Their view: Spanish ‘love lite’ leaves room for full course later

Laura Palau

“Te quiero mucho.” For a few weeks now, I’ve been saying these three little Spanish words to a certain significant other. We’re both Hispanic, so we weave in and out of English and Spanish in our conversations (definitely not “Spanglish,” though). We use whichever one we’re feeling at the moment or whichever feels most appropriate for whatever we want to say.

We always say “te quiero mucho” in Spanish. Its direct translation is “I want you,” but its meaning is far from that – it has no real equivalent in English. Essentially, it means the same as “I love you,” or “I love you very much,” but it doesn’t carry what some would consider the intense meaning or passionate weight of the English “I LOVE you.”

“Te quiero” is just as appropriate for your mom, your dad, your boyfriend, sister, dog or your favorite fish. But when you do say it to that special someone, it’s not intended or understood as that life-altering, gasp-evoking utterance that is its English counterpart, the L-word. It’s merely a phrase meant to express the esteem and sweet appreciation you have for someone – it works for romantic and non-romantic relationships alike.

Many say that “I love you” gets tossed around too easily and too often, becoming a standard sign-off, for example, in so many casual e-mails: “Love you, Sarah.” They say it’s really too heavy for that and it should never just be thrown in as a matter-of-fact thing. They say you should say it when you mean it, mean it when you say it and reserve it for that Kodak moment – save it for “the one.”

I see what they mean, and that may be true, but picture the following: You’re spending time with that one person you like a lot and who likes you a lot back (God forbid you say you love him). Your heart warms and you tickle inside when you’re together. You can’t think of any other person you’d rather be with at that moment or at any other. He makes you laugh, he makes you glow, he’s the last person you call at night, you want to embrace and squeeze him like there’s no tomorrow, he’s that little dose of perfection in your anything-but-perfect life.

The moment creeps up on you when you may burst with glee if you don’t tell him, in some understandable way, how much he means to you. How do you say what you’re trying to say, which is almost “I love you” but isn’t, at least not yet? Do you say how much you “appreciate” him? No way. Too many syllables and too many possible interpretations. You “care” for him? Lame. He “means the world to you”? Sounds like the next line would be, “but I’ve met someone new.”

What do you say when you don’t think you’re quite there yet, but definitely feel yourself on the way to loving someone? English, with its humongous lexicon, has a gaping hole here. And Spanish knows how to fill it.

“Te quiero mucho” fits right in there and says what you want it to say. It’s sugary and sweet, but it won’t kill you calorie-wise. It expresses, if you will, a “lighter side” of love. Call it “love lite.” It will get the point across that you think that person is phenomenal, the greatest thing since dulce de leche. And he won’t think you’re handing him your soul forever for safekeeping.

Of course, Spanish can get heavy when it wants to; “Te amo,” or the real “I love you” is the biggie. You probably want to hold onto this one for something bigger than the Kodak moment – probably for the hi-def, widescreen, surround-sound moment of moments, when it arrives.

“Te quiero mucho.” Try it out, roll it around a few times, say it in front of a mirror and get it ready for when love needs an appetizer. Only, make sure he understands Spanish. Otherwise he might think you’re offering him a beer.

The above column, by Laura Palau, appeared in the Washington Square News (NYU) yesterday.