The Case Against “I Love You”

Marathon runners have it. So do Crossfitters, gamers, art dealers, and social media people.

Insider language is everywhere. All subcultures have specialized words that comes with being part of the insider class. These expressions (THAC0 comes to mind) represent specialized, complex ideas that are important to the culture, but meaningless outside of it.

This is true for larger cultures (Canadians, Americans, the French) as well as smaller ones, of course. I can say “Voice of Fire” to Canadians and have a bunch of emotions come up– it’s a short sentence that brings up a ton of related feelings that mean nothing to anyone else.

Point? Short phrases mean a lot. But I’d actually like to make the argument that we should eliminate some of them… and that maybe “I love you” should be the first.

“I love you” isn’t a death sentence for relationships, but it sure as hell does make couples lazy. It takes all of these deep feelings and coalescing them into one vague blob of a sentence that is entirely meaningless.

Using the word “love” means a lot at first– there’s anticipation, tension, etc. It represents a million little things, but over time, it gets overused. It starts to mean nothing– especially if you’re saying it as often as the typical couple.

Are you in a relationship? Try this instead: If you have feelings that are welling up inside of you and that you want to express how much you care about someone, tell them WHY and WHAT THEY ARE. Don’t just use a phrase that everyone else uses– tell them what’s unique about your feelings and what you think of them. Try these and observe the reaction.

“You are one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met.”

“I adore how you always think about the little things.”

“Thank you for supporting me, even when it isn’t easy or convenient.”

… or better yet, come up with your own! ๐Ÿ˜€

People don’t hear what we like about them enough– we take it for granted that they know, but often, they don’t. We never tell them. Even if they do know all about it, I’m willing to put money down that they prefer hearing how you feel vs yet another “I love you.”

Wipe it out of your vocabulary, just for a week. You’ll be amazed at the difference.





27 responses to “The Case Against “I Love You””

  1. averagebetty Avatar

    Maybe we should all take a cue from Avatar and say, “I see you.” ;D

    We all need to let others know how much value they add to life… “I love you” can be a crutch. Might I suggest warning your significant other if you decide to give up “I love you” just in case they expect to hear “I love you, too.”

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. Collette Avatar

    ah, so true! I like this.

    I was going to post something snotty, though, about how I don’t have to listen because I only say “I love you” to my dog these days. BUT, I actually do need to start taking her for more walks, and to the dog park at least once a week.

    so yes. good point. one I shall actually act upon!

  3. Jeremy Meyers Avatar

    Interesting point. I think, however, that it depends on the couple. My gf and I say it to each other all the time, however that is not the only way we express our admiration and affection for each other. As with many other things, its not the statement itself, its the context with which it’s used.

    The next time someone says “I love you,” try responding with “why?”. It might be interesting to see what people say.

  4. Mike Avatar

    My wife rarely says “I love you” to me, unless it’s in response to me saying it to her first. She also says that I do not talk about my feelings enough. So, I belive your analysis is correct.

    Saying I love you without indicating “why” sometimes has little meaning, especially to women.

  5. Sarah Avatar

    How much does the average couple say “I love you” in your estimation?

    1. Julien Avatar

      Every day, easy. Why?

  6. Sarah Avatar

    Well, your answer would determine whether or not I agree with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And since your answer was everyday, then yes, I agree- total overkill.

    I like that you are encouraging more thoughtful (hence meaningful) declarations of affection for those we care about most. I’m going to take your advice…for at least a week!

  7. Whitney Avatar

    I guess Matt & I are at the extremes then- we started dating back in the 80’s- we’ve been together almost 25 years, 16 of those married. I love you can be a throw away line or deep felt- it’s all in the delivery. What do your eyes say? What does your voice and body language say? As with so many things, the context says more than the words alone.
    We say things like “I love you” or
    I adore you” or the more important “Thanks for being so supportive when…” and Thanks for helping me out” and “I love it when you …..”
    Love is not just about the hot and heavy emotions after this length of time- it’s about mutual respect, consideration, and true best friend partnership. It’s about understanding, and cutting each other slack when you need it, and also calling each other on bad behavior when necessary.

    But when I tell you, Julien, I love you, it’s about respect for your insight, for your friendship, and it’s a totally different animal than what I feel for my husband and kids, but none the less, I think it can be love as well.

    The real problem is we don’t have a lot of words that make those fine gradations between “like” and “love” so love can seem generic and not special enough for that really big feeling we think we need to get from watching too many romantic comedies and chick flicks.
    In the end, love comes in many different varieties and probably occurs on a spectrum, but always comes down to letting people know you care and care enough to hopefully say and mean those words on more than one occasion.

  8. Greg Hollingsworth Avatar

    I have to admit that my wife and I probably say I love you enough that it might be considered overkill, but I think that it’s unique to every situation.

    We’ve been together coming on 10 years, 4 married, and I don’t feel like it’s lost anything. Additionally, as with most things, actions speak far louder than words.

    I would postulate that the things we do for each other on a daily basis are far greater expressions of love and admiration than any sentence could truly conjure up. Sure, I could tell her that I adore her, or that I appreciate everything she does, and those would all be true, but love is found in the things we do, big or small.

    Something as simple as making her funnel cake fries (yes they exist, and they are pretty awesome) after a long day instead of making her getting up to do it is every bit as important as simply saying I love you.

    Words at their core are just that, words. The actions that exist behind those words are what truly define all of our relationships.

  9. Sherm Avatar

    everyone gives “love” a bad rap, yet throws “hate” around like it’s going out of style. shame that both these emotions have become nothing but words, and nothing new has come up to replace either one in such a simple, monosyllabic utterance. as nice as poetic “i love you”s are to hear, most of us can’t come up with any decent alternatives. you talk about the word love being shared between couples and it losing its meaning, i think it’s more important to re-teach everyone else wha it means, so they can stop saying how much they “love cookies”….

    i love your blog by the way.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Yeah, I hate that.

  10. Diane Brogan Avatar

    I was going to leave a very profound comment, but Whitney and Greg have already expressed my thoughts.

    Great work Julien.

  11. Hani Avatar

    I agree with you that saying “I love you” makes a couple lazy, cuz then you don’t have to notice the other person anymore no?

    I do like it when guys take the trouble to notice and mention different things about me and our relationship THEN followed by an I love you ๐Ÿ˜€

    tee hee

  12. Hani Avatar

    Also Jeremy, by responding ‘why’ to when someone says I love you, you’re kinda saying that you’re not good enough to be loved. What you really be interesting is you say ‘Thank you’ (there by accept it) and nothing else ๐Ÿ˜›

  13. Carl Avatar

    I may have to give you a hug for the mention of THAC0 in a post about love and meaning in relationships.

    Otherwise, poignant and on point as always Julien.

  14. Michal Avatar

    Julien, this post is seriously great. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have caught myself reflecting on what you have written about “I love you”, but actually never expressed those thoughs so precisely as you did ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I could also add: maybe “I love you” has lost its value because spending time on deep thinking becomes more and more difficult in our information-rich times. And such effort is required to express our feelings in precise ways ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. Hal Baird Avatar

    Actually I use both forms of emotion sharing phrases. When speaking to my wife, I will express my love with what I’m feeling such as, “You are so thoughtful doing an errand for me to save me time.” or “I think you look lovely in that outfit.” With certain friends “I love you” is appropriate. My brother in law and I never end a phone conversation or meeting without exchanging an “I love you.” We, in fact, are closer than just friends or relatives so that phrase, in this case, is appropriate.

  16. Shana Avatar

    I was married to a man for 16 years who said “I love you” daily, but rarely showed it. I’m now dating a man who cannot bring himself to say it, but shows it in his actions and in the other things he says throughout the day. I’ll take action over words any day.

  17. CT Moore Avatar

    In the first chapter of “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” Chuck Klosterman goes to town on the idea of love and the cultural connotation it carries for us. He makes a pretty compelling case for why what we think of as “love” is not only a cultural construct, but a consumer one spun by Hollywood and the recording industry to sell us movie tickets and albums.

    1. Irene Avatar

      You’ve catrpeud this perfectly. Thanks for taking the time!

  18. Kay Avatar

    I over use i love you.
    But i also say a lot of other positive supportive stuff when i am dating someone.
    Love is very much a verb, and acting out that love is often times a much better way of sharing it as opposed to just throwing the L word around.
    I still over use it though. sometimes i just can’t help but tell someone i love that i love them. the key is not to just leave it at that.

  19. Jeff Sutherland Avatar

    Cheers to this timely advice! I first noticed this issue when I would get kinda frustrated every time my wife said, “I love you”. What kinda loser feels frustrated when their wife says “I love you”??

    Finally, I realized I was frustrated because I didn’t know what it meant. What does that EVEN mean?? “Love” is so vague.

    So, every time my wife said those 3 magic words, I started probing further and asked, “What were you thinking about me, that prompted you to say that?”

    Turns out its usually cause I’m sooo hot. (I think that’s what she meant when she said, “It was so kind of you to wash the dishes.”)

    Whatever it is, I want to make sure I do it more often!

    I also started removing the phrase from my vocab, because when I use it I really am being lazy. I’ve got to define my thoughts and feelings better.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  20. Rufus Shepherd Avatar

    Sometimes “I love you” sounds suspiciously like “That t-shirt is starting to look way too big on you.”

  21. David Cain Avatar

    I think you nailed it. Critical hit. Natural 20.

  22. John Anyasor Avatar
    John Anyasor

    I have never said ‘I love you’. Not even to my own mother. I asked her why we didn’t say it and she told me, “Because it doesn’t need to be said.”

    Words cannot define our relationship ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Joey Avatar

    I’m dating someone who says “I love you” like every hour (not kidding). I dont like saying “I love you” that much because I feel its like overkill. I don’t like overusing that phrase just to say it. I do tell that person “i love you” when I actually feel it not just to say it. They get bothered that I dont say it as much as they do so i have pretty much say it as a reply to their “i love you” without any feeling. Is that bad? They even tell me “tell me you love me” or “why dont you tell me you love me as much as I do?” I do in fact love them but feel that I dont have to say it on an hourly basis. We have been dating for a year and I think if I didnt love them I wouldnt be with them this long. Any suggestions? Am I in the wrong?

  24. John Avatar

    My wife has never been a very affectionate woman, which is simply her way, and I accepted that many years ago and adore her just the same. But, each night when we tuck in and kiss our children good night, she says “I love you” to each of them, as do I. The thing is, she never says it to me, and I mean never – I think the last time she told me she loved me (without me saying it first) was about 3 or 4 years ago. I’ve mentioned it to her as gently as I could, that hearing it every once in a while from her really feels good, and it’s one of those little things that just means so much to me, but she still doesn’t. In fact, she gets irritated with me if I even bring it up, and every 6 months or so I do mention it because I think she’s being selfish and inconsiderate. I’m a very affectionate person, and where she is not, I show a lot of love to the children but keep it to a minimum with her so she doesn’t feel smothered, and I only tell her “I love you” once every few months so as to keep from making her uncomfortable from hearing it too often.
    I just feel hurt by this – she knows how good it makes me feel to hear it, she knows it’s been bothering me for a long time, she tells our children every night so obviously she knows how to say it, how could she be so petty and inconsiderate? I know she loves me, she proves it every day, so why the hell won’t she say the words? Anyone out there have any insight?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *