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On Love: Found in the acts of service, it’s all about the unsaid

"I’ve never really told my parents I loved them"

Vyshnavee Wijekumar is an arts worker and freelance writer of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage. Born in Jaffna and raised in Western Sydney (Dharug Country), she has lived and worked in Melbourne (Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung Country) since 2013.

For this week’s ‘On Love’, I speak to her about how in South Asian communities, it’s the showing up and running errands during an occasion that marks as an indication of caring. We don’t often have to articulate it through words.

But, how easy is it to say ‘I love you’ without actually saying it?

It’s hard for me to articulate love. I grew up in a culture that doesn’t articulate it but shows it. That feeling you have for someone is based on a connection, no matter the distance or time that’s passed. Love is in the acts of service for me; it’s all about the unsaid. 

My family is across the globe, and we’re close-knit on my dad’s side. My first cousins and I grew up like siblings in Sydney; we were in each other’s pockets since we were young. We would always visit on someone’s birthday, whether it was an aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin. I have my nuclear family, but we’re all an extension of each other. 

We have a giant WhatsApp chat with my cousins and their partners. It’s how we stay connected when we can’t rely on real-time conversations. When I moved to Melbourne, any time I found things hard, I’d text the group and immediately get a call. When I said I was engaged in the group, five aunties called me. 

When my grandma and my dad passed away, everyone immediately did whatever was needed. I didn’t need to lift a finger at my dad’s funeral. Everyone was already there, getting things done. It’s the same at weddings. We show up assuming we have tasks to do. It’s this community that raises you, that shows you love. I still spend time with my cousins in Sydney every year, when more than thirty of us have Christmas lunch together. 

So for me, love is implicit in actions, banter, and the quality time spent together. I’ve never really told my parents I loved them. Before my dad passed on, one night in the hospital, I said it for the first and last time. It felt like a cliche, but I felt I had to say it. I didn’t know if I’d get the opportunity to articulate it again.

But I’ve learned not everyone’s love language is the same. I’ve worked on articulating it in my personal relationships with my husband and friends. Some connections need more overt conversations, not just the I love you - but the I miss you, I appreciate our friendship. 

When I moved to Melbourne with my husband to build a new life, I had to make new friends. It was initially a struggle without those foundational milestones like education and community gatherings. Shared experiences are what binds relationships – family, high school, your first Contiki tour. I had to learn how to forge new friendships based on shared values and mutual understanding. In some ways, building friendships as an adult came with a more mature perspective and reduced expectations.

It was beautiful to be so connected to culture, community and friendships in Sydney, but breaking away gave me the freedom to figure out who I am.

It took time, but I now realise I have people I care about and trust equally as much as those that I grew up with.

Not despite them, but because of them.

Liked reading ‘On Love’? I will be speaking with a South Asian person about what it means to them regularly for this column. If you have a story you’d like to share with me, DM me! You’ll find my handle in the bio below.

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About the author

Sashi Perera is a Sri Lankan Australian comedian, writer and recovering lawyer. She was featured on the UK's 2021 Funny Women Awards 'Ones to Watch’ List and was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2021 and 2022. She's constantly inspired by love in all its forms and writes a regular column for South Asian Today, ‘On Love’. Instagram | @sashbomb



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