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

Difficulty: High Intermediate to Advanced

In our last blog, we covered the most common circumstances where the phrase “I love you” is used. We spoke about usage within a family, among couples, with friends, and toward pets. Now, let’s divulge into more specific ways we should use the phrase. Some of the scenarios may vary, so you should use your best judgment, but generally speaking, the guidelines listed below will be pretty close to everyday reality.

Scenario #1: You have dated someone for several weeks. You have a lot in common, and you can image yourself spending the rest of your life with this person. The person of interest has a pretty strong American background, and has lived in American culture for most of his or her life. Should you tell the person that you love him or her? Answer: I wouldn’t, and this is why. Culturally speaking, the USA has this issue with “getting too close, too soon.” Many Americans believe that a person who is ‘quick’ to love a partner very deeply (within the first few weeks) is probably “too needy.” Do I agree with this? No. But culturally speaking, it is common for Americans to see such strong affection at the beginning of a relationship as a weakness. To be “too needy” means that a person may need a lot of attention from another person. The fear is that such attention may drain the lover of emotions, private time, and individuality.

Scenario #2: You get along very well with your employer. You joke around together, you meet each other for lunch, and you talk about your families. You recently spoke to your boss about your financial problems, and he or she was very sympathetic. A few days later, you hear that your boss will give you a raise. This raise will transform your life and allow you to better manage your financial needs. You know that you received this raise because of your boss’ kindness. You are excited and very thankful for the promotion. Should you tell your boss that you love him or her? Answer: No. Saying I love you at work, no matter what the circumstances are, is deemed as unprofessional in most business organizations. It doesn’t matter how kind your boss is toward you. Even if your boss treats you like a friend and acts very “Down-to-Earth,” there will always be a line of separation between ‘boss’ and ‘friend.’ If a close friend helps you to transform your life, he or she may be deserving of an, “I love you” but in the workplace, even with a friendly boss, the best way to show your appreciation is through your dedication at work, continued respect, and maybe a small gift. Your boss will understand the line between ‘boss’ and ‘friend,’ and will likely not expect more than this from you.

Scenario #3: A firefighter or nurse saves your life. Should you say, “I love you”? Answer: Depending on your culture, this may surprise you, but I think the answer is “No.” Sometimes, speaking this way in a hospital or when coming out of a burning building may cause the workers to think you are crazy, a bit delusional, or in need of psychiatric medication. In American culture, we are not used to expressing such deep affections in situations as this. In some cultures, to save one’s life means to be indebted to the other person in willing servitude (of course, not slavery – but to show one’s appreciation). Not so in the United States – there are actually funny movies of people drugged on medication. These characters are laughed at while pushed through the hospital screaming, “I love you” to everyone that he or she meets. It may be sweet for a child to speak that way to a nurse, a firefighter, or a police officer, but for an adult to say, “I love you” – it is culturally abnormal. Personally, if I were in such a situation (which I pray would never happen), I may use the ‘L-word,’ but I would soften the phrase by saying something like: “I really love you for helping me” or “Love you so much for doing this.”

Scenario #4: Your lover of a few months is leaving (either leaving town or leaving the relationship). You care very deeply for this person, and believe this person should stay in relationship with you. You have a lot of strong feelings stored inside of you that you never shared with this person. One of those feelings is a desire to marry this person one day. You have never told this person “I love you,” and this is probably the last time you will speak to this person. Answer: Duh, yes! Saying, “I love you” out of desperation is considered quite normal in American culture. Even if the relationship is very new, if you say that phrase, people will stop and listen to you. Instead of appearing “needy,” you now may appear “passionate, ” which is a highly praised attribute that could win your lover back.

Scenario #5: You are on a prom date with a new lover. You have had a crush on this person for many years and feel excited to finally go on a date. You have not been together very long, and the only reason you are dating right now is for the prom. Should you tell the person that you love him or her? Answer: Ha! You must decide that one on your own. Your date may not know how long you have desired to be with him or her…only you know this. So, two things could happen: 1) If the person doesn’t know about your love and how long you have had it, yet you suddenly explode with emotion, the phrase “I love you,” you could freak the person out. 2) If the person doesn’t know about your love and how long you have had it, yet you suddenly explode with emotion, the phrase “I love you,” may cause the person to be extremely flattered and even thankful. BUT be cautious – sometimes, “I love you” is said to simply get the other person to be okay with having sex with him or her. The person pretends to be “in love,” only to sleep with you… you blink your eye, and the person has “moved on” to another victim. In other words, “I love you” was spoken superficially and only to manipulate.

There are so many scenarios that we could have covered today, but for the sake of time and to avoid boredom, we will end this portion of the lesson now. In the upcoming blog, I will speak about my personal experiences using the phrase, “I love you.” Bye bye for now!

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