“Enjoy the rest of your day, honey!” they say.
“I will, and you too!” I reply.
“I love you,” they say.
Not always, but typically that’s how the end of a conversation goes with my boyfriend. Or my mum. Or my best friend. Sometimes I can muster up the courage to return the declaration of love, but other times I stumble and just hang up the phone like it’s on fire. It’s been this way for a very long time, a fear of the dreaded phone-call-I-love-you scenes.
And there is sort of a sad reason behind it. But I need to take you way back.
My parents divorced when I was almost two. My younger brother and I live with our mum and we’d make occasional visits on weekends to see my dad. We weren’t particularly fond of those visits. We’d miss out on classmates’ parties, we’d feel homesick, we found it difficult to get our homework done, the car trips were long and we missed our mum. There was a multitude of reasons. But because we didn’t see our dad very often, he would ring every once in a while.
I dreaded those phone calls. Unlike face-to-face conversations where you have the option of walking away or looking distinctly uncomfortable so people stop talking to you, those aren't options on the phone. My dad didn't really know what was going on in my life, what I did on Saturday nights or Monday mornings, and yet we had to have these awkward chats about me. "So... what've you been doing?" was the key opening line. I'd answer good-naturedly, defenceless 10-year-old me, like when you talk to your great grandmother you've only met once and she gives you money in a card.
Polite, but distant.
Right up until I could be distant no more. Without doubt, at the end of each of these chats would be an unashamed "I love you very much" from my dad. There is no question that he meant it. It was meaningful, and honest and persistent. I just didn't mean it when I said it back. And I would - every time. After a slight pause, I'd take a deep breath and just say exactly what needed to be said.