"I love you" 1) What does it mean? 2) When do you say it? 3) To whom?
March 14, 2014 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious. What's the normal meaning? What's your meaning? Do you have expectations associated with saying it/what expectations? My details inside.

I just said those three words to my boyfriend last week, in between kisses, thinking that we were on the same page relationship-wise and that it would be a safe thing to say.

His response was hesitant with a deep caring in his eyes. He told me he has a lot of obligations right now (he's an academic and is legitimately very busy), but that he will be kind to me. He said he's felt a growing affection for me but that he takes his relationships seriously.

They more we talked, the more it seemed that we were actually in agreement, but that our use of the word love was different. I wasn't looking for a change in the relationship, just looking for a way to express my feelings with words. I tend towards using the word love in broader contests, like telling my very close friends, of both genders, that I love them. Maybe that's not normal?

Are there other words that work? What do you guys say to express your affection for a partner early on in a relationship?
posted by chrysanthemum to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I adore you
posted by littlesq at 10:17 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

[Note: Because this skates close to "chatfilter" and survey/poll, which is against guidelines, I think folks can answer the main query here, which is "are there other words that work [aside from 'I love you'] ... to express affection for a partner early on in a relationship." Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:23 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

oh yikes! sorry!
posted by chrysanthemum at 10:27 PM on March 14, 2014

You're my favorite.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 10:28 PM on March 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

You're the best

You're the tops you're the tower of Pisa

You're my favourite boyfriend

Thanks for being awesome
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:30 PM on March 14, 2014

Yeah, adore is safe. It's a goody.

Also.....overheard on Thursday night, "Yum yum yum, delicious!" I'm adding this to my repertoire post haste.
posted by taff at 10:31 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a little I-love-you incident that went really badly with my boyfriend so instead now I say stuff like:
- You're awesome
- I love spending time with you
- You're a great guy
- I am so glad we did _____ together, that was fun to share with you
- I think you are the funniest guy I know
Etc etc. All true stuff, of course.

I think my boyfriend feels the same way as I feel about him (and I am not even sure it is love but I don't know what love is really) but his reaction to the words was not fun for anyone so I haven't said it again. In addition to saying the things above I show him my love by doing nice things for him. But I have to tell you that it is getting frustrating to feel like I can't or shouldn't share my feelings of love with him verbally so it's going to come to a head eventually again.

One piece of advice that I wish I had heard before I said the big three words is to also say what I mean by them. He apparently felt obligated to say them back and when he didn't he put a lot of pressure on himself about it. So I wish I had said something like "I love you and to me that means that I think you're great, I have a great time with you whether we are hanging out or whether we are in the emergency room. I value you and respect you a lot."

So I'd advise that if you feel like saying it again you say it and define it. But I also know that my little ILU incident happened over six months ago and I haven't come close to saying it again because it went down so badly the last time. If I were you I probably wouldn't say it again until he said it first, or I'd say something when it became a dealbreaker, whichever happened first. At least that is what I am doing in my similar situation.

I also have no idea how I might respond if he actually tells me he loves me before it becomes a dealbreaker. I think I don't want to say I love you back because it feels transactional to me. So when my "confession" ended without him saying he loved me too I didn't care or worry. I felt good that I shared my love feelings with him and didn't personally feel like he owed me or that he should love me by now or anything like that. Stressing that to him helped a lot in our conversation about it months after it happened, when he finally communicated with me about it.

Everyone defines love differently and everyone has a different set of expectations around love too. Talking about it with your partner is really the only way to understand how he feels and what is happening in his head. Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:53 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Man, I think your question, which you laid out very clearly in the title, is a really great question. And it is pretty clear to me that the problem you are trying to solve is to figure out the proper/appropriate use of a word that different people sometimes attach very different meanings to, to figure out the "average" usage, so to speak.

"I love you" 1) What does it mean? 2) When do you say it? 3) To whom?

1) For me it just means, quite literally, that I love someone. But I think it's more fraught for other people, that they see "love" as coming with certain obligations, or that "love" has the potential to derail them in some way. For me it's just an expression of the feeling.

3) To probably 3 or 4 of my closest friends, to some of my family members, to all the pets I've had, to some of my significant others, and to my super sweet 93 year old friend/grandma figure.

2) For friends, once the relationship is close enough that there has been a familial level of intimacy for a while, on the scale of months to years. For significant others, maybe after a few months of seriousness?

There are also less close friends who use it as a phrase of endearment/affection, and I'm fine with that and with using it that way too.
posted by cairdeas at 10:54 PM on March 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

1) I love you means just that - the primary feeling I have for them is love.

2) When I'm leaving, when they do something particularly adorable or funny or nice or, conversely, when I am very very angry and the reason I'm angry is that I'm vulnerable to their actions in a way I am not to those I don't love. Very occasionally I blurt it out as a super-powered thank you to people not detailed in 3. For all of the people detailed in 3, I've said it either the whole time I've known them, or reasonably early on. If they weren't comfortable with that, I think adore is a great alternative.

3) My mother, my partner, my daughter, my best friend, my grandmother and grandfather. Very rarely to other relatives, but increasing in frequency to my dad.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:08 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think "love" is really so much a single feeling or emotion so much as a conflation of several related feelings and ideas. Some people/cultures might embrace a kind of broad, one-size-fits-all definition, but it's also possible to describe relationships/feelings/emotions more precisely, discretely, or concretely (warm, secure, energized, relaxed, attracted, randy, excited, butterflies, inspired, good - or storge, philia, eros, agape).
posted by unmake at 11:36 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've said that and gotten mixed reviews, much like you detailed. I'm going to assume that at 43 years old, I'm older than you. I do not know your boyfriend's age ....

I think for some folks in certain age brackets and/or if they are just not the type to ever commit, those three little words carry A LOT more weight for the receiver than you personally meant.

In general, I love people without strings attached. Most people love with strings attached. I think your inclinations are healthy and normal, but not at all common.

In general, you'll find more success with folks (like the friends you already have) that love without strings attached, too.

I'd love to go a little deeper here. May I?

It is completely possible to love someone romantically and not have that mean you necessarily want a lifelong commitment to them. Heck, you can feel that way and find you don't want to date them past next week! This has happened to me!!

For other people, based on their past experiences, baggage, whatever - that sentiment signals YOU are thinking automatically about moving in together, getting married, and procreating. (I hope you see the disconnect there? Yes?)

And now I am forced to reach faaaaar into the memory bank and remember if Mr. Jbenben and I said, "I Love You," before deciding to get married. Shoot! I honestly do not remember!!

We knew each other for two months, dated for two weeks, and then eloped. It is highly possible we agreed to get married before we said those words. And it was so super obvious we were deeply in love at the time (and still are, thank goodness:)) I don't remember needing those words from either of us.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that for people like you and me, "I love you!" means: I love you! You're awesome! So glad I know you right now!!

Similarly, when we want commitment or other gestures, we state that plainly.

Personally, I lack a certain amount of guile (I suspect you do, too, or else you would not be asking this question) and so for us, "I love you," is not a chess move or any other sort of game playing. It is a honest statement in the moment of grand and positive feelings, a celebration.

It sounds like your guy did a good job of unpacking his baggage for you.

I'm not sure what he meant exactly, tho.

You've lost NOTHING being yourself. All romantic relationships end until the one that does not.

You felt it. You said it. Good for you!

Don't kill the thing inside of you that makes you special to "fit in." That shit is noise.

If not this guy, someone awesome will come along and appreciate your sensibilities.

I have a few staunch and enthusiastic loyal best friends, both male and female, and my husband is one of those people EVERYBODY adores, but honestly, he's only emotionally intimate with me.

Your style is not wrong or right. It might not be common, tho. That said, you will find the right romantic partner, especially if you have the friend thing dialed in.

I totally feel like I understood your question, and I hope I spoke to the heart of your concerns with my answer.

posted by jbenben at 12:11 AM on March 15, 2014 [21 favorites]

You're perhaps more expressive and feeling than most. I have found that more thinking types have greater difficulty with this (I am more your feeling type).

To quote jbenben: "I love you!" means: I love you! You're awesome! So glad I know you right now!!"

Which is not to say it's not deep, because it is. But it's more about a feeling or state of mind than, say, let's commit to spending the rest of our lives bickering in the living room, which is what some people seem to hear (so, yeah, baggage).
posted by heyjude at 2:50 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first time, my husband couldn't quite get the words out, so instead he told me he thought he was really falling for me. I knew what he was trying to say, so I told him I loved him to take the pressure off him, then he agreed, that yes, he actually loved me too. After that he said it constantly and 6 months later we were engaged, so there's that.
posted by Jubey at 3:03 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel great about being with you.
I'm so happy that you're in my life.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:19 AM on March 15, 2014

You are more incredibly important to me, your happiness is as important as mine, and I'm thrilled that you're in my life.

(That's not one word, but I have trouble finding a corollary for "love" without a bunch of words.)
posted by xingcat at 7:21 AM on March 15, 2014

Are there other words that work? What do you guys say to express your affection for a partner early on in a relationship?

"If the zombie apocalypse occurs, and we're supposed to get on the same bus that's escaping our overrun town, but for some reason you don't make it on the bus and I later find the bus crashed by the side of the road, filled with zombies, but none of them are you, I'll definitely come looking for you."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:56 AM on March 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Perhaps "I love being with you"?
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:29 AM on March 15, 2014

Love, to me, is an action verb. So, to me, loving someone romantically means I do things for them, touch them, buy them little things, seek out their company, value their input, and want the same from them in return.

Words are just words, and some people say "I love you" before they even know the other person well (which takes time). It can come across as insincere or trite or immature, or like - you don't love me, you just love the idea of me. It can be tricky to find the right rhythm when two people are falling in love, so I think you're generally better off if you try to act it out instead of saying it (at least in the early days of a relationship).
posted by sockpuppetryarts at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the idea that the three little words are scary or pressure inducing or whatnot is very sad. The world needs more love, not more fear of love. So I've decided by now (42 years old) to say it to everyone I love, always, with this caveat: if I'm dating someone and having love feels and I suspect they would be skeered by the actual words, I tell them "I opposite-hate you". Never fails to get a laugh and the point across.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

One of my exes really had a problem saying "I love you" (boy howdy did he have issues), but we talked about it and he came up with "I'm so glad you're here" as an alternative. I was good with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on March 15, 2014

I think I have a narrow definition of love, when I say it, I mean, I'll be there for you forever.

I learned the hard way that not everyone has that same definition. My ex told me that he loved me but that he needed to break up with me.

This not something I would ever say. I would never break up with someone I loved. I think we just had different expectations.
posted by bananafish at 3:09 PM on March 15, 2014

"You are the BEST ONE."
posted by ulfberht at 8:39 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quote from Adrienne Rich that I came across (okay, it was posted on facebook by a friend . . .) that made me think of this question:

"An honorable human relationship - that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word love - is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other."

I guess it doesn't really answer your question, but I thought you might appreciate it.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thing is, not everybody uses the words to varying degrees casually, but everybody universally uses the words inclusive of someone he/she can't imagine living without, someone for whom they'd feel so fortunate to spend the rest of their life because that person makes them so damn happy. Life is just fuller and better with that person in it, etc. So within a dating relationship, I would think that it would make sense to avoid confusion and reserve the words for that usage. The substitute words lack the same meaning, granted, but can really be any compliments that reinforce your deep, abiding caring for that person. Then, eventually, when you feel that they have similar strong feelings for you, drop an "I think I'm falling in love with you" into the romance. I agree that it's important when the words are first spoken that each side have the maturity to understand that people fall in love at different paces, not necessarily synchronized. So someone shouldn't feel forced to reciprocate. I'm obviously just one voice among many on the topic, but that's how I think about your questions. Oh, and about guys, we really don't throw the "I love you man" toward our same sex buddy unless we're crawling out of the bar. That's one difference in the sexes I guess.
posted by Sonrisa at 9:44 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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