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  • What Does Ti Amo Really Mean?

    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Americans have the phrase "I love you" to indicate their sentiments for their puppies, children, relatives and lovers. The English language has one of the biggest vocabularies in the world and, yet, there is just one phrase used to indicate a variety of sentiments – from the sweet devotion a mother has for her baby to the passionate, sexual feelings lovers have for one another. The Italians are a little more explicit than English-language speakers. There's "Ti voglio bene" or "I want you well" for puppies, children and family and "Ti amo" for when you're deeply in love. The difference between these two short phrases and the meaning behind each will surprise you.

    Ti voglio bene, which literally means "I want you well," is reserved for your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc. This is used to say that this person is an important part of your life and you care so much for him or her that you want him or her to be well always. It's a lovely sentiment and one way you can use to close a letter to those relatives who understand only Italian.

    When I was a kid, we spent one Christmas in Italy, and my father bought me a sky blue stuffed teddy bear that said, "Ti voglio tanto bene" whenever I hugged his belly. It was my first lesson in the Italian language. I noted the distinct difference between ti voglio bene and ti amo. Ti voglio bene was how I felt about my teddy bear and my papa? and ti amo was something to which I could aspire once I found Mr. Right.

    Now, years later, for the first time I have chosen to say the words, "ti amo," to my boyfriend Antonio (now my husband). It too means that you want the person well – very well, in fact. But it's even more than that. You wrap up all your hopes and dreams in those words – ti amo.

    With those two words, you are saying that you deeply love and are sexually attracted to this person. You are adding that you see this person in your future, that he or she has left an imprint on your heart. You can't possibly imagine your life without him or her. Ti amo means you are willing to share your whole self with another.

    Those two simple, little words are really hard to say and sometimes they get caught in your throat. Short words long on meaning can do that to a person. It takes courage to say them out loud to yourself, let alone another person who might reject you. That's why Italians reserve them only for special people and say it with meaning.

    Some Italians won't – or can't – even say it. Some of them believe that evidence of love is more important than the words themselves. In other words, if an Italian is opening doors for you, listening to you open up about your past in the wee hours of the morning and drying your tears, he or she might love you – even if he or she has never said a word about it. You'll know if they want to say ti amo if you pay close attention to how they look at you. It's all in the eyes. Your eyes speak for you before you can ever get the words out.

    To all those readers out there (who can't see my face), vi voglio bene. (I want you all well.) I hope you all arrive at ti amo in your own sweet time with your own sweet lover. In bocc' al lupo!


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