember once at a dinner table, when my spouse passed an item to me, I said, ‘thank you’, and the host was pleasantly surprised that I had indeed said it to him as if to a second person. In my host’s view, it amounted to excess and was a needless formality. Although it wasn’t my place to correct his view, I politely said that it was my way of letting my spouse know that every little act of his counts for me, that every good word we tell each other helps make the edifice of our relationship stronger.

Not all of us may be equally bestowed with such ease of expression. Many of us may live in the notion that those who know, know and no effort is needed to supplement relationships with attestations of love. Having grown from a childhood where hugs from parents have been rare, and ‘I love you’ has been alien, having matured into a world that needs to have more of these endearing words and actions, I have made earnest attempts at letting my inhibitions go. I may not use the prescribed words of fondness or cheesy utterings, but I will make sure that the people who enrich my life with their presence in it know that they have a huge space in my heart.

Try saying ‘love you’ to your loved ones and friends more frequently without attaching any profanity to the phrase and see how your relationships will become a permanent well-spring of loyalty, joy and commitment. Every relationship needs to be watered with words and letting them thrive on their own like cactuses will make them frail and listless. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, ‘between what is said and not meant, and meant and not said, many a love is lost.’ Let us make sure that the love in our lives is not lost for a lack of words.

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