No More “I Love You’s”

Artwork by Banksy
This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but “I love you” is said too often and too casually in our culture.  A powerful phrase is becoming meaningless because of overuse and laziness.

On the first episode of the sixth season of Mad Men, the creative team is trying to come up with a campaign for a “No Fumes” oven cleaner.  The tagline is “Love is in the air.”  Don Draper, the creative director, is going over the copy for the campaign:

Don Draper:  Why do they all have ‘love’ in them?

Female copywriter:  They asked for it.

Draper:  It’s a big word.

Male copywriter:  I guess they heard it on the news.

(Don looks at the mock-up ad.  It features a newlywed couple coming home from their honeymoon and entering their kitchen)

Draper:  What the hell is this?

Female copywriter:  They’re newlyweds.

Draper:  This couple doesn’t exist.  Anything matrimonial feels Paleolithic.

Female copywriter:  What are you suggesting?  A little Haight-Ashbury colonial?

Male copywriter:  A couple of longhairs in love?  That’ll get Dow going.

Draper:  As much as I’d like to join all the ads making fun of the ubiquitous San Francisco hippie, let’s try to trade on the word “love” as something substantial.

Female copywriter:  I don’t think that’s possible in this context.

Draper:  So why are we contributing to the trivialization of the word?  It doesn’t belong in the kitchen.  “I love this.”  “I love my oven.”  “You know what I’d love?  I’d love a hamburger.”

We’re wearing it out.  Let’s leave it where we want it.  We want that electric jolt to the body. We want Eros.  It’s like a drug. It’s not domestic.

What’s the difference between a husband knocking on a door and a sailor getting off a ship?  About 10,000 volts.

If an empty advertising man, who will use the sacred to sell anything and claims to have invented the idea of romantic love to sell nylons, says using the word love too often will “wear it out”, then maybe we should examine using the phrase “I love you” too often as a substitute for feeling and demonstrating the real thing.

Ad men value and appreciate the power of the word “love” to sell things, so much so that using it too much while selling those things trivializes the word.  And thereby diminishes their ability to make an impact and make sales.

Shouldn’t we value the word “love” just as much?  Yes, hearing “I love you” in any context is nice to hear.  It’s better than “You suck”.  But, to use the words to say farewell, out of fear, out of obligation, or because you didn’t hear it as a child, and not because you genuinely feel love trivializes the words. Love shouldn’t just be part of a valediction, have an agenda, or be connected in any way with fear or obligation.

“I love you” is becoming just words.  Hollow words.  This saying “I love you” as part of every encounter you have with a loved one business started because most of us grew up never hearing the words from our parents and vowed to rectify the situation by always saying them to our children. There are rules about when “I love you” should and shouldn’t be said in romantic relationships and what it means if one partner doesn’t say those words when the other one has. Some people don’t even bother to say “I” or “you”.  Just “love ya”.

I get it.  Some people need to say and hear those words in order to demonstrate love and feel loved.  It’s part of their love language.  I respect that.

But while hearing “I love you” is lovely, it isn’t real love.  Words, no matter how often they’re spoken, are still just words.  You don’t love someone more because you say “I love you” more.   Doesn’t everyone want to feel the real thing?

My 10-year-old niece, Blair, has two parents who say “I love you” to her often and she rarely says it in return and she is one of the most loving and lovely people I’ve ever known.  Loving — that’s what’s important.  We focus on the words, like we focus on money, when the words and money are just symbols.  Saying “I love you” does not make real love and having a lot of money does not make real wealth.

You know what kids need more than “I love you’s”?  Parents who are present, who see them, who light up when their kids enter a room.

You know what I’d rather have than a 1000 texted “I love you’s” in a relationship?  Being loved, where love is a verb.  Loving makes love, as Tom Robbins wrote, not saying the word “love”.

I love words.  I was thinking about how important words are when I got the idea to write this post. Words mean a lot to me.  The words I Love You are among the most significant words you can utter in your lifetime.  Life as a human being is all about relationships and hearing and saying  “I love you” should be meaningful.  Hearing those words should hit you like an electric bolt.  No, feeling love should.  This can only happen when you don’t hear “I love you” 50 times a day.

The most touching moments in any story are not when the lovers say “I love you” but when you know they love each other and they don’t say it.  It’s easier to use the trite “I love you” than it is create an affecting story that reminds the audience what love feels like.  It’s difficult and complicated.  Love is difficult and complicated.  It’s difficult to communicate your loving feelings in a genuine way, but doing the difficult, genuine thing is worth it.  Saying or writing “I love you” repeatedly is a quick and cheap substitute.

I’m not cold-hearted or unsentimental (Although hearing “I love you” all the time leaves me cold).  I just think special things should be treated specially and carefully.  I shouldn’t wince when I hear those three words or not notice when they’re being said because they’re always being said.

Say it only when you mean it so it means something.

Do something loving as much as possible.


9 thoughts on “No More “I Love You’s”

  1. I think it depends on your love language. For me Words of Affirmation are high up, and (SINCERE) compliments that I’m loved and beautiful mean the world to me. It sounds like Acts of Service are higher up for you. Good post btw


    1. You’re right — I believe in acts of service over words of affirmation. I know how people feel without needing to hear it. I completely understand that others need to hear those words. I think sincerity is more important than the words.


  2. This is very interesting. I truly believe the same.

    I am from a culture where our parents never said ” I love you.” Our parents did not interact with us as we have done with our kids but we knew we were loved deeply. Our parents did not cook for us, asked us what we liked or not. We had servants who took care of our needs. In the 70′s when I moved to Canada & then to the States I was told my husband and I never demonstrative our love. We never kissed in public or said “I love you” to each other. When we had our son & our daughter our Psychologist friend said I was making a mistake not saying ” I love you”. I added ” I love you” in my vocabulary along with all that we did for our kids. We interacted with our kids from the time they woke up & went to bed. We took them to museums, to Europe & Asia. They played every sports, did ballet, music you name it my two kid did. We were involved with them yet kept our distance from becoming helicopter parents either. Our kids were beautiful children we love them so very much. We paid for there school, university & grad school. They had a car, insurance & gas paid for because we truly, truly loved them not any less or more than our parents did with out adding ” I love you.” Not any less then they will love there children. We are marred happily since 46 years. We have not cheated on each other yes we bicker & yes we love each other unconditionally like we love our adult children.

    Yes, I believe ” I love you ” is an empty word in today’s contex. Sue could be madly in love & tells her parents no one can love her as much as her boyfriend of few weeks. A week later he is cheating on her & she has done the same but she loves him never the same & replaced this love repeatedly like a box of Kleenex. Sue can hug a total strange and say ” I love you.”

    This same Sue has no idea how much we as parents Love her. Maybe she never will. Her Shrink has labeled her as bipolar because of ” past traumas” she must have or her forefathers may have suffered trauma. She has been told to cut off relationship with her parents who love her unconditional. She believes in living for “Now” the past is to painful to remember because in her lunch box I gave her raisins & nuts when others packet store bought chocolate cookies & she felt so embarrassed. Or I wore Tivas when other moms wore sneakers I have an accent! Sue is 42 years old a grad student.

    Note: My Psychologist friend has had two failed marriages, three live in boyfriends. She use beat up her kids with wire hangers. Once drove the car with her kid clinging on. The neighbor had to call for an ambulance. The scrap knee needed grafting. Yes, she still counseling! but the cherry on top she preaches ” cut off ” & live for ” Now.”This is very interesting. I truly believe the same.


    1. Wow, that’s a lot to absorb. Thank you for sharing it. I think what I’m getting from your story/comment is that you can tell your kids “I love you” all the time and give them everything they want and need and they may not feel loved. Love is really complicated.


  3. I agree. I don’t like very casual use of “I love you”, but I think that children can never hear those words enough – as long as they are genuine and sincere. Kids are smart cookies, and they know if your words are matching your tone of voice and body-language. I say it to my kids a lot, because I love them a lot! But, I also show them loving, too – it isn’t just empty words for me. I say it randomly – when their smile is particularly beautiful, or if they are giving me a hug. I don’t like this whole “love you” instead of goodbye at the end of a telephone call, either!


    1. Part of me agrees with you that saying “I love you” as much as possible to kids cannot be a bad thing. And yet when I think about what I would do if I had kids, I probably wouldn’t say it all the time. It’s just not my style or in my nature. My niece Blair never says those words to me and I never say them to her but I think we both know how the other feels. I hope so at least.


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