Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Difference Between Je t'aime and I Love You

Those amongst you that have read 37.2 le matin (Betty Blue) by Philippe Djian will be aware of the following line “Se fixer des buts dans la vie, c’est s’entortiller dans des chaînes …”(to set yourself goals in life is to bind yourself in chains). I can certainly identify with that right now as I have been feeling the constraints of the chains I have bound myself in with this bilingual goal for Popette.

I am not known for my risk taking, far from it. I am definitely one that plays by the rules… so… having read countless books and articles on the OPOL method, I have been as scrupulous as possible in keeping to my role as the French speaking parent. Then, a chance conversation with a French friend of mine the other day made me feel that I could perhaps rip up the rule book and loosen those chains a little. We were discussing the fact that when she is expressing her love to her English husband she says ‘I love you’ for his benefit and ‘je t’aime for hers. Her reasoning being that she feels somewhat detached when she says ‘I love you’ as English is not her first language. To feel it she needs to say ‘je t’aime but for her husband to feel it he needs to hear ‘I love you’. This all makes perfect sense. I know that when I express love towards Poppette in English I feel it physically in my heart. When I say ‘je t’aime I still mean it but it doesn’t feel quite so intense.

I don’t think anyone would argue that first and foremost comes my relationship with my daughter. Language comes second. I will say that again (for my own benefit really) ‘language comes second’. The sense of release that came with that realisation was huge. There is no need to be so fixed and academic about this process. I should be guided by my instinct and my daughter's needs. The adventure should be fluid and fun and above all else, full of love.

p.s. although this means that I plan to allow myself to express myself in English from time to time should that feel more appropriate, it doesn’t mean that I am going to go all gung-ho as I realise that that could be the beginning of a very slippery slope.


  1. I appreciate your post here, and am reminded of a phase that I went through a bit ago. In no way do I mean to imply that you are in a phase, and I certainly don't want you to hear me saying that I look down upon where you're at. Not in the least. Let me do what I can to explain myself and respond to your thoughts.

    I love hearing that you are wanting to loose your chains a bit. I think that it's hard to live a life we love when we feel bound. I'd even go so far to say that I think it's impossible. You can't move if your clothes are too tight, right?! And who wants to feel uncomfortable in the wrong size?

    So, I'm all in favor of you, of all of us, taking the "guide books" as just that...a guide. And seeing life in a way where there's no right and no wrong way. Life just is and most of us are doing our best to do what we think is best, right? For me, when I look at life in a way where there is no right and wrong, I can step off the path of trying to find the right answer and just live in a way that I think is best for the moment I'm living in...and often, as much as I'd like to get away from this, for moments in our future as well.

    I hope I haven't lost you.

    In regards to language coming second, I also agree with that. If language comes first, it becomes, once again, about following a rule which is really hard to live by in those moments when you "just can't". When it's all too hard and you want to give up. At least that's what I've found.

    And at the same time, what came up for me as I read what you wrote is this: language and relationship can become ONE over time. As you may have picked up from some of my posts, speaking German with Kaya is just what comes out now, and it's what feels most natural. It feels weird to me to say to Kaya "I love you so much", to call her my "snuggle bear" or to ask her if she wants to rock (none of which I do, but playing them over in my head right now feels awkward). For me, she's my "Kuschelbaer" (snuggle bear) and when I say "Ich hab' dich SO lieb" (I love you SO much), it feels as real and heartfelt to me as if I were saying it in English.

    Granted, what IS natural for me is speaking a sentence in English when I'm completely overwhelmed, as I was yesterday...I just can't convey the same sense of frustration, as quickly and confidently (which only matters for my ego!) when I try it in German sometimes. Getting easier, I must say, but on a day like yesterday...sometimes English squeaks out and that's just the way it is. I guess, for me it really comes down to moving forward without getting hung up on the past. Or making all sorts of meaning out of what we do. So we speak English sometimes with our kids. So it feels better to say "I love you" in English. We do the best we can with what we've got and move forward from there, accepting what IS with grace and peace.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I'm so embarrassed...I just realized that I re-posted a concept on your most recent post that I posted here weeks ago. UGh. I knew my words felt familiar.

  3. hmm original comment deleted by annoying profile wordpress glitch sigh..
    abridged version. Totally thought provoking post - for me at least as I realize I have very mixed feelings about how I say I love you - oh that and the fact that I've totally fallen down the slippery slope re language mixing and now not sure how to clean up my mess or how I even want to proceed generally. much to think about - thank you!

  4. Tamara

    Thanks as always for your insightful and supportive comments - I have picked this one up with you via email recently.


    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. What a shame technology destroyed your original comment - that kind of thing happens to me all the time :-)
    I am looking forward to hearing more via your blog about your trilingual endeavours. The mixing you talk about would make for a great post - perhaps if you put it out there you will get some useful ideas from your followers. Best of luck, however you decide to proceed.