When to say, “I love you” in American Culture? – Part One

Difficulty: High Intermediate to Advanced

As an English Learner, one of the first phrases you probably learned was the phrase, “I love you.” It’s a very beautiful phrase in the English Language, and for the most part, it has a meaning that usually signifies a deeply rooted relationship with someone. On the other hand, you don’t need to interact with US natives for very long to recognize that sometimes the phrase is overused and even undervalued. As an English Learner or possibly a new immigrant, you should learn common ways American culture uses the phrase.

In this blog post, we will discuss several conditions on when you should you the phrase, common uses of the phrase, as well as my personal experiences using the phrase. In an effort to keep this blog post enjoyable, these aspects of usage will be broken down into separate blog posts.

To begin our conversation, let’s began discussing common usages of the phrase.

#1 Among Close Family Members

Of course, a family context of using the phrase is the most obvious. When “I love you” is used among close family members, the intent is usually genuine. Yet, it is also important to note that the amount of times a family uses the phrase may solely depend on each individual family. More affectionate families will use the phrase more often, whereas less affectionate families may only use it when saying goodbye to a loved one who will be away for a very long time. Regarding family, not everyone will be treated equally, which is why a special emphasis was placed on, ‘close’ family members. In the United States, it’s not uncommon to refrain from using the phrase among extended family, not because affection doesn’t exist within the family, but often because of our tendency toward independence as a culture. In short, some families simply don’t build a relationship with others within their family to where they feel they actually know those members. Continuing in this mindset, since many Americans say what they feel, instead of speaking through structured formalities, a fourth cousin twice removed will probably not receive many, “I love you” phrases unless the family is extremely affectionate.

#2 Among Dating Couples

After close family members, among dating couples is another common place to hear the phrase but its usage in this case also depends on the longevity of the relationship and how close the couple has become. Honestly, saying, “I love you” may be intimidating to some partners and you shouldn’t use it very lightly unless you both are planning to serious future together. Some partners see the phrase as a sign that the relationship is progressing too quickly if you barely know each other. At other times, it could be a sign that an engagement is around the corner if the phrase is suddenly being used commonly among you both. Since every couple is different, these signs will vary, so try to use your best judgment and perhaps, ask your native speaking friends for advice on the topic. Nonetheless, as a general rule, once a couple begins to talk about ideas such as children and marriage, it would be odd to never hear the phrase spoken in an American dating relationship.

#3 Among Close Friends

In American culture, it is not uncommon to hear friends say that they love each other, but this is usually reserved for very close friends. As a lady, I have said the phrase to my lady friends and have also heard other ladies say, “I love you” to their friends. As it concerns guys, when asking my male friends about the topic, they were not shy about telling their male friends that they love them. Howbeit, I also noticed that most often, my male friends slightly changed the phrase to something such as, “Love you, man” or “Love you, bro.” Frankly, I’ve never encountered a close friend that I wasn’t willing to tell him or her, “I love you,” yet most of my friends are pretty affectionate and say the phrase quite regularly, so base your usage with friends on your own personality.

#4 To Our Pets

Well, without fail, you can also expect the phrase to be used toward our four-legged friends too. Actually, this is probably common in most cultures unless someone has raised the animal purely for the sake of food. Americans love their pets, so you would fit right in the crowd to lavish your pets with tender words. Animals constantly say, “I love you” through their body language, so wouldn’t it be hard to resist saying loving words back? At the same time, this probably applies only to animal lovers.

In our next blog, I will share with you more specific cases of when you should or should not use, “I love you” in American culture. I hope you have enjoyed this short culture lesson. Until next time, take care.

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