The Powerful Difference Between “I Love You” And “Love You”

Luscombe is an editor-at-large at và the author of Marriageology: The Art & Science of Staying Together.

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I Love You is the title of at least 47 songs, 15 albums và 13 movies in the English-language canon. We say and hear it all the — even if it isn’t directed at anyone in particular. The phrase, or a version thereof, adorns items as tiny as guitar picks & large as bags of dog kibble. Và we get so close khổng lồ saying it so often! We love Rihanna and Ruth Bader Ginsburg & even Vin Diesel. So much. Yet when it comes khổng lồ actually speaking the words out loud, lớn another person, whose face we can actually see, people can get squeamish.

Why is that? put the question lớn some therapists that we — well, that some might say we like very, very much. Here are some of their theories, & their advice.

Because it really is complicated nowadays

Psychologists have observed that modern relationships bởi vì not follow the bản đồ that used to help people guide their way khổng lồ commitment. People used lớn meet, go out on a few dates, decide not to lớn date anyone else, learn to lớn trust each other, fall in love, say Those Three Words and then either officially partner up and maybe marry, or break up và fall into a deep funk before starting the process all over again. The relationships were more or less linear.

Now, ambiguity is the thing. As a result, people aren’t sure what their relationships are, let alone whether they will last. Maybe you hang out with someone, and perhaps you hook up with them a couple of buygenericlist.coms, but you don’t want khổng lồ put a name on it — và there are reasons for this. “I think the ambiguity is motivated,” says Scott Stanley, a research professor in Psychology at the University of Denver. “Simply put, If I don’t make it really clear what I want, I cannot be rejected as deeply. Ambiguity feels protective.” He points to lớn the rise in cohabitation as the ground zero ambiguous relationship: Hey, we’re planning a future together, but that future could be temporary.

Uncertainty makes people feel vulnerable, but it also gives them power. According lớn the mating theory known as the principle of least interest, the person who expresses more ambivalence about the relationship has the most power, because it means the other person has to lớn be the one who does the pursuing.

Once someone has said I love you, they can’t unsay it. They’ve made a declaration as to what camp they’re in, whether their love interest feels the same way or not. For some folks, it feels lượt thích diving off the high board, naked, in front of the entire school (or office). Maybe it leads to glory, maybe you belly-flop.

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Because of the ’80s

You can say I love you at any age to any friend/parent/child/pet, but the classic ILY is to a lover. Some psychologists believe that this generation’s belief in that particular relationship has been rocked because their parents were among the generation with the highest rate of divorce, which peaked in the mid-’80s in the U.S. They don’t want khổng lồ go through that trauma again, and they may be still dealing with its emotional aftermath. Plus, they may question their feelings. “People find it more difficult to recognize the signs of a healthy relationship,” says Victor Harris, associate professor of Family, Youth và Community Sciences at the University of Florida, because they haven’t seen so many around them. “They don’t have a sense of the red flags they ought to lớn be watching out for.”

Partly to lớn inoculate themselves against a relationship going sour, couples are marrying later (28 for women & 30 for men in the U.S.), living together first & using algorithms to increase their chances of finding The Right One. Và to provide a bulwark against the ill effects of a breakup, they’re showing more interest in prenups, investing in education & working long hours khổng lồ make sure they can be independent.

Saying I love you khổng lồ someone is throwing such caution lớn the winds. It’s committing to lớn something that might not work out in the long run. A new, non-peer-reviewed but plausible study from suggests that about a third of people between 26 & 40 who are living with their parents are doing so because of love gone wrong. (An earlier study from the Max Planck institute also hinted at this.) For these folks, a declaration of love can seem more like diving off a high bridge, when you’re not sure what’s in the water below.

Because of 30-day returns

All right, maybe not exactly because of 30-day returns, but because of the indecision that makes that practice necessary — and also encourages it. There’s a theory of consumer behavior known as “choice overload,” which suggests that when people have too much choice, the mental effort required to select the exact right option is so great, that they shy away from it altogether. People who are seeking mates in the current era are presented with so many options, the FOMO can be chronic. What if you commit to lớn Gregory Peck & then Cary Grant swipes right? (Look ’em up, younglings!)

People don’t want lớn choose wrong, so they delay making any decision. Saying I love you lớn one potential mate means you cannot say it khổng lồ another. (Or if you do, you’ve misunderstood the terms of the deal.) “There is no decision without loss,” says psychologist Stan Tatkin, tác giả of We Do: Saying Yes khổng lồ a Relationship of Depth, True Connection và Enduring Love. “When you declare something about yourself to the other person, it makes real. It has somatic effect. It’s who you are.” This one is lượt thích not being able to decide which is the best diving spot, so you never dive at all.

Because of the I love over-you-ser

There’s always that one exception, the person who says I love you on the third date, or all the, or khổng lồ everyone. The person who says it when they can’t possibly mean it, right? Then there’s the one who turns around & behaves in a way that suggests the complete opposite. “Be very very afraid of that person,” says Tatkin. If people encounter such a person in a partner, sibling, parent or friend, it can make them allergic to those words. Just as parents can’t name their child after someone they hated at school, nobody wants to lớn be associated with a phrase that once brought them pain, fear, repulsion or some combination of the three. This is lượt thích deciding not to lớn dive because you have a morbid fear of water.

Because we haven’t listened to lớn this advice

If you’re having trouble saying I love you, there are some workarounds. “Well, you can go into analysis for đôi mươi years,” jokes Tatkin, “or you can just say it.” The key, say therapists, is lớn tell someone you love them without needing a particular response from them, but just because it’s true. You’re making a statement about yourself và your feelings, and that has benefits purely in terms of identity and emotional health. “Every you you strengthen your sense of self,” says Tatkin. “That’s what people don’t understand.”

It also helps khổng lồ realize that humans have a need to lớn love, therapists say, & to avoid meeting that need is lớn eliminate a key part of your humanity. Homo sapiens are herd animals who pair bond. So while it’s risky & dangerous to trust someone with such information (see: principle of least interest, above), it’s also one of the most exhilarating parts of belonging to lớn the species.

“Just be honest và open,” says Harris. “Say ‘This is how I feel; you may not be there yet,’ và if you can trust that that person will safeguard your feelings, that’s a good thing.” There are limits, though. Don’t waste it. Don’t say it khổng lồ get someone khổng lồ sleep with you or to lớn ward someone off from another suitor. Make sure it’s earned.

It might also help to lớn know that studies have shown that men usually say I love you in a relationship before women do, & prefer khổng lồ hear it before they have sex. Women are more circumspect, preferring to lớn hear it said after the couple first has sex, “which more reflects women’s natural và smart response to lớn be more cautious in committing to a specific man until really having sized him up,” says Stanley. “Women can still thua kém a lot more than men in making a bad choice.”

But once you jump, you’ll find your way through — and eventually back to land. If you simply can’t get the words out, you could always use the method attempted by the young man in British novelist Anthony Burgess’ fictional musical comedy Say it, Cecil. Every he told someone he loved them, a natural disaster broke out. So he tricked fate by working up to lớn it: “Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Isle of Capri, Isle of You.”

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