I’ve never liked “I love you” as a telephone conversation-ender.  Several years ago, I read a post on someone’s weblog that said simply, “At some point I love you becomes talk to you later.” It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before, but as soon as I read that post, I realized how true it was. “I love you” is like a curse word that way—if said often enough, it loses its impact.

“But what if that’s our last phone conversation ever?” an old boyfriend said to me once. “What if something happens to one of us? I would want ‘I love you’ to be the last thing we said.”

“Well,” I said, “if something bad happened, it’d certainly be ideal if ‘I love you’ was the last thing we ever said to one another. But it never sounds right on the phone.”

So we made a deal where we would only say it on the phone if we weren’t in the same town, and I thought it a fair compromise. But it still never sounded right.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk, talking on the phone with a coworker. As we ended our conversation, I thought, “God, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if I accidentally said ‘I love you’ right before I hung up?” It certainly would be embarrassing, and I’d have to explain that sometimes I’m really weird in my head and I didn’t mean it, of course, I just was thinking about what if I said it and then it came out and I’m really sorry, sir.

After I hung up the phone I had a good laugh and didn’t think about it again, at least not until my next phone conversation. See, now I’ve psyched myself out. Ever since I first had that thought, every single time I’m nearing the end of a phone conversation something in my head says, “Okay, talk to you soon, I love you, bye!” and I panic just a little bit. Don’t say it! Then I hang up and sigh with relief at not having said it this time. But who knows how long it will be until my brain finally tricks me into saying it?

Jessica and I talked recently about when we had to read the textbook out loud during seventh-grade science class. The teacher would tell us that we each had to read three sentences from the book, going up and down the desk rows taking turns until we finished reading chapter seven. “I would always count the sentences in advance and figure out which ones I would have to read so I could practice beforehand,” Jessica said.

“So did I!” I said. “I was always terrified that I’d mess up. And I was really afraid that one of my sentences would have organism in it.”

“I was afraid of condominium.”

“Why would you talk about condominiums in science class?”

“I guess we wouldn’t, but I still liked to be prepared.”

Until Jessica and I talked about this, I’d forgotten how much I hated the reading out loud. I never even listened to what everyone else was reading; I was too busy counting how many kids were going to read before me and counting the sentences until it was my turn and oh now that one kid is finished so I’ve got to recount and I think these are my sentences and oh my god I have to say organism and I just know that this is going to be the day when I slip up and say orgasm in front of the whole class. Everyone will laugh and laugh and I’ll be known as The Girl Who Said Orgasm in Fifth Period Science until I get to college, and even then I bet someone in my dorm will have heard about it.

Don’t say orgasm don’t say orgasm don’t say orgasm

I never said orgasm in science class, but in seventh grade I farted in reading, which was even worse, because then I was The Girl Who Farted in Reading. I tried to convince everyone that it wasn’t me, it was these damn creaky chairs (hoping that the added “damn” would make me seem like the kind of badass who wouldn’t ever fart in reading), but they didn’t believe me. So everyone laughed and laughed while I sat there red-faced in the damn creaky chair pretending to read Tuck Everlasting, which of course I’d already read at home, but there was no point bragging about that because it would probably make things worse and anyway it wouldn’t erase my status as The Girl Who Farted in Reading.

Not that I’m any better about these things. I still remember Amy Vance as The Girl Who Barfed in Ninth-Grade English.

And apparently I’m still convinced that my brain is going to try and humiliate me. I just know that the next time I’m at my desk on the phone with someone from finance or purchasing, I’m going to end the conversation with “I love you! Orgasm!” and there’ll be no proper way to explain it. Only this time, instead of laughing at me, they’re going to file a grievance.