everyday expressions of love
March 27, 2008 1:02 PM   Subscribe

In an average relationship, how often and how intensely do people express their love for each other (in private)?

I don't have vast experience with relationships. I'm in one now, the other person is very committed and I am not as sure. I had accepted that I was just more "beloved" than "lover", that this happens sometimes. (I have read the threads about the kind of things like chemistry and finding M- Right and so on.)

I was impressed and touched how much my partner expresses their love and felt I was more loved by this person than I could have expected, even if my feelings back were not fully as strong. But then a friend mentioned casually how often their partner expresses love, and I realized since these expressions are most often private, I have no idea what is normal or average. Please clue me in.

If you have personal experience that is relevant to the lover-beloved question, your views on that are also very welcome.

If you feel comfortable answering, please include details of your experience(s) like ages, length of relationship, and how much this changes over the years or with different people.
If you would like to reach me privately, you can write to everydayexpressionsoflove@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
We seem to say our "I love you"s whenever we leave at the beginning of the day and when we kick in for the night. There are bonus "I love you"s at the end of phone conversations and during quiet moments. We're about four years into our relationship.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

I don't really think there's an average, it depends on the relationship, and whether it's new and passionate "(throw me on the counter and ravish me darling!") or a couple that's been together for years and can finish each other's sentences. Even in those situations I don't think there's an expected "norm."

Also, I think it's important to differentiate between saying "I love you" and doing things that SHOW love for another person. Whether that be physical (rubbing your feet when you've had a bad day without being asked or doing favors for you or cooking breakfast in bed.) I've had relationships where we'd say "I love you" almost as a greeting, at the beginning and end of most phone calls, when we'd leave each other to go on errands, etc, and in my current relationship it's more like 2 or three times a month. Some might argue that saying it a little less helps make it feel more sincere or meaningful, but that's also just a difference of experience.

But ultimately I think the frequency doesn't make a difference in demonstrating how much love is actually IN the relationship as long as you feel like you are being appreciated/reassured enough. You can also set the bar in terms of how often it's expressed-- if you do more loving, or make more verbally-loving statements, your partner might do the same.
posted by np312 at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2008

My experience is basically the same as Blazecock Pileon's (four year relationship length included). Addendum: we're in our mid-twenties.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 1:14 PM on March 27, 2008

Unfortunately, I don't think you will ever get a sample size large enough to qualify "normal". I also agree with what np312 said above.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2008

I don't know that there's any way to come up with any "averages" for happy, healthy relationships -- some couples just may be naturally a lot more demonstrative, and some may be less; some may be into verbal expressions of love, others into physical affection, and still others into actions that demonstrate love. (And partners within a relationship can obviously vary along that spectrum as well.) Saying "I love you," holding someone's hand, and changing the oil in your partner's car can all be equal indicators of affection, if the person making the gesture and the person receiving it perceive it that way.

My boyfrend and I (in our late 30s/mid-40s, respectively; been together 3 years) are on the very demonstrative/affectionate side of the spectrum, to a degree that might seem cloying to some other couples who are every bit as lovingly commited to each other. The only measure that's important, I think, is if you're comfortable and satisfied with the level of demonstrativeness in your relationship.
posted by scody at 1:22 PM on March 27, 2008

I will weigh in with np312. And also Blazecock Pileon/the littlest brussels sprout.

In my relationship, I tend to say "I love you" whenever I feel it, which is quite often (i.e. when I feel that she is adorable and I love her, I say so - when I feel that just I love her, I say so - it's sort of a swelling feeling, like being proud of her, in a way, for me). We also have other short phrases and noises we make that are similar or synonymous. We almost always say it at the ends of phone conversations or when we say goodbye to each other, even separating on errands/staying at home.

My sweetie used to say it bothered her - like it happened too much, but she's come around and often prompts me with her "I love you"s. We've been in a relationship for 10-12 years, depending on how you count it. We are both 39.

But I think we probably say such things more often with each other than other couples I've observed.

Also I think that things that show love/thinking of/devotion/caring/support are also really important to do in a relationship. This does not have to be flowers and romance only, but can be doing chores without being asked or reminded, doing bonus additional chores/cleaning/tidying about the house. Walking the dog with or without her, depending on what would help her most. Asking her how she's feeling and really being truly interested in the response I get, really being committed to making sure she's feeling good or okay. Spending time with her, etc. Little things that are also big things.
posted by kalessin at 1:24 PM on March 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

There is no norm, I think. My wife and I don't say it very often (less than once a week? less than that?), but it's implicit in all the things we do, day-in and day-out.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:37 PM on March 27, 2008

I always tell my wife and kids that I love them before I leave for work in the morning or when they are leaving to go somewhere. My philosophy is that you never know if that might be the last time you see them so you better make sure that you tell them that you love them so that you don't regret it later.
posted by crios at 1:51 PM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I'm of the school that if you have to say it to make them believe it, do you really mean it at all? My boyfriend leaves me surprise cupcakes, makes me tea in the morning and brings me gummy bears. That's what shows me that he cares.

(The way to my heart is through my stomach? Maybe.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience is congruent with Blazecock's—every morning and evening, and a little bit besides.
posted by klangklangston at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2008

I (female, 28) get about 10 - 20 explicit expressions of love per day in my 5 year relationship. In the beginning, it was a bit less, also, the declarations of love were less specific (more "You're cute!", less "Let's stay together for the rest of our lives!"). I myself am not as extremely vocal about my feelings, so I guess he gets about 5-10 explicit I-love-yous or similar expressions. But he gets a lot of kisses and well-cooked meals, which he says is totally ok with him.

As a side note, even if you could calculate the exact average number of "I love Yous" per day in committed relationships, this number wouldn't tell you anything about the healthiness of the relationship. "I love yous" can be threats, flowers can be insults, and the nicest present can be emotional blackmail.

Concentrate on the reception side, i.e. on whether the expressions of love feel good for you. Your lover, if he's committed, cares about you getting the most out of his declarations of love - making you feel good -, not about "getting back" anything from you. This approach has helped me to deal with seemingly asymetrical "I love you"-situations where I initially had felt that I somehow had to reprocitate.
posted by The Toad at 2:00 PM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have to agree it is pretty individual, my husband (of ten years) and I kiss, hug, say I love you/you are the centre of my universe several times a day in person and email. Unless he is being naughty, then he doesn't get any love! We hold hands when walking, sit close together with hands on thighs and kiss hello/goodbye and say I love you at pretty much every goodbye. It is what we are are comfortable with. I've been in other relationships that were less demonstrative and didn't feel less loved because that was the dynamic of the relationship. If our current pattern changes then we know we have a problem. I know plenty of couples in strong, loving relationships that do not express (verbally or physically) their love but it doesn't mean they have less love than us.
posted by saucysault at 2:01 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Again, depends on the relationship. Typically for me it's when we part ways or hang up the phone and stuff.
posted by SpecialK at 2:10 PM on March 27, 2008

I think it depends on the "love languages" of the people involved. I find that I'm rather vocal about this, while my husband is more of the "I'm going to do thoughtful things for you" a la youcancallmeal. But, because we've read the book and we're cognizant of each other's expression styles, we make sure we do things that speak in terms of the other's language as well. We're married a year, dated for about 2 years before we got married, and we can get pretty silly/mushy at morning and night.
posted by lleachie at 2:42 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've lived with my boyfriend for almost 10 years now. We rarely say "I love you" to each other, and it's always been rare for us, but it happened more frequently in the beginning. We say it most often when one or the other of us is traveling, especially when we don't get the chance to talk every day. Actually, we more frequently say "I miss you" than "I love you" but to me it means the same thing when I hear it from him.

All that said, I don't feel it's lacking in our relationship. It's just not something either of us need to say all the time. We're both more physically demonstrative (kissing, hugging, etc) than verbally so, but still only in private or with close friends. (I am more needy in this respect than he is, to be fair.)

Interestingly, a stranger recently commented on our "connection" even though we had not touched each other or said much to each other in that person's presence.
posted by cabingirl at 2:54 PM on March 27, 2008

18 years here. Explicitly, we do it at the end of phone calls, that's how phone calls end. If they don't end that way, then something's wrong. Implicitly, it's in the cup of coffee he brings me every morning, and the cup of tea I make him at night (plus loads of other things).
posted by b33j at 2:55 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's been almost three years. I say it maybe 7-10 times or more a day. He used to say it lots more in the beginning, but I usually get about 3-4 a day now, with more sometimes. The words aren't always reciprocated, as you can see, but the sentiment is.

There really isn't a norm. As others have mentioned, phone calls usually end this way, as does each night when one or the other goes to bed. And when each is going someplace without the other.

It's implicit in a lot of things though.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:07 PM on March 27, 2008

10+ yrs.

We basically never say the words "I love you" except as an obligatory gesture at the end of phone calls to his mother (who's of the "that should always be the last thing we said to each other" school). I find it is a depressing reminder of mortality, in that context, and always makes me sad. Also it is required even if we've just been having a fight with her, so it's often said with a hard tone. Shudder. I appreciate the sentiment behind wanting to always have that be the last word, even so.

In public we're not demonstrative *at all*.
In private we're very affectionate, which means continual little pats, half-hugs, in jokes, smiles; not so much kissing or serious declarations of feeling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:23 PM on March 27, 2008

I tell my wife (of almost 10 years) that I love her constantly; incessantly, perhaps.

My philosophy in this is simple: When we go to sleep at night, or any time we're going to be apart (even for a few minutes), there's a chance that something unthinkable might happen, and, if it does, I want to insure that the last thing she heard from me on this earth is that I love her.

A bit mushy perhaps, but it works for us.
posted by doorsnake at 6:19 PM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was raised in a family that was very emotionally repressive, with very limited verbal or physical affection so I think I over-compensate for that in my relationship. We've been together for almost three years now and we say our "I love you's" a few times a day, be it during a phone call, a text message or a whisper in the ear. We're pretty affectionate, randomly so - in public and in private, I'll always go in for a quick hug and sometimes he'll gather me and swing me around. All those things count a lot, I think, but it's the stuff that isn't so explicitly lovey-dovey that means a lot more. I know I can call him at any hour of the day (or night) if I need to hear his voice to fall asleep. I'll surprise him at work for lunch if he's having a stressful day, even if it's not convenient for me. My favourite part though, is snuggling on the couch watching The Office and hearing his laughter mingle with mine. We both just love to love.

Way to be sappy, liquorice!
posted by liquorice at 6:29 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

For my husband and I (6 years married, 7 years together) 'I love you' is liberally sprinkled throughout the day. We send each other sms's that contain nothing but that; we message each other over IM with little more; it's in nearly every other sentance we address to each other in person.

Excessive by the standards of some, I'm sure. But, like the hugging and kissing and pet names which happen about as often, it's as natural as breathing for us. We love each other, and express that love explicitly and frequently.
posted by ysabet at 2:32 AM on March 28, 2008

I'm with all the folks here that say showing it is better than saying it. S/O and I (and I know I may have gushed about him tediously in AskMe in the past) are late 40's (okay, really late 40's - like early 50's) hardly ever say it but don't need to. He calls me up if he sees an interesting cloud formation, for Pete's sake! To me, that's love. Don't overthink this. Being in love should be fun. Enjoy.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 7:59 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Either MeFites are just super demonstrative in general or the people who chose to read the "more inside" of this question are those who are in lovey-dovey expressive relationships. I think it's the latter, meaning your sample is probably skewed.

That being said - in my last relationship we said it rarely, once every couple weeks, generally in person in tender moments. To me this made the words more precious than if they were just tossed in at the end of every phone conversation. But here's an opposing data point within a different relationship context - my sister says "I love you" at the end of every phone conversation with family and friends, and it's always meaningful to me.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2008

My family is big into saying "I Love You". Now that I live far from home, every phone conversation ends with a chorus of I Love You's. When Mr 26.2 hears that he's always bit flummoxed. He did not grow up in an "I Love You" family.

That "I Love You" behavior which started in our families of origin continues to this day. I tell people all the time. Mr 26.2 - almost never. I've never heard him say it to anyone in his family - even to his parents or brother. Mr. 26.2 is a very loving person and an affectionate person, but he doesn't often say it.

Between us, I tend to say it a lot because it feels natural to me. He less often, because that's natural to him.
posted by 26.2 at 9:06 AM on March 28, 2008

My wife and I express our love for each other constantly. We've been married almost 2 years, and dated for a couple of years before that, and were best friends before that. I'm 36.

Constantly. Once every other paragraph constantly.
posted by MythMaker at 2:59 PM on March 28, 2008

I think the easiest way for me to describe it would be to pay a mod to edit kalessin's reply so that it looks like I posted it.
(13-year relationship, both mid-thirties)
posted by spinturtle at 9:24 PM on March 28, 2008

My girlfriend and I say "I love you" probably around ten times a day - more if we're together all day and feeling soppy :) We also express our love for each other physically all the time when we're together, by sitting close to each other, touching, hugging, kissing. (We're 19 and 20, together for a year and a quarter, the frequency has increased but maybe because at first our relationship was a secret from all but our closest friends)
posted by pocketfluff at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2008

Hmm. About two and a half years, and it goes on a fair bit with us. I have no idea how to gauge it, really. For example, we don't speak on the phone much, but if we do talk it tends to go on for hours and then it can be 5-6 an hour. If we're just chatting on IM and there's a lull in the conversation, one of us tends to perk it back up with "I love you, how are you doing?". There's the random text messaging a few times a week. And then there's the multiple times at the end of every encounter/at night when we say goodnight. So on average I'd say 5-10 times a day from both of us, with a standard deviation of 5.

We're also fairly silent in our demonstrations of affection though. In public we tend to be more goofy and snarky, but in private there are moments where one of us just spends a few seconds smiling broadly at the other until the other person notices, or we'll stand up from wherever it is we're working at and walk over and give the other person a hug without saying anything and walk back to our respective workstations, etc.

This was much much less in the first year or so when we're still getting to know each other, as both of us were fairly inexperienced in the field of relationships, and saw each other much less in private. Now I'd say I see him around once or twice a week and he usually stays over one or two nights on the weekend on top of that.
posted by Phire at 12:51 AM on April 3, 2008

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