Relationships

The Many Ways to Say “I Love You”

What Does the Word "Love" Mean to You?

I’d been dating my boyfriend for a couple months when something curious happened…

My friends started asking a question I wasn’t prepared for.

“Have you said, ‘I love you’ yet?” They inquired hopefully, like children waiting for a baby bird to hatch.

“No,” I reported, “We haven’t.”

“Have you said it?” They followed up, over coffee.

“Still nothing?” They asked, on the line at Trader Joe’s.

To be clear, I was not concerned about this. But apparently, everyone else was.

After the umpteenth negative update, I started to feel like my relationship was a failure, when, by all other benchmarks, I would classify it as the best I’d ever known. My friends didn’t ask if this person showed up for me, or if he had the patience to get to know my particular quirks. They didn’t ask if his presence brought me peace or if we made up songs that no one else would find funny. They didn’t ask if I felt safe or comfortable or like the truest version of myself. (For the record, the answer to all of these questions is yes.)

More saliently, they didn’t ask if I felt loved. They only asked if I’d heard it.

Is this one phrase the barometer by which one measures the progress of a relationship? And why, in our contemporary culture, is speaking it (versus, say, actually demonstrating it) so very important?

Recent events aside, these are questions I’ve thought long and hard about over the years. In my limited experience, it’s clear that “love” is a word with too many interpretations. For some, it refers to an emotion, more of an “I adore you,” or a declaration of infatuation. For others, it’s a sign of commitment, weighed heavily and with care. For others, they really are just words, as informal as “I’ll call you,” and just as easy to disregard.

On The Bachelor, widely heralded as the model of sane and carefully considered romantic relationships, contestants are known to say things like, “I can totally see myself maybe someday falling in love with you.” That’s at least three generations removed from an emotion and definitely not a promise of care. Yet, time and again, they foretell that this all-important thing is totally maybe someday coming, lest their lover lose hope.

In my universe, people have said “I love you” as early as a second date. They have whispered it in their sleep. It’s been spoken and then rescinded. It’s been declared with the ultimate confidence, followed by a hasty exit. I once read that the average person says, “I love you” within the first 90 days of a relationship. Misguided overachiever that I am, I spent my twenties measuring every relationship by this standard. Like magic, around the three-month mark, it always came rolling along. It felt nice, sure, and in some cases serious. But what do those words actually mean?

In her book All About Love, bell hooks writes, “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists agree that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” In other words, love is as love does. (Not, ah-hem, as love says.)

I posed this question to my friend, during the latest round of “Has it happened yet?” If the real meaning of love is action, why are we so hung up on the phrase?

“Because sometimes, you just need to f*cking hear it,” she replied.

It was a fair point.

Still, I’d argue that we’re just as inclined to hear different meanings as we are to speak them. Case in point: At the end of When Harry Met Sally, Sally tells Harry that she hates him, she really, really hates him. It is one of the best declarations of love I’ve ever heard, though the word “love” appears exactly zero times. To me, what she’s saying sounds pretty close to my own definition of love: I see you, I accept you, and I will do whatever I can to make your life better, because I so value your presence in mine.

For those of us who aren’t fluent in flowery, effusive proclamations, there are many other ways to communicate one’s feelings. We may share common words, but each of us speaks our own unique language. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can find someone who understands it.

And now, for the million-dollar question: What does the word “love” mean to you? When have you said it in relationships?

P.S. How to know if your partner is the one and the love story I never thought to tell.

  1. Amy says...

    I don’t know if you’re even reading comments for this post anymore, but I wanted to tell you that since I read this a few weeks ago, this sentence has really changed my marriage:

    “I see you, I accept you, and I will do whatever I can to make your life better, because I so value your presence in mine.”

    It’s a lot to delve into in a comment, but I realized my husband shows me every day he loves me because he’s constantly trying to make my life better. I used to get angry because he wasn’t doing dishes or noticing X,Y,Z but he was doing so many other things just to make my life better. And I’ve realized that because I love him, I WANT to go start a load of laundry for him or do his dish while he works because I know he’s exhausted. I don’t do it with resentment anymore. I do it from a better place. I realize this all makes me sound like a 1950s housewife and that’s not our situation at all. Just that if that’s what love is – which I think it is – then there are so many ways to show it.

    I have so many other things to say about this sentence but I’ll leave it at this for now and just say thank you for articulating love in that way!

    • Jessie says...

      This is a really beautiful sentiment. <3 Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sarah K says...

    My fiancé says he loves me all the time … now. But it took a good three years for him to be comfortable saying it. When I first said it about 9 months in and he didn’t say it back, I was crushed. But I also knew that everything he did and everything about our relationship proved that he did in fact love me very much. I’m glad I was able to recognize this at the time and have the patience to let him say it in his own time.

  3. Michelle Jacques says...

    I LOVE Cup of Jo, the blog posts and all of the kind, wise and considerate comments – they help me to feel that I’m not alone in the world, and if that isn’t the point of love then I don’t know what is. Thank you Jo (and your team) for creating this amazing heartfelt space. The world would be a darker place without you in it. Now I have something in my eye…

  4. One evening, on the sofa, I told my boyfriend that Eskimos rub noses horizontally to say ‘I love you’. Instead of rubbing mine horizontally, he did it vertically. I’d already said I love you to him but I knew he wasn’t ready to say it back so that was his way of telling me. We still do it, even now, and it’ll never not make me grin like a Cheshire cat!

  5. Kelly P says...

    My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years. I know he loves me, but he doesn’t often say it. Not long ago I was at a work event of his and one of his co-workers came up to me and said, “I just wanted to tell you that it’s so obvious how much your husband really likes you by the way he talks about you.” I was so blown away by that! Who knew?!? :-)

  6. Ashley B says...

    I’m only 1.5 years into marriage, but 6 years into my relationship. We started off long distance, so love often meant a text about how a meeting went, or sending an article about the other’s favorite artist. Now it looks like me packing my husband’s lunch even thought he can himself, or my husband preparing charging cords for me to pack before a solo trip. The longer we live together, the more I realize the little actions mean “i love you” more than us saying it every time we say good bye.

  7. Katie says...

    The kid show Daniel Tiger has a really sweet episode centered around the idea that “There are so many ways to say I love you.” It’s a great conversation starter for my 3 young kids – we show each other love by saying it, yes, but also by taking care of each other and acts of kindness big and small. <3

  8. leisea says...

    I had been in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend for a few months before we planned a trip to Vancouver. We are both from a conservative religious and cultural background, so when he asked me to be his girlfriend he only kissed me on the forehead, then I left to go back to where I lived and we started long distance. When we finally afforded a trip to Vancouver, we finally got to be together as a couple for the first time after 3 months. We agreed on abstinence because I was not ready, and so we only kissed for hours straight. When we were lying in bed, I asked him “Would you ever stop kissing me?” and he said, “I can’t.” It was the best “I love you” I’ve ever had.

  9. Katherine says...

    For me, love is an action. Right now I’m in a “long-distance” relationship – we both live in Los Angeles but we’re on complete opposite sides of the city. With traffic it will take one of us an hour and a half to get to the other. We didn’t say, “I love you”, for the first 10 months of our relationship but who needed to when we were driving across the city for each other.

  10. Sveta says...

    I’ve said I love you to one person—my ex husband of 13 years. I loved telling him, and cared about it more than hearing it. I’m in my first serious relationship since the divorce, and for me, it’s just how I know to express that irrepressible burst from your chest of feelings. I told the new one I’ve fallen in love with him, 5 months in, and he hasn’t said it back. I was pretty crushed but realized I don’t know what the normal timeframe is and have been grappling with what my expectations should be.
    What he did do was make me a custom music box of my favorite band with a vintage postcard of a city he bought the band’s concert tickets to. In the post card it says, “you came into my life and now I can’t imagine it without you.” That took my breath away and still gives me chills.

    I love these comments because it really nails love varies as much as the people feeling it, so why wouldn’t it be expressed 100 different ways?

  11. Emily says...

    I say I love you often to my parents, my dearest friends, my boyfriend, and probably most of all to my cats (haha!) and mean it with serious emotion and intent each time, though what exactly i’m communicating changes in each situation. In all of my relationships, I have said it within that 3 month mark — most times on the early side of that time frame! In my current relationship, when we had been dating only about 6 or 7 weeks and had just started being long distance, my boyfriend and I were on the phone and before we hung up I could swear he said ‘love you.’ I said it back then freaked out then called back to confirm only to find… he hadn’t said that (or so he claims!). In past relationships I’d always waited to say it til my partner said it, though I knew I felt in love. It was strangely scary and vulnerable to say it first and have it hang there. As it turns out, he told me he loved me a few weeks later and it took me several months to feel as fully in love as I have since/do now. It’s always different! I will never forget my kissing my first boyfriend, in high school, in a way that I was trying to communicate I love him, and later he told me that’s how it felt.

  12. Mel says...

    I remember having the “I love you” conversation with an ex boyfriend of mine… We’d been friends for a while, and still are casually friends now, but that night on the phone, I said, ” I love you, and I mean it. And I don’t just say that.” He said, “I know, I love you too.” It was a beautiful beginning.

    A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with some friends who are married- they were talking about how they don’t use the “I love you” words very much, given their complicated histories and childhoods, but they’ll say “hey” in a certain way, or little “bop” sounds and they know that’s the other saying “I love you.” I love their example because it reminds me to fight for *good* communication, which might not always sound the same as it would to someone else.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, my sister and her husband had secret words too!

    • libby says...

      my husband and i have a secret language too. we realized it the other day when we had a full on conversation in about 3 words and our friends pointed it out. “what the hell did you two just say?” ha! so many inside jokes between those 3 words! :)

  13. Agnes says...

    I’m kind of surprised how many commenters are talking about it NOT being said. 20 years ago, my first boyfriend said it after 5 weeks. I felt it was too soon for me to say, and I waited til I felt it before I said it back. My second boyfriend said it before we even started dating, as a prelude to dating. I’ve had male friends say it as they were aiming to start a relationship with me. Now, I recently dated someone for over a year who never said it, and he told me that he’d said it and not meant it before, and didn’t want to do that with me. It hurt that he didn’t say it and we are not together anymore anyway. I need to be with someone more loving and affectionate. I just don’t get it.. have times changed? Have men changed? It’s a real question, I’m not trying to judge, but it just seems that all this intimacy without those words feels a little like doing things backwards. Maybe I’m just old! Oh, and this new thing of the past few years of telling platonic friends you love them.. I mean, now I say it because it’s important to my friends to hear it, but growing up, ‘I love you’ was for family or romantically only, and my parents both told us and each other daily that they loved us. I guess times change though!!!

    • Laura says...

      I also like hearing it, I’ve had so many relationships with selfish men who withdrew love and I used to make excuses for them… Well now I expect to hear it, and I also expect gifts on my birthday and anniversaries, I don’t care what his ‘love language’ is! Let him figure out a way to make me happy, as well as a way to express himself! Because I fully well know I am going to find any way to make him happy. Women are often too understanding of their selfish partners, I think, unfortunately.

  14. AJ says...

    :) Caroline! (Yey)

    And in response to the question, what does love mean? Well it means a great deal and it’s important and wonderful. But – within the context of relationships – anybody who’s ever loved and lost, or loved and changed, or loved and moved on, or loved and been ditched (haha) (and that’s most of us then) will know that love is not the thing that keeps you together. At least that’s my take on it. Not cynical, just enlightened that love can exist and be special and meaningful without being an ever enduring glue. And that’s ok. Love is awesome and brutal in equal measure.

    • Lana says...

      so beautifully said <3

  15. Jenni Walker says...

    I started to date my now-husband when I was 17. I was determined not to say the big “L” word until I was “an adult” (??). It felt silly to say it in high school. I definitely believed it was this sign of commitment- I’m not in love with you, I LOVE you.
    We said it after dating for nearly 2 years. It felt like such a big thing! The next day I felt like I had a hanger in my mouth, and he texted me saying his sister had asked, “Why do you look like that??”.
    It’s one of my favorite memories.

  16. Anne Keffer says...

    I’ve been dating an Italian man for a few very amazing months. When we both started to feel the itch, there was a very convenient segue way to say “I love you”– “Ti voglio bene” — which in Italian is used for family & friends to say “I love you” and is a step behind “Ti amo” (which we now say, and is romantic “I love you”). I really appreciated the ability to have that step to express the evolution of our relationship and feelings.

    • Kate Madden says...

      Yes! In Spanish too there is the “Te quiero” step before the “Te amo” step. It’s different but I love it and gives room for the evolution.

  17. The other morning I picked my 22-month old son up and out of his crib. I love how he sorta goes limp over my shoulder in this moment and rests his head on my shoulder as he wakes up. But that morning, he rubbed my back mimicing the way I do it and just said, “Oh Mama” in a sort of relieved sigh. It was the most honest declaration of love I’ve ever experienced.

    • Nicole K says...

      Laura, I love this so much. What a perfectly sweet moment!

  18. Ivy says...

    My boyfriend took two months to say “I love you” back to me. I never panicked, never wavered because he had been in relationships where those words were thrown around too much, losing meaning. To me, it was so much more meaningful when he looked me in the eye and said, “I treasure you.”

    • My boyfriend also took two months to say it back, Ivy – and I also never doubted because every time he came home from work he said “I missed you”, and my heart melted.

  19. Olivia says...

    THANK YOU!!! My partner and I have been together for four years now — we live together, we are committed, we have built a life together. But we rarely say “I love you” to each other. We *have* said it, but it maybe comes up once every few weeks. To me, I feel more loved when he says, “You are so sweet to me. You are so good to me.” Right *THERE* I feel his heart + his love for me, more so than when he says “I love you”.

  20. MariaE. says...

    I love all about this post and all the comments. I am just wondering if Joanna and team have thought of publishing a book compiling some the posts, including all the comments. May be it would be too difficult due to copyright, privacy, royalties, etc… I love Cup of Jo, I love internet, but I also truly and deeply love published/printed books. I can spend a lot of time reading all the comments as I find most of them as interesting as the posts themselves. In the meantime, is it possible to add a ‘like’ or ‘love’ feature to the comments section. Some of them are truly pieces of greatness that deserve a ‘like’ or a ‘love’ as, most of the time, we don’t have time to write a reply to acknowledge how great and helpful they are. Cheers!!!

    • Lucy says...

      Yes! This, please!

  21. Not exactly an answer to your question, but the most beautiful love declaration I’ve gotten was “I’m really grateful for you”

  22. The Five Love Languages really come in to play here… I’m a “Words of Affirmation” girl to my core. You could be the most affectionate, loving partner ever, but if you don’t SAY it, I won’t believe it. Words have a lot of power.

  23. There are a million ways of saying I love you but the simplest by far would just be to say I love YOU.
    However, I don’t think declaration of love or gifts or dates demonstrate love…. sometimes you just know it’s there.

  24. Franzi says...

    We dated 2 years, moved together and married 3 years later. Never anybody said “I love you.”
    Shorty after the marriage, we were half asleep on the coach, we whispered the words into each others ear. That was such a holy sweet moment that just came to us without any pressure.

  25. Owl says...

    It’s such a personal and individual thing, when and how we express our love. The important thing is that you both do love each other and understand the same language, whatever it may be. Having said that, I absolutely do love to hear it and to say it. Without the words, I would feel there is still something missing. Xo

  26. McNeill says...

    I love all of the Mr. Rogers mentions here–when I read the title of the post, it made me think of a similarly-named song of his. Sylvan Esso sings a version that is lovely: https://youtu.be/TL7mbFNPZzs.

  27. eliot says...

    My parents’ love story is an odd one. But I love it because it resonates so well with what you’ve said here, Caroline. My parents never dated exclusively. They lived in different cities, dating causally, for just shy of two years. One night, out to dinner with a friend, my dad realized that if he didn’t ask my mom to marry him, someone else might scoop her up. So, he drove straight to her house, made her some soup (she had the flu, poor thing), and asked her to marry him. She thought he was joking. but they were married at the courthouse within two weeks. It wasn’t until a year into their marriage (second marriage for both of them) that my dad finally said “I love you” to her…hilariously, he didn’t mean to! Evidently, he accidentally let it slip. From then on, they told each other that they loved one another from time to time but certainly not every day.

    As a teenager and when I was in my 20s, I found this bizarre. I *needed* to hear my boyfriends say they loved me…perhaps because I wasn’t able to see it or feel it? But my mom told me that a day hadn’t gone by since she first met my dad (blind date at a baseball game) that she hadn’t felt and known that he loved and adored her. And that was enough for her. She didn’t need to hear the words. Now, as a 30-something woman, this is the kind of love I’m looking for. The kind I am certain of, whether or not the words are there.

    • eliot says...

      I might add that my dad rarely tells us, his daughters, that he loves us. Anytime we say it to him, he always shouts “ditto!” But that ditto holds a great deal of weight. I know he loves me because of the million ways he shows us (and has shown us) for the last three decades. He’s the best.

  28. Alice says...

    It’s almost 10pm. My husband and one year old are asleep upstairs. I am eating slices of cold chicken in the kitchen with my dog. I’m pretty sure I can see love in her eyes.

    • Michelle Jacques says...

      Ha! Cupboard love, but still a genuine canine emotion. xx

  29. Martina says...

    Where does all this wisdom come from, Caroline? Thanks again for making me think about something I never really thought about before.
    I *love* your writing!
    (your letter to dogs….unforgettable! my golden loved it, too…:)

  30. E says...

    The first time I said “I love you” was to a man I’d met just 12 days earlier. Within an hour of our first date, I knew he was the man I was going to spend my life with. He had reached across the table, took my hands in his and then gazed into my eyes (something that would have totally creeped me out with any other guy!) and in that moment I felt more at home than I ever had before. It took everything in my not to blurt out that taboo phrase on that first night!
    Six years later, it seems we continue to grow closer and closer each day. I’m not sure how I feel about fate, destiny or soul mates, but I do know that I’ve found someone who shares my values, sense of humor and hopes for the future. I’ve found someone who acknowledges my strengths and gently nudges me to expand beyond the boundaries of fear. I feel loved, wholly and unconditionally, by a lifelong partner who has my best interest at heart.
    I believe that love ultimately comes down to intention. It involves asking your partner about their preferences, stepping out of your comfort zone to make them smile, inconveniencing yourself to save your sweetheart the hassle and simply being there for them. While love begins as a spark, we must continually toss kindling into the fire to keep the flame alive and strong.

  31. Ashley says...

    Two years ago my boyfriend was fresh out of finalizing a divorce, emotionally wounded and not at all looking for a serious relationship. Then he hired me to babysit his kids and a friendship quickly sparked. Throughout the first six months of us spending time together I had the constant ask from friends “is he your boyfriend yet?” For a while I let this brainwash me into thinking I needed that title of validation, even though I knew what we had and that both of our feelings were mutually strong. However, he had a huge mental block in using that word, and commitment in general, which I understood. He told me he loved me about 1.5 years in and it took another 4-5 months for him to say it regularly.

    What was more important to him, and something he did repeatedly over and over starting about 6 months in was tell me he TRUSTED me. Because his trust had been so horribly broken in his marriage, this was the ultimate declaration for him. And while now after two years we have declared our mutual love, and acknowledged we’re in a committed, serious relationship to both each other and our friends and family, he still doesn’t call me his girlfriend. Which doesn’t matter, because the only thing I care about now is him someday calling me his wife.

  32. Lee says...

    My husband and I say “I love you” a million times a day, but it never feels inconsequential. It’s cliché, but it feels like we’re building something monumental, each action and event a brick, and love as the mortar. Each “I love you” is a swipe of the trowel, shoring up the joints.

    • Heather D says...

      “Each ‘I love you’ is a swipe of the trowel, shoring up the joints.”

      This is a beautiful and profound way to think of these little daily sentiments. I love it.

    • Maggie says...

      How is everyone on this blog, from the writers to the commenters, a freakin poet!!!?? Is this just the corner of the internet where all the people that can beautifully string words together convene? It’s incredible how frequently I’m moved by fellow commenters! I love (yup) how you painted the picture of your love.

  33. i told my now husband “i heart your face” within a month of dating. and now i tell him everyday, multiple times a day. i didn’t hear it growing up, though i certainly knew i was loved, and i still get a thrill every time he tells me he loves me, which he does everyday, multiple times a day.

    he certainly shows that he loves me, but i simply THRILL at hearing it.

  34. Robin says...

    Me: I love you.
    My husband: _____
    Me: Do you love me?
    My husband: Yes! I already told you that! Why do I have to keep repeating it?
    I wonder how long an “I love you” lasts before it expires?

    • Is your husband from Finland? :D There is this joke that in Finland a man will tell his bride on their wedding day he loves her, and that’s it. He said it, it’s true, it hasn’t changed, why repeat it? Repeating it makes it suspicious.

  35. annie says...

    the man i love didn’t say he loved me until a year+ into our relationship, because it was hard for him due to a tumultuous past. and i did struggle with it sometimes, because i thought that hearing it offered concrete proof. i thought of saying it myself, but didn’t want to pressurize the situation. so, because i DID love him, every time i thought about this ‘issue,’ i’d make a list in my head of all the kind things he does: he bought me duck eggs as a surprise. he gave me a flowering plant. he did the dishes after dinner. he keeps wanting to be with me.

    i’ve also been in a relationship where what we professed didn’t always match our actions. hearing ‘i love you’ absent of the feeling of being loved is lonely and sad. hearing AND feeling it is what we all dream of.

    i love how you mention that everyone speaks their “own unique language.” it’s so true. i’m thankful that i could understand the language my boyfriend spoke… then and now.

  36. My family recently commemorated the 20th “anniversary” of my dad’s passing, and my husband and I will be celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary in a couple of days, so love in all its forms has been on my mind recently. When I tell my husband or my friends or family members that I love them, I think I’m saying something about the fullness or depth of how I see them and feel about them. It encompasses a sense that I enjoy the “us” created between them and me, I appreciate how they love the people I love, I admire the person they are and how they show up in their life, and how happy I am when I’m with them. To me, “love” feels like a rich word. I recently read a book by Marisa de Los Santos where one of the characters uses the phrase, “My heart leaps up” to describe how they felt about the other person, and it has become a new favourite phrase for me and my husband. It perfectly captures the sweet heart-lift I experience when I see walk in the room. It’s beautiful to know that there are endless words and phrases and actions to convey the delight, wonder, gratitude, and enjoyment that our loved ones evoke in us, and it seems a worthwhile endeavour to find and use those phrases often.

    • Sarah says...

      That is beautiful.

  37. A says...

    We were each other’s first serious relationship, so neither of us had ever said it romantically before. We said it to each other just over 3 months after starting dating (we met via an app). We’d dated a month, then I went home for winter break for 5 weeks, so when I got back he immediately asked me to be his girlfriend (which we essentially were already, haha). The month between my coming back and professing love was so cute, because he kept saying “there’s something I want to say, but I don’t want to say it too early” and I would agree. I remember lying in bed with him half asleep and wanting to say “i love you” because I was so contented and cozy with him. Finally we were having a drink outside on an unseasonably warm February night, and I (incredibly quietly and awkwardly) whispered “I’m falling in love with you”, because apparently I wasn’t ballsy enough to come right out and say it! He misheard me and said “I’m love with you too” because he thought I had said “I’m already in love with you”.
    I never worried about being the one to say it first, because he had already indicated to me that he did love me and was going to say it sooner rather than later.
    We said it a bunch more times that night. The next day, he sent me a text with “I love you” and I remember my heart just BURSTING to read it – for some reason, it was even more special seeing it written down.

  38. Jessica says...

    Anyone else having a “ditto” from “Ghost” flashback?

    Oda Mae: “Sam says he loves you!”
    Molly: “Sam would never say that.”
    Sam: “Ditto! Tell her ditto!”
    Oda Mae: “What the hell is ditto?! … DITTO!”

  39. Amanda says...

    I was in an emotionally abusive relationship in college and was told “I Love You” very often and very passionately. It was never SHOWN to me that he loved me, which I didn’t realize until after I was out. My husband and I throw around “I Love You” every now and again, but I don’t need to hear it from him because his love shows through his actions. He has a long day at work and still makes me dinner. He has an early morning, but he still sits in bed with me while I read at night. He asks me “how was your day?” These things are love to me. Actions speak louder than words— “true” love MUST go past words.

    • diana k. says...

      snaps girl

    • Sarah says...

      Preach it to the choir.

    • Heather says...

      Completely agree on this. I would also add the words that mean the most are ones where he recognizes something I’ve been doing (like how I make his lunch every night, and set it out in the morning so it doesn’t forget it) or how hard I’ve been working – one’s that let me know he sees me and appreciates me.

  40. Margaret says...

    I’ve been dating a person for the past two months relatively casually, our dates usually consist of eating pizza and talking about life. Just the other day he drove me to work and as I got out of his car I went to say I love you! I totally frozen and while at work I realized how much I say those three little words, when I talk on the phone with my brother, when I say good bye to my roommates, to me those words come so easily. I have had a big realization of the weight of those words and what they mean to so many people. As my Mom has always said, actions speak louder than words. Who cares that it hasn’t been said yet!

  41. Rebecca says...

    My fiancé and I have been together for twelve years and I don’t actually remember the first time we said I love you to each other I know we said it pretty quickly, after a whirlwind two weeks of first meeting and then seeing each other almost daily. It sounds crazily soon looking back now but I think we both knew right away that this was going to be a serious relationship and we were right!

  42. Joanna says...

    My husband is not one to say I love you – except when he goes out of town and calls to say hi each night. He always ends with “love you.” I get a kick out of it and have told him that I look forward to it. By the way, we have been married for 38 years and he has shown his love for me and our kids in countless ways. It is understood.

  43. Ashley says...

    This exact same thing just happened to me and I felt the exact same way you did! Thank you for this!!!!

  44. Andrea says...

    I really feel like saying I love you is a means of spending out. Yes, we can act in loving ways without saying it, but the act of hearing someone have the courage and kindness to say it is really priceless. I don’t want to ever wonder when I lose someone if I they knew–in words and actions–how much I loved them and how much they meant to me. That’s a type of regret that seems way too costly for me.

  45. Rebecca says...

    My ex-husband used to say “I love you” constantly, but used this phrase as a way to stop communicating about a difficult issue we needed to discuss or to smooth over the fact he was being dismissive of my needs and feelings. He would say it in a tense and almost annoyed tone that’s forever changed how I feel about this phrase. Loving actions mean so much more to me. And yet that exhilaration of the first exchange of “I love you”… that’s pretty amazing and I hope to experience it again one day.

  46. Lil j says...

    Oh, my goodness – this hits me so hard. I am a lover, and a big hugger, and throw “O, how I love you” every which way – to all my dear people, with varying expressions of types of love for family, dear friends, and caretakers although I may change it to an enthusiastic “I just love you to pieces!” I just think that when I respond to someone in my life it is visceral, and precious to me. HOWEVER, I will also say that when I say it to someone, I mean it right down to the ground. It means to me that I would be there in a hot second if they ever needed me, it is a deep feeling for the distinct, irreplaceable soul of that person and I will always feel that deeply about them, even if they have hurt me (I just have to put in place strong boundaries, because I feel my love for them so deeply, still, in spite of the evidence of their not loving me back very well by their actions).
    I say all of that to preface a comment blurted out by what I can only attribute to a critical spirit in a man I care very deeply for – and have since I was 16, actually – he says to me “I love you, but…”.
    I just do not understand how someone can utter that word “but…” after saying I love you. It’s devastating. To me it meant – I cherish all these things about you, but the following things make you un-loveable/unacceptable/rejected until the following conditions are met…Has anyone else experienced this? How in the world do you respond to a conditional declaration of love?
    To me, it negates the very word. It’s not possible to love someone, but…
    At least for me, loving someone means all of them – through all seasons, likeable and unlikeable, fighting illness or healthy, broken by life or living to the full.
    Needless to say, after that cold chill, I have had to step back because of the deep hurt, although still loving him from afar but mourning his inability to respond (like Jula Roberts says in the dance with her ex in Eat Pray Love ” He murmurs – ‘But I still love you.’ – ‘So…love me’ she says.” What say you?

    • Annalissa says...

      I feel very similarly! I think “I love you, but…” is such a contradiction– love is holistic, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of someone are worth loving and neglect those which are not! I catch myself saying it sometimes (more when talking to friends/siblings in a casual/joking way, i.e. “you’re full of crap but I love you!” ) but am trying to change my wording just a bit- “I love you, AND…” feels a little warmer.

  47. Alex says...

    I have no memory of the first time my husband said I love you (or the first time I did). It was much more like you describe; actions over time left me without a doubt of the reality. That said, nearly ten years into marriage. If love were only a feeling then I don’t “feel” in love every single moment. But at the end of the day we’re married, we’ve made a promise to each other and it gets us through thick and thin. I do feel like sometimes I just need a verbal reminder that he loves me, that I’m it for him, forever and he always obliges. Thanks for the reminder of how much I emotionally love my husband and need to show him my love in actions every day.

  48. Kaysie says...

    To me, love is synonymous with home. I knew my husband was “the one” because he felt just like home to me. We’ve been together for 10 years and that feeling of comfort and stability and that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be hasn’t wavered.

  49. Sarah says...

    My dad has said I love you maybe once in my whole 32 years. However, I have never, ever doubted his love for me (or my mom, or brother or his grandchildren). He shows his love in the biggest, grandest gestures of support. He comes over in an instant when we need help, he was at every sporting event, performance, etc. that he could make it to, fixes EVERYTHING EVER and generally sacrifices so much for everyone. The words can be an added bonus to the actions and true feelings of being loved. It has taken me a long time to get to this conclusion and I never understood why he couldn’t just say it. It doesn’t matter to me anymore because actions most definitely speak louder than words.

  50. Lauren E. says...

    This reminds me of a phone call I received in college from my dad. “So uh… I hear you didn’t sign your last email to your mother with ‘I love you.'”

    That phrase has always been monumentally important to me, and I say it to my husband roughly every 7 minutes when we’re together. We often ask each other, “Is this annoying? Do you want me to stop saying it so much?” But it feels like I have to get it off my chest any time I’m feeling it. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how much I love him so I say it over and over again. I’m sure to the casual observer (or our nosy neighbors) we’re disgusting, but it makes us feel good so on we go!

  51. In Germany saying “I love you” is reserved for lovers and I don’t think I ever heard somebody say “Ich liebe dich” to members of their family or platonic friends. For those instances we have “Ich hab dich lieb”, which also contains a form of the word “love” (“liebhaben”), but is understood in a less romantic way. It acts a bit like “love”, minus the romantic and the sexual part.

    My boyfriend and I use “I love you” only on rare occasions and I don’t say it to anybody else either (see above). If used too often, every phrase will lose its meaning. We say it when we know we won’t see each other for a long time (hello, long-distance) or in very special moments, but I want to keep it special. If saying “I love you” becomes normal, how are you going to dial it up in those really, really outstanding moments?
    We have so many other ways to show and tell each other how much we love them. Coming home to a clean apartment and your favorite dinner after a long and exhausting day has so much more meaning than a hurried “I love you” mumbled from behind a laptop screen.

    • F says...

      That is so interesting! I am also from Germany and in my own experience it is definitely not reserved for lovers. Growing up I can recall my mother saying it to me (not so much my father though) and I definitely say it to my own children regularly. Maybe it is because the phrase „I love you‘ is not something romantic or sexual to me, rather than a really deep feeling of caring for the other person to the extent of not being able to imagine a life without the them (which I certainly can not imagine about my children).

  52. Coming from a Chinese family, I never heard “I love you” growing up. Never, ever. The words seemed too naked, too intimate, too much–something saccharine and overwrought that (white) Americans tossed around with ease that we would never feel comfortable with. Luckily, unlike other Asian-American families, we did hug fairly often; otherwise, I think I might have been emotionally scarred for life! I remember first becoming acquainted with the work of the conceptual Chinese artist Song Dong who made a film overlaying footage of his dead father and himself to make it appear as though his father were hugging him, because in real life, he had never hugged him. It tore me apart, and I related to the pain from not having heard I love you. Now that I’m married and have a child of my own, my husband and I say “I love you” liberally–to her and to each other. He comes from a white American family, so it’s de rigeur for them, but I think it matters so much that our daughter knows she’s loved and cherished every day, not in special instances or for something that she does or achieves, but simply because she is who she is. As for my own immediate family, it’s still hard to say it; it’s not a practice, it feels stilted and strange, even though we show each other love and I never doubted that my parents loved me. But I think that a child hearing those words makes a universe of difference–the difference between knowing deeply that you love and belong, which gives us our self-worth, and struggling to know those things.

  53. Elizabeth says...

    I think the saying of it really comes down to whether or not you’re someone who really needs to hear it. And the inverse is true as well: if you’re not someone who really needs to hear it, you probably aren’t someone who says it a lot. It’s like the whole “love languages” theory.

    The problem, I think, is when you’re mismatched. I’m totally loose and free with the “I love you,” and all other forms of affection, really. My ex, however, was most definitely not. I would tell him that I needed more show of affection; that occasionally it would be nice to hear “I love you” from him without it just being a reply to me saying it first. Related, I would go days–DAYS–doing these little “tests” to see how long we would go without hugging, kissing, touching, saying I love you, if I wasn’t the one who initiated it first. As you can imagine, the relationship didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, but our mismatched needs re: shows of affection was definitely a huge contributor to the end.

    As long as you’re both on the same page with these issues, who cares how often it is said? You do you! But if you’re someone who really needs to hear and physically feel (hand holding, hugs, etc) that you’re loved, then that’s okay and you definitely deserve a partner who will give that to you. It’s not enough to just “intellectually know” that you’re loved. Been there, done that, got the divorce settlement to show for it.

    • Kate says...

      Oof, this sounds too familiar. My ex had such a problem with saying it, which, in the end, I think was revealing. Hope you are moving on to better things!

  54. Meghan says...

    Once again, Caroline gets it exactly right!

    When my husband and I were dating we were both too uncomfortable to say “I love you”. I think it was a mix of being love cynics, our age gap (he is 9 years older than me) and the intense feelings we had right away.

    About 2 months in we were traipsing around Mason Neck State Park when a park ranger seemed really excited to see us. We both stopped walking and smiled at him – park ranger told us “Keep a look out for Purple Finches today, they are everywhere!” in a SUPER excited voice, while pointing to a sign that read “Birds to watch: Purple Finch”. It was hilarious and the park rangers excitement/obvious love for the birds was really cute. It made an impression on us and we ended up saying Purple Finch in lieu of I love you in those early days because it felt better to us.

    In those days it meant: our excitement at being together and finding one another amongst the crowd in Washington, DC.
    Now it means: Our deep love, respect and joy for each other.

    It has come full circle now that our 5 year old son has caught on and sends me “PF” texts while I’m at work.

    Say whatever you want!

    • SB says...

      Everything about this is adorable, thank you for sharing a little heart-warmth today!

  55. Sara says...

    Thanks so much for the interesting topic!! I was just recently talking with a friend about saying ” I love you” in different languages.
    I’m German and for me “Ich liebe dich ” sounds so formal and heavy. When I think about it, I guess I never really use the expression. But maybe that’s just me. I guess there are a lot of Germans out there using it more often. I also think that little gestures are sometimes more connecting than three words.
    Funny thing is, I often use the expressions ” I love you” or ” Je t’aime” or ” te quiero” . I guess, if it’s not my mother tongue it somehow seems lighter and smoother.

  56. V says...

    When my husband was in high school and college, he made the decision to not say “I love you” romantically to anyone unless he meant to support, care, provide for, marry. That was what it meant to him. I, on the other hand, could hardly ever contain myself from blurting out my feelings if I knew what I felt. When we first started dating and he told me that he doesn’t say “I love you”, I understood, but GOSH it was so hard for me to keep my feelings under wraps!

    He told me he loved me one late night a month later. We said we wanted it to be special, but we have probably said it 10 times a day since then…been married a year and have a little baby! We love each other, love showing it, and love saying it too. ❤️

  57. Elise says...

    I am a strong believer that love is a verb, and that the actions of love are more important than the words.

    BUT – I know that people (myself included) can have a hard time believing that others really love them, even if they show it, and of course vice versa. Especially when, in a relationship, the things that you do to show love don’t really get the message across to your partner (I just read one comment about getting French shoes in lieu of “I love you”). The whole love language thing is real, and sometimes the message gets lost in translation. It took a while before I realized that my husband didn’t care at all about thoughtful gifts, but really beamed when I told him he was doing a good job or that I was proud of him. But in the time it took me to figure it out, saying “I love you” let him know how I felt about him.
    So, I think it’s more about having good communication: both are really important. Maybe, for some people, if only to say, “I don’t know what to DO to make you feel loved, but I can’t wait until I figure it out before I tell you”.

  58. Sarah says...

    I didn’t grow up hearing “I love you” much at all (I come from a family where, when I would prompt my mom to say it after hearing it at friend’s houses, I was met with the groan, “honey, you KNOW I love you.”) But to young me, it felt really important to hear out loud. Not surprisingly, when I met my now-husband, and felt the swell that it was love, I waited with baited breath for him to say it. He comes from a family where it’s synonymous with “have a good day”. Now, we say I love you anytime we leave for more than a couple hours, though it felt (and still feels) a little disingenuous to me. Once it was clear we were in it for the long haul, I actually set ground rules for saying I love you (yep, I’m really fun to be around). I didn’t want “I love you” to be synonymous with “thank you”, or used as leverage for doing a favor; it needed to be its own impulse, and have its own gravitas. Now, my “I love you” is typically an overly enthusiastic bear hug and “I just love you so much I could burst!” or through tears when I’m having a hard day and he’s there for me. His is more quiet, like when we had a hard-but-good conversation about toxic masculinity and the wage gap in the workplace after the CoJ article this week, and he brought me flowers yesterday for feeling like he hadn’t supported me in my own career. Our “I love yous” are not necessarily strengthened by saying it to each other daily. In a way, that’s the filler, in between the gestures, when we know the other one needs to hear it.

  59. Amanda says...

    This essay – and the comments! – were such an incredible read.
    I have been thinking a lot lately about what saying I love you actually means and this was so fascinating to think about what it doesn’t mean.
    I am so excited any time I see something new you’ve written on here, Caroline and I don’t want to pressure you but I would love to read a book of your essays!

  60. Martha says...

    I said I love you to my ex boyfriend in 2 weeks. We were together for 3.5 years!

    Side note: I’d love a dating tips/tricks article from Caroline!

  61. Colleen Hudson says...

    I was with my last boyfriend for about 10 years (!) and NOT ONCE in those 10 years did he say the words, “I love you”. He said that the words did not mean anything; his love was shown in his actions toward me. I am very affectionate and say the words often, because I mean them. This was one of the major reasons that led to our breakup. Sometimes I regret breaking up with such a good man but it was something that was important to me.

    • Emma says...

      um, yeah. As Caroline’s friend said: Sometimes you just need to f*cking hear it. I think you did the right thing.

    • Andrea says...

      Amen, Emma! I can’t tell you the number of Cleveland Indians games I’ve sat through, watched or discussed in the past decade because my husband is from Cleveland. Love means being other-centered and giving that person what they need in the ways they need it.

      Withholding what another person has articulated they need reflects either blindness or a smallness of spirit. Both are corrosive to trust and commitment in a relationship. Colleen–I hope you find someone who speaks to your spirit!

    • Colleen says...

      Thank you Emma and Andrea! for your words. It helps to know that I am not the only one who thinks this is important.

    • M says...

      Ugh. Colleen, Emma, Andrea, right on! Right on. I love these comments and couldn’t agree more. My boyfriend took (against his wishes but insistent on mine) the love languages test just because I was having such a hard time knowing and he had a hard time expressing what he needed to feel loved. Turns out what he needs (words of affirmation), I’m not great at and it actually makes me feel cringey! But I’m trying to give him positive words if that’s what he needs.

  62. Mouse says...

    My father never said it, although I knew he felt it. In my 30s I began–courageously, in my family–saying it at the end of phone calls, which led to a conversation:

    Dad “Why do you SAY it? ”
    Me: “What are you SAVING it for??”

    He says it all the time now.

    • Sarah O says...

      OMG Mouse slaying right off the top! So sweet, great work.

    • Siv says...

      Love this!! ❤

    • Julie says...

      HA! My family never spoke the words ever. I honestly never realized until into adulthood that others said it so often. My brother, though, into his 20s was the one do to this. He started saying it before he hung up the phone or left and for awhile we didnt know how to respond. He would stay on the phone until we said it back- So funny. He struggles with some addictions so to know that he cares so much and gives us that outlet to tell him is kinda nice.
      No one else does says it to each other still but he demands it of all of us.

  63. Gabby B says...

    Love is cleaning your never-washed college bathtub at 3am for your sick roommate who just wants a soak and her mom

    • Kate says...

      As the Mom of college-age children- you are precious!!!

  64. Margaret says...

    The first and only time I’ve said I love you was to a boyfriend right after we slept together for the first time, which was my first time ever! I ended up loving him but I always wonder if I was overwhelmed with so many feelings in that moment that it felt like I had to say it or if I actually felt it.

    We broke up a few years ago after nearly a decade together, and I’ve had a hard time trusting my feelings romantically since then. I never doubt that I loved my ex. But now I’ve been dating someone somewhat casually for a few months, the first that’s gone beyond a few dates since my break up, and I can’t nail down my feelings. I am so comfortable with him, I always want to spend time with him or talk to him, he’s kind, he takes initiative, and I am starting to see what a future with him would look like and I think I like it. How do you know though? At this moment I feel like I could say I love you because everything is pointing in that direction, but I don’t trust myself to know what I want/need/feel.

    • H. says...

      I feel the exact same way! I dated someone for five years and I was so sure I was in love with him and we’d be together forever… And then he dumped me because, he said, he was in love with someone else and didn’t love me.

      So now, a bit over a year and a half later, I’ve been seeing someone for four months, and he’s the first guy since the breakup that I wanted more than one date with; he’s sweet and funny and handsome and I think I might love him… But I don’t want to say it because, first, I can’t tell what HE’S feeling (like he’s not particularly emotive or verbal about feelings, I guess, but he’s also very thoughtful and kind)… But also because I don’t know how to trust myself anymore.

      I’m trying to just take it a day at a time and enjoy our time together and not put too much pressure on either of us… But it’s hard! It’s very hard.

  65. Alexa says...

    I was in the early stages of a relationship with my now husband and a friend asked me if it was real. “Real” was defined as: “Have you gotten brunch together? Do you go for coffee? Have you gotten ice cream?” It destroyed my spirit about it – and to your point, I was secure, happy and having a lot of fun. I think other people’s opinions or expectations of what should be happening by what time do nothing more than make us feel bad. You do you, Caroline.

  66. Amanda says...

    The first time my husband said he loved me, we had been dating for less than two months. It was around 4 AM on New Year’s Eve (or day at that point) and we had collapsed horizontal on a bed after a night out with friends.

    He blurted it out in a way that seemed unplanned and inevitable – just like our whole relationship. What I heard was: “You made tonight better by being there. You’ve made the last two months better by being there. I think you’re going to make the rest of my life better just by being there”. I felt the same way.

    8 years since that night and almost 5 years of marriage has proven that we were both spot on.

  67. Mara says...

    I never heard “I love you” in my house growing up — I’m sure I felt it, but it was never said, and meanwhile I observed so many loving relationships my friends had with their parents. Once I went off to college and could do whatever I wanted (hooking up, staying out, etc), I became very quick to say “I love you” to a guy I’d be regularly hooking up with at the time. It’s probably a good thing that only a semester in, I met my boyfriend and reeled it in a bit. I could have used those “I love yous” growing up, and would have been a real mess had my sweet angel of a grandmother not said it to me whenever we talked on the phone. I can still think back decades to my 6-year-old self, clutching the receiver, eyes welling with tears as I heard that “I love you, sweetie.”

    • Sarah O says...

      I’m so sorry Mara – and I love you.

    • Mara says...

      Aww thank you Sarah O :-)

    • Sarah says...

      I love you, Mara!

      You are loved and seen.

    • karen says...

      Oh Mara, thank goodness for your grandmother. Hugs & Love to you. I saw you replied to my post. Therapy ftw on my end too!

  68. c says...

    Been with my now husband(!!) for almost 9 years. Almost a year ago, he came home on a random weekday and mentioned that he had a gift for me. Gifts have never been his love language, so I was a bit puzzled when he pulled out a beautiful necklace. I said “wait, what is this for?” — silently freaking out that I had forgotten some important date. He responded “I just really like you.” I started crying right on the spot and tear up now just typing this.

    In a relationship, “i love you” can get so overused and feel meaningless in comparison to the way that his “i like you” made me feel. Like after all these years we are still together for a genuine friendship and appreciation for one another.

    • Marnie says...

      Yes!! This!! Over the course of a decade, there will inevitably be times that we don’t particularly like each other, even though we still love each other. After a rough patch, we always come back to “I still really like you” and it means everything.

    • Elena says...

      @C This, for the win! How beautiful. :) Makes me think of Mr. Rogers, whom only now at the age of 41 do I get on a deeper level: “It’s you I like.”

    • Jen says...

      This is so great! A while ago when my partner asked me what I wanted for dinner and I (jokingly) responded, “Ugh why are you SO obsessed with me?”

      We laughed and then he said, “But, I mean, I AM obsessed with you” – Obviously let’s exclude the disturbed stalkerish part that obsession can carry …but otherwise it means “fill the mind of (someone) continually”.

  69. Liz says...

    My boyfriend and I had been dating almost 3 months and things were getting pretty serious – he was spending the night at my condo for the first time, which was a big deal because he had to bring his dog with him (I had previously only stayed at his place because of the dog). Before we left for dinner, the dog thew up ALL OVER my living room rug, and I tried hard to seem like I cared more about the dog’s health than I did my rug (debatable at the time which one I actually did care more about). We still went out to dinner, and at dinner he said “I want to tell you something.” I thought “oh he is finally going to say he loves me!” He said “I really trust you.” I was a little surprised and a little sad about what he didn’t say, but I now realize love – to me – means trust, support, happiness, and comfort. I now love the dog so much that I can’t imagine life without her (puking on rugs or not), and the human and I have since moved across the country together and are getting married in June.

  70. Dana says...

    I love (ha!) this post. My now-husband and I waited almost two years into dating before saying it, The Big Moment happening when we both messed up the exact same Michael Jackson lyrics while singing loudly on a road trip. Ever since, we try to be deliberate of our usage with each other, and talk about never becoming a couple that end mundane phone conversations about, say, what kind of almond milk to get, with a hasty “Ok, whatever, I’ll get the vanilla sugar free if they have it. Love you.” In reality, we show each other deep respect, treat each other with care, and make each other laugh every damn day. Words-shmords–that’s love!

  71. Mónica Leal says...

    So, when is Caroline’s book of essays coming out? <3

  72. Nikki says...

    I met my boyfriend years ago at a bar. He is my twin sister’s husband’s best friend from college. He was in Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps and I was visiting from out of town. I kissed him and joked it was my patriotic duty. He never asked for my number and we went our separate ways. A year later I went to his going away party for Deployment in my city. We kissed again and the chemistry was amazing. We spent the whole weekend together and I flew down for his deployment a few weeks later to say goodbye. I refused to wait for him while he was gone so I dated other people but at the same time kept my fingers crossed he would want something serious when he got home. I made him elaborate and incredible care packages sending them once a month. We talked on the phone and wrote letters when he could.

    When he came home he came to visit me the next day and barely had gotten out of the car before he had kissed me. We were seriously dating ever since. A year later I moved I packed up my life and moved to base and to live with him. My only hang up- he hadn’t said he loved me. He showed me so so so many times that he loved me but never told me. I pushed so much of our relationship along that I felt strongly I shouldn’t say it first. I hemmed and hawed about moving down to be with someone that hadn’t SAID it but I moved anyway. A week after moving in together after a few glasses of wine I just finally said it.

    He told me he had never told any girl he loved her and he just was so nervous to say it. We are in the midst of another deployment now, but he tells me whenever he can how much he loves me. Moving down to base to be with him was the best decision I ever made. I am so lucky to be loved by him and I was so silly wasting so much time and energy waiting for him to say three words.

    p.s. Later he told me he started to fall in love with me because of the packages I sent him during the first deployment. Supposedly they were the best in the unit and all the guys were jealous haha. Little did he know that was my master plan all along.

  73. Anonymous says...

    It took my now-husband almost three years(!) to say I love you to me. But honestly, I never worried because I felt it from day one in everything he said and did. Now, many many many years later, it still carries extra weight when he says it because it’s so deliberate. The way someone makes you feel in a relationship is so much more important than what they say to you.

  74. Danielle says...

    My boyfriend and I were having so much fun for the first 10 months of our relationship, and we just never said it. Finally, on Valentine’s Day, I almost felt pressured to say it, which sounds absurd. Of course I loved him, but we showed each other in a million ways that we loved each other in those 10 months and right up until today, and the pressure of the ‘I love you’ felt so silly. Of course, now we say I love you often, but I actually much prefer phrases like, “You make me so happy” or “I love our life together.” They give a more complete picture of the emotions I’m feeling. To each his own! ;)

  75. sarah says...

    When I said it for the first time to my partner, he answered “How can you love me? You don’t know me well enough!” (Yeah he’s quite direct).
    I was offended as hell at the time, but in retrospect I believe he was right. What I felt at the time was an hunch that we could grow to love and know each other very deeply, more like a clue than an actual fact. Ten years later, he says “I love you” almost every day, and I never get tired of hearing it :)

  76. Quinn says...

    All About Love by bell hooks was truly a life-changing read for me. I cannot recommend it highly enough, I don’t think I have ever highlighted and underlined a book so much in my life!

  77. Kelli says...

    I can count on my fingers plus a few toes the number of times my husband has told me he loves me over our 10 years together. The first one took over a year, even though mine came after the first 90 days. The wait was arduous because one of my love languages is “words of affirmation,” and still is. I’ve had to learn to be a better listener because even though he may not say those “3 little words,” his actions reflect his commitment to me and respect for me daily.

  78. When my husband and I were still dating, he told me he loved me after about two months. And I said I loved him too — because I did! But I also knew that I meant it in a different way. He meant he had that deeply-infatuated-falling-in-love feeling. I meant “I love you the way I love friends I care about deeply and feel safe and seen with.” I was definitely falling in love, but I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough after just two months to be in love with him. But I also knew that he needed to hear me say it back, and that we were getting to the point where we would mean it in the same way. Thirteen years, a marriage, and a baby later, I’ve come to realize how valuable BOTH those kinds of I-love-yous are. There are absolutely days when I still feel the infatuated-giddy-falling-in-love feeling. But what gets us through the difficult or frustrating or just mundane days is that kind of love that means you feel cared for and safe and seen. So I guess that original “I love you” was more true than I knew at the time.

  79. Cindy says...

    Perfect timing with this post, Caroline! My boyfriend of 3+ years has started saying ‘I love you’ less and less lately. When I questioned him, he said he wants it to mean something when he says it. Yet I was used to hearing it numerous times a day and, to be honest, I miss it. On the flip side, I was holding back telling him ‘I love you’ because of an extremely trying time in our relationship (completely his fault, believe me!) and I wasn’t sure I DID love him anymore; or COULD love him anymore. And I never say it unless I mean it. Your post has me thinking of all the things he does for me, that in his world probably substitute for ‘I love you’. You’ve made me rethink my interpretation of the love declaration and I’ll be paying very close attention to how many times a day he “says” he loves me by how he treats me instead. Thank you for bringing this up right when I needed it. <3 <3

  80. Wow – what a response to this post. We all need love, and we should all be showing it. I think it is a verb, but I do believe that hearing the phrase is comforting and important. It shouldn’t be uttered lightly, however, because that steals power from the word. Ultimately true love reveals itself in sacrifice. Love your feature image, btw!

  81. KT says...

    I really don’t understand why saying love could be repellent in any way. I mean, by all means, take your time getting to know someone, but if you feel it- why not say it? Take down the wall. But then again, I also fart in front of people. Humans are flawed. It’s okay to not be perfect and to show your cards once in awhile.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh yes! Saying love is good! She’s just saying that even if you don’t say it, you can still very much feel and love it.

  82. Karen says...

    This thread is so beautiful. Love has always been confusing to me. My family didn’t say I love you or give affection while I was growing up. So I really guarded my heart. When my first love told me he loved me, I think I responded with something like, “Do not say that unless you really really mean it!” When my now husband told me he loved me, I was not ready to say it back. But now, my life is a love fest. I was determined to have a house full of love when my son was born. He knows we love him-there is no doubt. My friends and I hug after we see each other and say “I love you”. Even my Dad & Sister end phone conversations with “I love you” although they still sound a bit uncomfortable. And my Mom leaves phone messages that say, “this is your Mother who loves you”. And Caroline, this “They didn’t ask if his presence brought me peace or if we made up songs that no one else would find funny. They didn’t ask if I felt safe or comfortable or like the truest version of myself” is what I found with my husband, but it still took me 11 years to make sure I was ready to marry him.

    • Mara says...

      Karen, I too grew up in a house where my family didn’t say “I love you” or show affection or even apologize — I’m 37 and have never heard my mom apologize (my dad said that in 40 years of marriage plus dating he’s never heard it either). Therapy has been a lifesaver for me — 11 years and going strong! Anyway, I’m really happy that your family was able to turn things around and start saying “I love you” after not for so long. It’s got to be a tough thing to do!

    • karen says...

      Thanks, Mara! It took a lot of work on my part. I worked at a preschool one summer between semesters at college. I saw so much love. And I remember realizing that I hadn’t had that childhood experience. I vowed to try to turn it all around. Lots of therapy. Working with children saved me. xo

  83. anon says...

    I think it depends a lot on your language and culture. My husband is Czech and he’s said it to me a few times (we speak English together) but honestly it’s always a bit strange to hear, because I don’t think this particular phrase comes naturally to him in any language. My Swedish friend says there is a popular joke in Sweden: There was once a farmer who was so in love with his wife that . . . he almost told her.

    • sarah says...

      This is so interesting! In my mother tongue (Swiss German) there is no clear distinction between “I love you” and “I like you”, which makes it a lot easier to say :)

    • Elena says...

      @Sarah You are right! I lived in Zurich for 2 years in my twenties and it was always confusing between love and like. Of course everything is taken in context, but which “liebe” sometimes was confusing. As an American I loved the distinct difference between friend and colleague. Once someone called me a friend, I knew it was a real friendship… kind of a big deal! Language can be awesome and maddening at the same time.

  84. Olivia says...

    When I said “I love you” to my first boyfriend (we had been together for 6 months) he replied “oooo you are so sweet” and then he gave me a hug !!! A HUG !!! I wanted to die…
    I remember calling my best friend right after to tell her everything and how upset I was and she told me that a few months earlier she had also told her boyfriend she loved him and he said “thank you” ahahah

  85. Tshego B says...

    Accurate. We are so stuck on the word that somebody will emotionally or physically hurt us and they say “I love you” and we believe it. No matter how empty it leaves us feeling. My narcissist ex said it to me more times than alot of the other people in my life and guess what…they didnt hurt me at all and he completely destroyed my emotional wellbeing. Love is an action word and I wish I had believed that back then as I fully do know. It would have saved me from him a lot sooner.

  86. Jess says...

    I love this post! My previous relationship lasted two years and was full of fireworks that eventually epicly exploded it my face when it ended. I thought she was the one but hindsight is 20/20. Now looking back I can see that the relationship was never going to be sustainable. My current partner and I took over 6 months to say, “I love you.” It has been a slow, steady, and beautiful progression. Like you said in your post, love to him is a verb. I wasn’t used to being shown love and definitely wasn’t used to a calm sort of happy. Right before we said “I love you” for the first time I realized he is a combination of my favorite, every day moments. He is my picnic in the park, the perfect cocktail with friends, the beach day with my family, my morning cup of coffee.

  87. I’m so glad you mentioned bell hooks! It really resonates with me how she describes love as a conscious commitment to your own and someone else’s spiritual growth. It’s not just about accepting someone as they are, or telling them how you feel – it’s the things we do for each other that help us realise our potential and grow into better, more fulfilled people.

  88. Martini says...

    Oh Lawd, if I held my breath waiting for my husband to say “I love you” I would have died many years ago. I understand he’s from Mars and saying “I love you” is alien to him. I don’t care. I crazy love him. Warts and all. I’ve got what I wished for, actually more than I ever dreamed of. Do we argue and fuss and fall in and out of love with each other? Please. Of course we do.
    I’ve posted here for some time now and have shared our story of how we’ve been married 50 years now, how through tragedy we became childless over 30 years ago and have been very grateful we hung in there and continued to care deeply for each other.
    I haven’t pumped gas in our car in over 40 years. If I don’t want to do something it makes no difference to him and the same goes for if I want to do something. He can also piss me off like nobody else. He’s not a complainer either, bless that man’s patience. He squeezes my hand tightly when we see families with their children. I’ll take all that over him saying the words “I love you.” I know he does.

    I pray the last words I ever say to him are “I love you.”

    • Kelli says...

      Wow, this is so beautiful.

  89. Emily says...

    I’m American and my husband is German and we’ve had a lot of funny cultural conversations about this.

    First of all, there are three different ways of expressing “I love you” in German:
    “Ich liebe dich” = I love you romantically
    “Ich hab dich lieb” = I’m fond of you
    “Ich mag dich” = I like you

    Americans hand out “I love you” like candy, and Germans keep it very close to the chest. His parents say they haven’t used “Ich liebe dich” in years, and his brother says he purposely holds back from saying it sometimes to his (also) American wife so the power of it isn’t diluted. My husband’s family were flabbergasted to hear that my mother tells him “I love you” like “ohmygod, how do you respond?” and he hilariously freezes everytime she does so.

    Also, somewhat sadly since we’ve been together, I now feel more awkward saying “I love you” to friends. But I do like being conscious of feeling it when I say it and not just having it be routine!

    And of course…love as an action > love as a feeling.

    • Neela says...

      That’s funny, I was just wondering about this situation. I’m an Australian who’s been living in Germany for 15 years, and reading this post, realised that my 3 german boyfriends (one of whom is now my husband) all said ‘ich liebe dich’ relatively soon. As in, within 3 months. My husband said it after we’d been on 3 dates. In a text. I wondered if Germans maybe say it quicker, but judging by your comment, I just had three similar love language types!

  90. The summer my new boyfriend and I started living together, I had just ended a long, bad marriage and had immediately done the wrong “rebound” things. I’d quickly begun dating a coworker, knowing he’d had several doomed relationships during the seven years we’d been friends. Then I moved in with him after a few months. (He had happily emptied an entire closet for me, so I suspected we had a future.) I loved him, but as time went by, neither of us said so. I was waiting for him. Finally, one day, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I said it. He didn’t say it back. But within the week, he surprised me with a pair of elegant French shoes he’d picked out by himself. I, being a jerk, said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept such an expensive gift from someone who doesn’t love me,” and I handed them back. A few quiet hours later, he came to me with the box and said he loved me. Then he told me he’d never said it to anyone before. He took the words very seriously; to him, they meant commitment. I was floored. I’d done all the wrong things and ended up with the right guy. We both say “I love you” all the time now, he even says it to our cats. And I still have those shoes, from 1994.

    • Audrey says...

      oh my gosh, this is so, so sweet I had to comment.

  91. Lisa says...

    Caroline, your writing is amazing. And you are clearly loved in your current set up, words be damned.

    I have never understood why there is such focus on a simple word. I have always felt that I have been loved before anyone put a label to it: by my family, my very closest friends, and my romantic loves. It’s very trite, but actions do speak louder.

  92. Maiz says...

    I think you’re friends might be asking, “Are you brave? Is he brave?” Knowing if you’ve put your heart out there with the possibility of rejection is one barometer that your friends can use to assess how you’re both feeling about the relationship. You have to be brave and feel safe enough to say it if the “I love you” milestone is meaningful to you.

    p.s. I love you, Caroline!

    • Michaela says...

      Oh, I love this interpretation! This is something I talk with my dating friends about a lot, the vulnerability aspect. I feel like they are constantly negotiating between opening themselves up in order to make a deeper connection, and deciding if they feel like there’s enough of a future with a particular person to share some of those more vulnerable spots. It’s scary even when you feel like you’re with someone who will show concern and care!

    • Maiz says...

      *your (jeez, I hate that!)

      Thanks, Michaela!

  93. Erica says...

    Well, I LOVE all your posts on CoJ, Caroline <3

  94. SarahN says...

    On our second date, we resorted to saying ‘you’re my favourite’ which, in these tinder days, seems like high praise.

    But love? Oh I could love this man. I’ve now had three dates. But, love to me means: someone I would die for. Someone I would jump to protect in a shoot out – which is weighty. It’s big. So I don’t say I love you without serious though.

    • My husband and I say that too! I find it incredibly romantic, because honestly, there are lots of people we both love and who love us. But we’re each other’s favorites. (And after we had a baby, who we both love a mind-boggling amount we would still remind each other that we were our favorites, though often with an addition like “you’re still my favorite because you haven’t peed on my only clean pair of pants.”)

  95. Lindsey Nicole Young says...

    This is lovely, and yes, love is a series of actions. To me, actions hold some much more weight.

    Also, you are a good friend, I likely would be have lost it if my friend kept asked the same prying thing over and over. I generally prefer to share things when I’m ready to.

  96. Kristie says...

    My husband and I met in high school, and it took a year of awkward exchanges to ease our shyness before we even started dating. We felt young and overwhelmed with saying our feelings, so we would say I like you, I like you so much… then he one day he said “I lovoke you” – a bridge between like and love. Then he would say to me “143”- the number of letters in the phrase I love you. Now we have been married almost 2 years, together for 11, and have a gorgeous almost one year old baby- he says I love you as often as he possibly can, in passing, in his sleep, in random voice messages, when ever. And he shows his love through every thing he does, from stocking up on my favourite tea to using our anniversary date for all his codes. I’m feeling all gushy now, I going to go tell him I love him and give him a big kiss.

  97. E says...

    I grew up in a home where my siblings and I were abused. We were constantly saying I love you to each other. I guess our life was hell so showing love wasn’t as accessible, but we could always tell each other. When I later met my husband, once I knew how I felt saying it was natural and easy for me. Not only easy but also somehow critical. Actions are sometimes limited. People make mistakes. Life can have really hard seasons. People can be fake and ill intended, but if someone looks you in the eye and gives you their love you know right away if you can trust it and if it’s real.
    My husband was initially much more inhibited, but ten years in it still means so much when he says he loves me. He shows me constantly, but there is something about that verbal affirmation that is so honest and direct. It speaks to the respect, loyalty, friendship, and goodness that are the essence of any caring relationship. It makes me feel loved but it is also stability to me. It’s the assurance that while life can sometimes be really ugly, if you have the lifeline of people who care about you there’s really nothing you can’t swim your way out of.

    • Caroline says...

      Yes. You said this so beautifully and perfectly. I feel like I cannot add to this sentimate any better than you had stated. Your words have touched me and touched the heart of the matter. I just had to say Yes.

      I had a similar sounding childhood and the words “I love you” did matter so much.
      Perhaps word of affirmation mean more to some more than others. But words are power and there is something magical about directly stating your heart to someone.

  98. Michaela says...

    My now-husband and I had been close friends for a few years, with our friendship slowly increasing in depth and momentum until suddenly I had what I thought was a hopeless, runaway crush on him. One (tipsy) night with my roommate, I gushed about how great he was, and thankfully he had already confessed to her that he was falling for me, too! When we finally agreed to take the chance on being more than just friends, I remember constantly feeling like a bottle of shook-up champagne. The joy of feeling so in sync with this person who already meant so much to me, the giddiness of getting to know him differently, the awkward delight of any new relationship—it felt barely containable to me. About two weeks in I started to wind myself up to drop the L-word, and he actually stopped me from saying it and told me that he wanted to wait and save it for a little while later because he wanted to treat it with more concern than he had in past relationships. I felt a little deflated, but I came to realize that what he was saying was that when he said “I love you,” he wanted it to be a promise. Somewhat ironically, we agreed shortly after that that we both felt strongly that we were on a trajectory to spend the rest of our lives together. Basically committing to marriage before we officially exchanged “I love you”s sounds funny, but then we knew exactly what the other person meant when we did say it.

    • “Like a bottle of shook up champagne” is my new favorite metaphor for falling in love. ❤️

  99. Joanna says...

    James Baldwin wrote “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” <3

    • Maria says...

      That is so beautiful!

  100. Annie says...

    For me, love evolves as a relationship evolves. When I was dating, I’d first say “I love you” when I felt so much affection and attraction that the phrase would just burst from me! It was exciting and giddy. Then as I got to know him on deeper levels “I love you” could grow to mean that I saw him and accepted him and was there for him. Only with my now husband did “I love you” grow to mean that I’ll love you forever and I’ll never leave you and I’ll have your babies and grow old and give up owning cats because you’re allergic.

    And as are together longer I’m sure our love will continue to evolve. And I really think that any love that you’re willing to give to someone and receive in return has so much value. Even if it’s a shallower love. Or a shorter love. Or a heartbreaking love. Or a forever ebb and flow love. They all teach us and grow us and add such gorgeous texture to life. ❤️

    • Neela says...

      Yes! I definitely agree. Well said.

  101. Sarah says...

    My husband and I had been dating, very casually, for a few weeks. We were hanging up a phone conversation and he said, “bye, I love you” reflexively and unintentionally. I could have been cool about it, but of course instead I was all, “WHAT? I COULDN’T HEAR YOU. COULD YOU REPEAT THAT PLEASE?” Hahahaha. I still giggle about it a decade later.

    • Sarah says...

      When my husband and I were dating, he, too, told me he loved me at the end of a phone conversation. (We had been dating 4 or 5 months at the time.) I replied, “I’m sorry. What?” He quietly repeated himself, which led me to awkwardly say, “Oh, okay. Thank you.” And then I promptly hung up the phone. Good grief. That was almost 20 years ago. I’m not nearly as paralyzed by the verbal expression of love now.

  102. Whitney Olson says...

    I’ve only said I love you to one love, my husband (family and and my children get it too now). My husband is a words guy though and he says it all. the. time. He has learned that while I am grateful he does love me, my love language is actions instead of words. Show me the love through everything that was stated in this article. People talk so much these days that it means very little to me. I like action. It is what makes change (for either good or bad).

  103. Lora says...

    I remember having a conversation with my mom sometime in my mid-twenties, distraught from a recent breakup and a general sense of hopelessness about romantic relationships. “What even is love?! I don’t even know!” She was quiet for a bit and said, “I don’t really know either. I know I enjoyed your dad, thought he was funny and kind and cute. But what I really liked was problem solving with him when difficult things came up. I liked the way he thought about things and he liked the way I thought through things, but we really liked thinking through things together. That was when I felt I loved him, when I knew I wanted to be with him forever.” I loved this pragmatic take on love – about finding the person that you enjoy who also helps you figure out the sticky, thorny parts of life with confidence and care.

    • Aideen says...

      I “love” this.

    • Nina says...

      That’s a wonderful story!

  104. shannon says...

    I’ve said it twice. Instance #1, I’d started dating someone I had been casual friends with for a couple years. He said it a month into dating, and I was completely blindsided! I didn’t say it back right away, and I felt pressured by him to respond, which was really uncomfortable. We broke up four months later.

    Instance #2: my husband. I said it first, but I was so nervous leading up to it. He knew I wanted to say it and volunteered to say it to me first so I could relax! I eventually got the words out and he said, “I love you too.” It was important to me to say it first after the disastrous first experience. Funny enough, he wasn’t even the first person I told that I loved him. I had blurted it out spontaneously the night before in a conversation with my roommate! That’s when I realized it was time to tell him.

  105. Anne says...

    I dated my now husband of ten years for three years before we got engaged. We never once said “I love you.” This was something we both chose to hold onto until we knew it was forever. We both believe love is a verb, and a choice. So when he proposed, I walked into the room, and not only did he get down on one knee, but he also said, “I love you.” It meant forever.

  106. Nic says...

    We had been friends forever and had sort of dated many people in between. For some reason whenever he got out of army, and on Christmas Eves and New Years Eves, and birthdays, we would always find ourselves spending these days with each other. He’s the sort of guy who never says much but made me laugh all the time. He could be so dense and daft and only hung out with the boys. And the thing that confused me the most was he used to call me “bro”. *eye roll”

    Finally one day, on a late Christmas Eve, I told him I couldn’t keep hanging out with him like that because I was comparing any guy I met to him, and everytime something good happened to me I’d want to tell him first instead of anyone else.

    So I said we’d have to stop hanging out like that and maybe just have a chat here and then. I didn’t know how much my heart would break as I said those words. But he started to cry. I’d never seen him cry in all those years and he sobbed and said he couldn’t do that and said if we can’t stay friends then we have to try “something more”.

    There were no “I love you”s or” will you be my girlfriend”. But whenever I was ill he would turn up with hot soup. When I had problems at home he would sit quietly with me. And he always reminded me to take my vitamins and cleared out all the old receipts in my messy bag.

    We’re married now with 2 little girls and he’s only recently learnt to say I love you to them. I tell them Papa may not say it often but they will know every single day his love runs pure and deep and strong.

  107. Sarah says...

    My boyfriend and I waited about a year to say it. At the 6 month mark he said “I think I’m falling in love with you” and 24 year old me ignored it, called my mom and exclaimed “he thinks?!” 6 months later he said it again and wondered why I never said it back 6 months previously. Clearly a miscommunication. But I never put too much emphasis on it. We were getting to know each other and growing and making memories and that was important enough. Ten years later we’re still together and have been through many moves and jobs and countries and say I love you and mean it every day. Now people constantly ask when we’re getting married. People LOVE to ask questions.

  108. Yael says...

    My now-husband said “I love you” about 6 weeks into our relationship. I didn’t say it back – I actually started having a panic attack instead! His steady patience and unflappableness in that moment are part of the ways that I knew he was (and is) for me,

  109. Carla says...

    For me hearing my husband say I love you is the same as receiving flowers. It’s not necessary but will be very much appreciated. His other gestures are already proofs of his love. He works abroad, away from us most of the year. I’m not a good cook, so I don’t but he does when he’s home. He takes the kids on a stroll so I can rest and they can have quality time together. And NEVER did he ever said no to any of my interests. When I took on mountain climbing, he supported me and listed all the things that I would need. He even bought me shoes! When I told him I wanted to take up swimming lessons, he said yes then asked me to also enroll our son.

  110. Cara says...

    After we’d only been dating a few weeks, my now husband said “I really want to say a word that starts with L to you.” And I said “No! You can’t say that yet! We don’t even know each other.” A few days later, when we were saying goodbye, he was holding my arms and looking at me. He started blinking violently. I said “Why are you blinking like that?” “I’m saying ‘I love you’ with my eyes.” I laughed and blinked back. Even today he’ll sometimes start blinking at me like that when we catch eyes across the room or when we’re having a quiet moment. It’s our secret eye language.

    • Nic says...

      This is perfect.

  111. hali says...

    This is such a brilliant question! I think most people look back on the early days of their relationship and grin about how cute, bright and shiny their fledgling love was. But obviously, the first declaration (or first 20 declarations) of love are LOT more heady and significant than probably 95% of the remaining times the phrase will ever be said between two people.

    Ten years ago, saying “I love you” to my boyfriend was kind of sacred- it was a wild promise of commitment and romance. I didn’t say it often, but man did I mean sincere vulnerability and infatuation when I did. Now the phrase “I love you” it could mean anything from “you’re so gorgeous in the morning” to “you’re scooping the litter, not me” to “let’s talk about your goals! I’m here to witness you get through this difficult week” to “I picked up your favorite beer AND got us a new dish sponge.” – and then sometimes it’s super intense, like when he lost his mother and I knew my love for him took on a new capacity to help him heal.. and in that time the phrase went back to being a bit more sacred and nuanced.

    Personally, I think the space in a relationship BEFORE “I love you” is extremely precious. Once “I love you” is said, it’s hard to get more to-the-point about expressing your feelings towards someone. How cool it would be to hear my husband say “I love you” for the first time again. What a marvelous feeling it was to hear those words come out of his mouth- earlier than expected but not too early for comfort. I remember saying it back and being so freaked out… and then driving home on cloud nine. Of COURSE we loved each other!

    So happy to hear you’re in a relationship with someone who understands your language and who treats you so well! He’s a lucky man!!

    • Sarah says...

      This is the most perfect description of an evolving relationship with “I love you”. I wish I could have expressed it so perfectly! I’m copying and pasting this into my notes and showing friends :)

    • Emily says...

      Such a beautiful way to put it. Thank you for this!

  112. Chloe says...

    What does it mean when your husband does not say I Love You but your best guy friend does?

    • C says...

      I think what caroline was trying to say is that people have different love languages and different ways of showing love. Not *saying* I looove youg doesn’t mean the feeling is any less there. Perhaps a better question is what does that mean to you, and why do you feel that way? Is it something you can work on with your husband?

  113. t says...

    I feel like boyfriend is going to read this and say “babe, I love you too”

  114. Carrie says...

    I never put much thought into what love means, it’s just something I feel. However, I do know that I give my love through acts of service. It’s my most fulfilling way to express my love. My husband’s never ending gentle patience and tenderness for me is how I feel most loved from him. I’m not sure which love language that would be, but it’s truly magical to live in daily. Together our shared love language is touch and we can cuddle down like no one’s business. Oxytocin overload

  115. E says...

    Please forgive the length of my comment… I’m not sure my answer would make much sense without it all.

    Met my boyfriend freshman year of college in the dining hall following a late night football game. He was dressed in a banana suit, his friend in a gorilla suit. Several days later, I walked out of a class and he spotted me as he played soccer on the quad and asked for my #. To this day, his name remains PJ Banana in my phone.

    He hinted that he’d like to be more than friends, but I had just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship, so we remained friends and met often for lunch. Fast forward to last night on campus before summer, me a bit drunk. He called to see if he could come say bye before leaving for NY the next day. Call it liquid courage… I ended up initiating a kiss goodbye.

    It was clear we had feelings for each other, but avoided discussing exclusivity given he was in NY, me at Pitt. Several weeks of summer in, he let me know that he drunkenly kissed a girl at a concert and wanted to be honest. I was hurt (the last bf was a serial liar/cheater), yet didn’t know if I had a “right” to be, he closed off, hurt changed to bitterness, and we came to an abrupt end.

    Toward the end of summer, I was walking home from campus with a friend (I stayed at Pitt to work), and as we waited at an intersection, I had a moment of pure clarity and assuredness that overtook me… I was meant to end up with PJ someday. He would be the one to redefine love and loyalty for me so drastically, and he’d restore my ability to trust. I was very confused by this experience, so I chalked it up to exhaustion and moved on.

    First week back sophomore year, run into PJ on campus, he awkwardly asked to get lunch and catch up, I reluctantly agreed. At lunch I proceeded to unleash my anger, told him off for going silent that summer. He seemed unphased. I left.

    Later that night he showed up at my house, visibly uncomfortable. He toldme that he knows we’ve never really dated and have only shared a kiss, and that he’s probably insane, but can’t shake the need to tell me that he loves me. I told him that I love him too, and we’ve been together for over 6 years. I have never experienced anything remotely similar to the moment I had at that intersection. I still struggle to describe what it felt like… Destiny or fate are too uncertain. I knew that he was and would always be my person more deeply than I knew the sun would rise every morning. I have an awful memory, but I am able to fully transport myself back to that intersection, sun on my face, overcome with clarity. For me, love is clarity. It’s “knowing.” It’s restorative. It’s not even a feeling… It’s something that we have, are bound by, and it will never go away. There have been several times we’ve talked about and laughed at the absurdity of the day we said I love you. We’ve tried to justify it… disprove it… apply any sort of reason. No such luck. Love just was, is, and will be.

    • Maria says...

      Wow. Great story! Those flashes of insight are so powerful and we should all strive to cultivate that dialogue with our intuition, higher self, or whatever else it can be called.

    • Meg says...

      wow this is beautiful. “love it just was, is, and will be.” <3

    • Claire says...

      Thank you for sharing this story- it is a gem. I am fascinated by your moment at the intersection, and all of the rest of the story too.

  116. Jenn says...

    My husband gives me emotional security. I’ve never felt insecure with him – not since day one – and I know I never will. He has no romance in him. After proposing, he said “now hurry up and call your parents so we can go to bed”. Bwahaha – I wouldn’t have him any other way!

    • Anne says...

      OMG totally relate. My husband will do dishes, watch the kids while I nap and supports me fully emotionally. But there are no sonnets, candle lit dinners or flowers. And I’ve never felt more satisfied.

  117. Michelle says...

    What a wonderful, thoughtful post! May I just say that I am so pleased I’m not the only one who finds “I think I might be falling in love with you” to be a complete waste of words! It’s meaningless; it’s basically the equivalent of saying, “I don’t hate you.”

    • Jenny says...

      I know! Fish or cut bait!

  118. Savitha Moorthy says...

    Great essay! Today is Mr. Rogers’ birthday, and it seems appropriate to share something he said about love: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like “struggle.” To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

    • Rae says...

      Oh, lovely Mr. Rogers. Thank you for sharing Savitha. His background as a minister informs this definition I think as this is how we discuss love at church–and I imagine would be similar in many faiths.
      I teach Sunday School and the children often struggle with the idea that God loves everyone & asks them to love everyone as well (everyone!) I discuss with them the difference between loving someone and liking someone. To love someone means to see their humanity and accept them as there. It is balanced by love for ourselves and accepting ourselves as we are. Sometimes a real struggle as Mr. Rogers says!

    • Charlie says...

      Thanks for this! Mr. Rogers ws so full of love and wisdom and goodness. He’s a true example of love.

  119. EmilyR says...

    Unconditional acceptance. My husband of 26 years and I dated for 3 years before getting married, and he never once tried to change anything about me. (Nor I, him, for that matter). He’s my guy, flaws and all, and I feel so very known by him. In my life, it’s very unusual to be completely accepted for myself. I feel very lucky.

  120. Lisa says...

    What you’re describing, feeling loved and being treated as someone who is deeply loved – I agree is more important than words that can (and have) been devalued. That being said, the first time my husband said it it was magical. In the weeks before he said it consciously, he had mumbled it in his sleep. I then remember it like it was yesterday – we had had a wonderful night out for my birthday and he took me home. He held my face in his hands and said “I love you”. I said it back straight away, because I just couldn’t contain it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Mumbled in his sleep! So romantic!

  121. Calla says...

    What a thoughtful essay and discussion! I never really thought about it this way. My current boyfriend is the only partner I have ever heard it from (after dating for 6 months), and like several other commenters here, I wasn’t really bothered by it. It was so clear from his actions that I didn’t really worry about. ALTHOUGH I was still too proud to say it first and had to bite my tongue several times when he did something so spontaneous and adorable and so HIM that it almost slipped out. When we finally did say it, it turned out he had been holding it back too.

  122. MM says...

    As always… A fire post.
    This is giving me comfort and perspective as it relates to something I am going through.
    Thank-you Caroline.
    I can read your writing all day long!

    • Maggie says...

      I agree, it resonated with me so deeply because it’s a beautiful perspective I hadn’t considered relating to my present situation. My words too are THANK YOU Caroline!

  123. Em says...

    This sounds like a discussion about the five love languages to me! This title may sound fad-ish, but time and time again in my life (in romantic and platonic relationships) I find that being mindful of love languages – the different ways myself and my loved ones express love – can solve many an otherwise frustrating or beguiling miscommunication or misunderstanding.
    In short, here are the five:
    1. Words of affirmation;
    2. Quality time;
    3. Gifts/tokens;
    4. Acts of service; and
    5. Physical touch
    For those who don’t immediate recognize their top one or two from just reading the list (and note that how we express love ourselves vs. how we receive it can be different), there are many a fun test online that will *reveal all* — but the true value of considering these languages is to remember that expression of love, care, and affection comes in many different forms and that, while it is important to know one’s own (and make it clear to those you love), it is also important to remember and appreciate “to each their own”. E.g., Caroline, it sounds like acts of service and/or quality time are above and beyond words of affirmation, but that your friends may focus more on words than other areas.
    All in all the idea is simple but (at least in my experience) can make an astonishing difference in ease and appreciation in my relationships 😊

  124. Isobel Ingram says...

    Surely ‘I love you’ will always and forever mean someone is dancing around with a turkey stuck on their head?!

    I do enjoy the way you write xx

    • Nina says...

      The only acceptable way of telling someone you love them

    • Kira says...

      Best ‘Friends’ reference I think maybe ever.

  125. Emily says...

    I’ve said it to one person after a year (but it stuck)

  126. Jeanne says...

    I think when people ask if you (or anyone) has said it is because it’s easier than asking all those more detailed, and special to each person, questions.
    I said it to the last boyfriend I had before I met my husband and he did not reciprocate – as his definition is that love means you feel like you can’t breathe without the other person. And he did not feel that way about me (and perhaps tellingly, he is still single 16 years later).
    Two songs come to mind on this topic: More Than Words by Extreme and If I Only Had the Words by Billy Joel.

  127. Macy says...

    I found myself really struggling with this when my now husband and I first started dating. He told me very early on in the relationship- he just blurted it out after a very sarcastic question on my part. Then the ball was in my court… but What WAS love? What did it mean when I said it? Fast forward a few months (after I had interrogated all my girlfriends about it), and he was packing a truck to move me and all of my belongings in the absolute pouring rain. He looked over and realized I had no raincoat since all of my belongings were packed somewhere in the truck. He raced off into his house, and when he reappeared with a raincoat for me, it clicked, and I told him I loved him. Cue *movie-kiss-in-rain-scene.* Still melts my heart to think about it.

    • Liv says...

      Macy, this is the sweetest story.

  128. AJ says...

    Dating my now husband was the only time in an early relationship when I wasn’t quietly eager to hear “I love you.” I’m sure it’s because I was was confident it would come; he’d already been demonstrating it in hundreds of non romantic, but still loving gestures like creating a detailed spreadsheet of my future expenses before I moved cross country, and secretly photographing me as I slept using my hair as an eye mask. He was the first person who was 100% all in so I didn’t feel like I needed a spoken affirmation. One day we were at a Ross Dress For Less and he was using me as a human clothing rack when it accidentally slipped out. I followed him around with a giant grin on my face, teasing him “Did you just say you love me? You looooove me! You love me! You said it!” Having those words fall from his mouth unbidden made them much more authentic.

  129. Caitlin says...

    Whenever I come across quotes I REALLY love (with many found on this site!) I file them away in my email. I found this a few years ago and still think it’s the best summation of love I’ve read, from “Pine Island Paradox” by Kathleen Moore:

    “To love – a person and a place – means at least this:
    Number One: To want to be near it, physically.
    Number Two: To want to know everything about it – its story, its moods, what it looks like by moonlight.
    Number Three: To rejoice in the fact of it.
    Number Four: To fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries.
    Number Five: To protect it – fiercely, mindlessly, futilely, and maybe tragically, but to be helpless to do otherwise.
    Number Six: To be transformed in its presence – lifted, lighter on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new.
    Number Seven: To want to be joined with it, taken in by it, lost in it.
    Number Eight: To want the best for it.
    Number Nine: Desperately.

    I know there’s something important missing from my list, but I’m struggling to put it into words. Loving isn’t just a state of being, it’s a way of acting in the world. Love isn’t a sort of bliss, it’s a kind of work. To love a person is to act lovingly toward him, to make his needs my own. To love a place is to care for it, to keep it healthy, to attend to its needs. Obligation grows from love. It is the natural shape of caring.

    Number ten, I write in my notebook: To love a person or a place is to take responsibility for its well-being.”

    Makes my heart ache every time I read it.

    • Lana says...

      thank you so much for sharing this!

    • Ashley Robin says...

      Beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

    • so beautiful.

  130. Molly says...

    I think “love” is a verb. And it sounds like he is loving you very well, which carries far more weight than saying it. I’ve been married for 13 years. When we say “love you” it doesn’t mean a ton 90% of the time. But what he does for me, how he loves me, offers the best rest and security that I think is possible this side of heaven.

  131. Natasha says...

    Usually guys waited to drop the “Love” bomb on me until I was trying to break up with them. My (now) fiancé told me he loved me after two weeks of dating. I didn’t say it back until later that day (after I had savored it for a bit). I knew it was real because it was easy to believe and we say it about 100 times a day to each other now with no regrets or loss of meaning. To each her own :)

  132. Kate says...

    It seems especially appropriate to post this on Mr. Rogers birthday, but many years ago, I saw a video of him testifying in front of congress to get funding for PBS and he explains, “I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.'” (Here’s the video, it is amazing: https://youtu.be/J9uIJ-o2yqQ)

    And honestly, An Expression of Care is the closest thing that I’ve gotten to understanding love and showing love. I just love it. It’s been especially helpful with my romantic relationship. I tell my boyfriend that I love him, and I do think those words are important, but I also say and do things for him every day that I know will make him happy, will make him feel seen and valued. I honor who he is and I show him I love who he is. aka An Expression of Care ala Mr. Rogers

  133. Renee says...

    oh this conversation, i’ve been dating someone 6-ish months and we still haven’t said it to each other yet, but we certainly feel it. i think we are love cynics a little so trying to be more conservative about it, and are nervous to be that vulnerable. while watching tv we were scratching phrases into each others backs and guessing the letters/phrase (like you would do in elementary school) i wrote “i heart you”, and he said “heart means love!! heart means love!!” we had a good laugh. we’ve also been saying, “i like you 9” (like a 9 on a scale of 1-10, 10 being love) Anyway like the author says, it’s about how you feel, I feel very loved, and maybe soon I’ll be ready to say it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, renee, this is really cute :)

  134. Sarah says...

    I am such a big believer in the Five Love Languages. I am totally ‘Words of Affirmation’: I need to hear the words from my husband about how he feels about me. My secondary language is ‘Physical Touch.’ I love to cuddle; it makes me feel loved and safe. Of course, he is the exact opposite. He is an ‘Acts of Service’ followed by ‘Gifts.’ So love in our house looks like this:

    Me: [laying on the couch not doing anything] “Have I told you how much I love you and how wonderful I think you are? Because you are. I think I fall in love with you a little more each and every day.”
    Him: [setting the coffee for the morning so I can be a functioning human being and putting on shoes to take out our dog in 12 degree weather] “Uh huh.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!!!! it’s fascinating to learn about them.

    • Emily says...

      LOL this is my relationship too.
      Me: I love you I love you I love you
      Him: Cleaning up after dinner

    • FGB says...

      My husband and I were in couples therapy and we learned about Love Languages. I said “He tells me how beautiful I am and how much he loves me all. the. time. What I really need him to do is help out with dinner and grate some cheese!” My husband was floored. He had no idea how much grating cheese meant to me. Now, we have an over abundance of grated cheese all the time!

    • J. says...

      ^ @FGB – Cheese of all kinds is definitely a love language!

      The love language quiz really helped our relationship! It is so eye-opening.

    • Lisa says...

      Wait, so do you guys make it work by you also doing lots of acts of service for him and him telling you how wonderful you are? I’m confused. In my house the dynamic is the opposite, where I’m the one who is Acts of Service, but that means him laying on the couch not doing anything while I do so much makes me nuts and the “uh huh” is an annoyed “uh huh”. ??

    • FGB says...

      J – haha! Lisa – So, the way it works for us (and I’m no expert, this is just my understanding of love languages)….I feel loved when I receive Acts of Service, “you mopped the floor! You changed the light bulbs!” I feel so loved. That’s also how I naturally show love. So, I do something nice for you (I make you dinner every night), you must know I love you, why else would I spend my time and energy doing that. My husbands love language is Words of Affirmation, so him telling me I’m amazing was his way of expressing love (while I wanted to kill him. I know I’m awesome. Just. Grate. The cheese. and help a girl out). Now, I make an effort to use his love language by telling him vocally when he does something I appreciate and he makes an effort to do little things that really help me out and make me feel loved. Once we understood that, and cared enough to put it into practice, it made a huge difference. Really, a game changer for us!

    • Danielle says...

      Same! Taking the quiz was really eye opening and even though we joke about it it was so valuable. It makes so many things make sense. I slip easily into acts of service too so that does make things easier (and leaves us with a very tidy house, ha!).

  135. J. says...

    When we had been dating about 4 months there were two instances over the course of a few days where my boyfriend and I hadn’t heard from each other for an unusual amount of time and got very worried.

    He wrote to me from his work email address by mistake and then left work, and I replied not realizing he wouldn’t see until work the next day, so he freaked out that I wasn’t replying. And in my case he was supposed to call me one night but was slammed with a bunch of work and accidentally crashed when he got home.

    In both cases we weren’t angry at the other person, just super scared something bad had happened and then so relieved when things got straightened out! He told me a few days later that he realized then that he loved me – when he was THAT shaken up by not hearing from me.

    Now that we are 3.5 years in we say it fairly often but not every day and I probably say it more. But I definitely feel loved. When we can’t find a parking spot on our street he drops me off at our door so I won’t have to walk…that always feels like a loving gesture to me. There are more but that one always comes to mind!

  136. E says...

    Being on the same page about what “I love you” meant for our relationship was really helpful before/as I was falling in love with my husband. We explicitly agreed not too far into dating that for us “I love you” meant “I want to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you.” Having it mean that much really took the pressure off of wondering when we would say it for the first time, and made it not a huge deal when my husband said it first and I wasn’t quite there yet.

  137. H. says...

    I’ve been dating my current boyfriend for about four and a half months, and neither of us has said it, and I’ve been wondering if that’s a red flag, and basically… This article is exactly what I’ve needed (and I’m so eager to read everyone’s comments and see the variety of experiences, which will inevitably make me feel like I’m FINE, I’m guessing?). Thank you!

    • Calla says...

      If you are happy and feel supported I think you’re fine. Four and a half months doesn’t sound like too long to me, and it will probably feel even more meaningful when it does come!

    • Meredith says...

      Y’all, believe it or not, my husband and I never once uttered the L word the whole time we were dating! We had already discussed and decided together that we were going to get married and then had a (comically awkward) conversation about being able to start saying “I love you.” To be fair, I felt so so much more deeply loved by him without ever hearing it than I had felt in a previous relationship with someone who said it A LOT. Don’t listen to what people say without watching how they act!

  138. Denise says...

    I declare my love for doughnuts regularly but almost never declare love to people. I show people I love them by all the ways you described in your post and more. I think the declaration is generally a positive, though. It’s nice to know someone likes you like sugar or doughnuts or coffee or whatever but only time and actions really show how a person really feels for another.

  139. Anon says...

    Mine blurted out “I love you (my name)” after 5 days of dating. Then he got flustered and tried to switch the subject to the Phillies’ lineup. I said, “Did you just say, I love you?” and he said “Yeah, you love me too, right?” He’s usually the calmer one in the relationship so I found it very charming.

    • anon says...

      <3

    • Lisa says...

      As a Philadelphian, I love this so much. (In a different way then I love very special people in my life, but I truly love it nonetheless.)

  140. Emma says...

    The longer I’ve been with my husband, the less satisfied I am with the word “love” because how can one word be enough, ya know? How can one word be enough to convey the breath and depth of my feelings about this person who has completely changed my life for the better in just about every way? It isn’t. It never can be. But it’s all there is.

    • Sarah says...

      <3

  141. Hmm what a great question. I think to me, it means this feeling of comfort. All the ways you described your relationship is how I view love. I also think loving someone and being “in love” with someone are two different things. Now that I have children, love has also taken on a whole other meaning. Love when it comes to my kids is awe, awe that I made these tiny humans and am now responsible for them. And awe at how much they learn and grow and change. And awe at how deep and unconditional that love for them is. You may not have said those words yet, but honestly they’re just words. It seems like your heart already knows how you feel :)

  142. Connie says...

    I think you’re right on point. I cannot WAIT to read the comments round here. :)
    I think love is mattering in one’s heart/mind/person deep enough to resonate. When you love someone/something you will make space inside yourself and in your life for that person/thing. Rob Bell’s “ZimZum of Love” really does a beautiful job explaining it.
    That being said, I never said it in any of my relationships prior than the one I had with my husband. But he and I said “I love you” as friends fairly early, and later, when we realized that there were romantic feelings building in our friendship and we began dating, we were kind of already saying “I love you” regularly…so we just kept saying it, and what that phrase meant just got bigger and wider.

    • JZ says...

      I love this: “what that phase meant just got bigger and wider.” Two years married / 5.5 years together, and it now seems like the “love” we shared after a couple months of dating was just a speck of a thing compared to the size of our feelings now. I can only hope our love keeps getting bigger and wider over the years.

  143. Taylor says...

    My fiance told me he loved me while I was walking out of the bathroom peeling off my tights. We’d been dating a month and I was a recovering love-cynic who didn’t know this kind of love was possible, this easy, and it really freaked me out. I immediately walked over to my bar cart and poured myself a large glass of the only liquor I had, a christmas-y allspice rum. After digesting the rum and declaration of rum I told him I loved him too. Now one of our wedding cocktails is going to have the rum in it :)