The L Word

I talk often about how girl-dating and the romantic kind are pretty much the same thing…minus the making out. Some of this I predicted (what to wear on a first date??) some of it not so much (no one could have anticipated the wandering eye dilemma). The other day I encountered a shocking and completely unexpected friending-as-dating quandary: Those three little words.

You think I’m making this up, don’t you? I assure you. I am not.

I got a voicemail from a potential BFF who wanted to see if we were still on for our scheduled dinner date later this week. I listened to the message at work, excited that someone took the actual phone call route. And then, just before hanging up, she said it. “Ok, love you, bye!”

Really? You love me? I understand that “love you” doesn’t carry as much weight as “I love you.” I also realize that a “love you” between friends is often just a throwaway, certainly less meaningful than the same exchange with a potential mate. Some girls are just the “I love you” type. They’ve mentally attached it to goodbye, as if it’s one word.


Still, I was a little jarred. I’ve met this friend four times. It’s a little early to be throwing around the L word, no? The last time we met she asked me to remind her what I did for a living. Now that’s love.

When I heard the message, I unknowingly did my best Scooby Doo impression—there was an entire head spin. I stared confusedly at my phone. I think my exact word was “Er?”

It’s kind of fascinating to be on this side of iloveyou-gate. I’ve been the one to say it too early before. That’s just no fun. I remember saying it—I was young and stupid and probably in that I-know-he-wont-say-it-back-but-maybe-if-I-say-it-he-will-and-there’s-only-one-way-to-find-out headspace—only to get a blank stare in return. Good stuff. But how the tables have turned. Yesterday I was recipient of those premature three little words—or in my case, two little words—and had the same reaction as my guy did. Blank stare.

Women tend to “love you” other women willy nilly. I have a vivid memory of such an exchange with a friend in high school, and my boyfriend saying to me “Do you really love her?” And though I think there comes an age where we grow out of these haphazard declarations, some women just don’t catch on. It’s in their DNA or something. They have lots of love to go around.

The point of all this is to say: It is dating! Every time I think that comparison has run its course, something else happens that makes me say “See! See what I’m talking about?!?” When I started this search, saying “I love you” too soon wasn’t on my radar as one of the possible dealbreakers. Now it’s up there with doesn’t watch TV and moonlights as Cher. (Wait. Scratch that. I would love a Cher doppelganger. And maybe I could use  a little less TV. I said maybe.)

What’s next? Meeting the parents? Probably.

Do you say I love you to friends a lot? What about new friends? Was I right to be surprised or is that “love you” expected? And the question that is really as old as time: How soon is too soon?


Filed under The Search

34 responses to “The L Word

  1. AmyK

    Oh, this is too funny! Makes me think of that other conundrum – how to announce that you feel like you and this person are Best Friends (corresponding to going from “dating” to “exclusive”).

    I say the three little words to many of my friends because we’re relatively long distance. So we tend to get all sappy during the arrival and departure hugs.

    But with a new friend…? I think maybe the key is if you’re still referring to this person as a New Friend, it’s too early 🙂 If you haven’t swapped (or she can’t remember!) the really important life details and super-deep stuff, it’s too early. I’m sure there are other benchmarks, like staying up all night talking, or crying over a chick flick. Or she shares her emergency chocolate with you. That’s love, right there!

    With this particular friend, you might need to brush up on a “Hey, love you, too!” complete with the double “back atcha” finger gesture, ala the used car salesman 🙂

    • It was totally weird when one of my friends was telling me a story where she referred to me to someone else as ‘my best friend [in this city]’ (that is, best friend besides her old friends at home). I didn’t think we were at that point yet, although we are quite close. It was just a bit strange. I would never have said that about her. I guess I never really thought about having a best friend in one place and a best friend in another.

  2. EEEEK! You’ve only met her four times? Odd.

    I only say I love you to one friend. The real one I have…it would be weird to say it to the multitude of acquaintances I have. Maybe that’s just that woman’s standard salutation? Still, weird.

  3. JenD

    Hmm…could be nothing. I once had a (female) boss end a phone conversation with me like that BUT she had also just gotten off the phone with her boyfriend and was in a mad rush to a meeting. I know she didn’t really love me (quite the opposite, in fact, and the feeling was mutual!). I think some women just let it fly out, oftentimes, in error. Maybe your potential BFF had just gotten off the phone with her mother or something.

    Give her the benefit of the doubt. Keep having dates with her and see what happens. She’s either kicking herself for the slip or thinking nothing of it at all (not even realizing she said it to your voicemail).

    Either way, don’t freak out about it!

    • No no, not freaking out. You’re right. Just thought it was so hysterical! The dating thing and all..Certianly wouldn’t rule her out on that. As you say, I’m sure she doesn’t even know!

      My friend was once on the phone with a travel agent and as they got off he said “ok love you!” He definitely just thought he was talking to his wife or something.. Funny how it just slips out.

  4. hb

    When I was teaching, I was amused to see middle and high school girls who, when parting in the halls to go to a class, (knowing they would meet again in less than an hour) would give each other a big hug and say “I love you.” It’s not surprising that those girls would turn into young women who say the L word so easily.

  5. No way to new friends! Way to scare them off…

    My super close friends and I (they are all long distance and it’s only a handful) do say ‘love you’ when we’re saying goodbye on the phone or over email. But it’s a select few that get my love and it’s built up over years of time invested in our friendship. If we’ve cried together and are comfortable enough to undress in front of each other to try on a shirt or something, there’s love involved!


  6. Donna

    Remember the Tom Selleck episodes of Friends? (Who can forget, right?) There was one where Courtney Cox accidently got into Tom Selleck’s voice mail and heard a “breezy” message from another woman who had spent the weekend with him. Courtney Cox wanted to imitate the breezy tone, but sounded like a nutcase in her attempts. Your 4X friend may feel super comfortable with you and said she loves you out of breezy habit – like she would do with other long term friends – then hung up the phone and had an OMG did I just say that, she’s going to think I’m nuts moment. Or, she could be nuts. We’re all waiting to find out… 🙂

    • Oh Donna, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I’m breezy!” in that Monica voice in reference to something ridiculous I’ve done. I’m awkward just thinking about it. And Joey saying, “You can’t say you’re breezy! That totally negates the breezy!”

  7. Oh wow, that is kind of awkward… Especially that early in a friendship.

    I actually say I love you to very, very few friends. It’s just not something I say. I think part of it is the fact that I grew up in the Midwest and we just aren’t the most expressive group of people… I don’t even really say I love you to my siblings all that often – which is probably not a good thing…. It’s just not something I say very often. I can think of maybe 1 or 2 friends that I have said it to?

  8. Lisa Z

    OMG this post had me laughing so hard coffee dribble was coming out of my mouth! Hilarious. Anyway, to answer the question, I only say it to my BFF, and that’s when something sad happens, or because we are far away from each other, or before we go on a trip separately. I also write, “Love, Lisa Z.” (yes, really Z.) in anyone’s cards for any event, ever since I was a kid. FUNNY FUNNY FUNNY.

  9. katieleigh

    Oh MY. I only say “love you” or “I love you” to close friends – but you’re right, some women just seem to say it to everyone.

    And “I’m breezy” and Joey’s response line are constant catchphrases in our house.

  10. OK, so I have to know–are you telling your potential BFF’s about your blog?

  11. Ella


    Yeah, I have to agree, “I love you” to a new friend is odd, but I wouldn’t read into it. I don’t think she meant it like that…wait…she isn’t stalking you, is she? (HA!)

    I do say those 3 little words to a few friends of mine- because truthfully, I DO love them and I know they love me back. And this goes for a few male friends as well.

    Ok- back to work! (And I will now have “I’m breezy!” in my head all day…thanks for the smiles)

  12. Yeah, Um I never tell friends I love them. Unless I was on my death bed. I reserve that just for family.

    Even with family I don’t go throwing it around all the time.

    Sorry I wasnt of much help.

  13. Right after I read your post, I got an email from a guy friend, addressed to me and a few other girlfriends, and he signed it with “Love you all!” We’ve been friends for several years, so I don’t find that odd.

    I use the L word with my friends, and I was indeed one of those girls in high school who said it to friends all the time. But that was normal at my high school – it was Catholic, all-girl, and we went on yearly retreats to discover how much we loved each other. It was totally encouraged. I guess I never outgrew that 🙂 I get your point that it’s too soon with this potential BFF, but I think telling your friends you love them is a good thing.

  14. Kind of reminds me of the comparisons people make between having a dog and having a baby … there are uncanny similarities that you just can’t deny!

    I don’t really say I Love You to friends. I definitely write Love Ya to friends in cards and once in a while in emails. But, only to my nearest and dearest. Never to someone I just met a month ago.

    Using the L word that quickly reminds me of a trip I took to LA for work and to see a friend. My friend and I were walking down the street when we ran into friends of his. After a quick intro and no more than 10 minutes of talking to them, the girl gave me this huge hug goodbye. I was stunned. Seriously? We just met. How about It Was Nice to Meet You or something like that. No, I got a full on, fake-booby (hers, not mine) hug. I like to pull out that story whenever people talk about how superficial people in LA are. =)

  15. Funny. It’s probably just a reflex she has, a habit. I actually hate when my husband does this to me because it doesn’t mean anything, you know?

  16. I had this with a girl I worked with. She had a bit of a friend-crush on me as I was a little bit older and her supervisor (this was back in my university days). She always used to throw out the “I love yous” and get really choked if I didn’t “love ya” back, even though I’m really not the type. She’d actually demand it “don’t you love me too?” kinda think.

  17. Whoa! L word so soon? I don’t know – I’d be leery. Next thing you know, she’d be asking to move in. I’m just sayin’.

    I say I love you to my BFF who lives in another state, not that I wouldn’t say it if she was here. And we say that in emails and in signing off voicemails or phonecalls. And of course I’ve uttered the L word to friends I’ve known since I was 7.

    But after the 4th “date”? Never.

  18. Ana

    I honestly think its just a “thing” with some people. I have several friends who sign off on texts & emails “xxooxx”. WTF? Hugs & kisses? Really? But that’s just their thing. Its kinda weird but I let it slide. Now REAL hugs & kisses would have me running a mile away, I am VERY particular about my personal space (my friends used to get offended because I just wasn’t into hugging) and only very very close friends & family can get in that zone. the first date hug MIGHT be a deal-breaker.
    I’m sure the “lovya” is just her general sign-off. Either that, or a total accident (like others’ mentioned above, she may have been talking recently to her boyfriend/mom/sis or someone she normally says the “L” word to, and it just slipped out). I only say it to very close friends and only when warranted, not every time we communicate (except for my parents & husband).
    Unless there are other creepy signs (again with the hugging) I would give potential friend the benefit of the doubt!

  19. I had a (very casual) friend say “okluvyoubye” at the end of a voicemail to me and was a tad surprised.

    Then, she mentioned later that she’d just left a voicemail for her husband and had said the same thing. It was just a reflex thing for her.

  20. I do say ‘I love you’ to my close friends and just the other day I ACCIDENTALLY said it to a not so close friend. I am so used to ending my conversations that way and it just slipped out.

    And I thought it would be worse to say: OOPS DIDNT MEAN LOVE YOU. MAYBE IN A FEW MONTHS TO YEARS. JUST BYE.

    So maybe your friend slipped up, too? (Or do we know each other? Because AWKWARD!)

  21. JenD

    Yeah, I’d say if she gives you goo-goo eyes across the table, you might want to politely excuse yourself! But I stand by my original reply. 🙂

  22. I don’t think I’ve ever used the L word with a friend, even after the 400th “date.” (That’s a friend fail, isn’t it?) Though, ironically, I frequently sign letters with “Love.” Maybe because it’s easier to write than say, at least for bookish/bloggish types like me. =>

  23. That’s really too funny! It is like dating, establishing the type of relationship you’re entering and following the “rules” 🙂 Maybe she just has such strong feelings for you that she can’t hold it in… can’t wait until it’s socially acceptable!

  24. I was brought up in a house that did NOT throw the “loveyous” around. So I always find it VERY odd when someone i don’t know well uses those precious words with me. And the thing is, the words are MEANINGLESS when they’re thrown out like that. My husband actually says “love ya” to his friends on the phone which I get a little kick out of. I mean it’s cute and all but seems a little odd.

    I think the three words should be reserved for a select few. A select few who really deserve to hear it.

    That’s just me.
    loveyou Rach!


  25. Cathy

    What a great and timely post! Please write again to tell us how the next conversation with that friend goes. Did she notice your Scooby Doo deflection and stop with the love ya’s? I haven’t said ILY or anything similar to a friend until recently because of unusual circumstances. Over the last year I’ve had two family tragedies, and it felt so good to hear a woman who is becoming a very good friend say she loved me. It was at a time when I was very sad and vulnerable, and I really needed it! Then a newish friend had a family tragedy, and we started the ILYs. But then life gets back to normal, and there is this awkward can-I-stop-now? moment when you want to get back to more typical communication as a sign that life is better. The closeness is still there, but…shucks…do we still have to say THAT? When my situation stabilized, my friend and I stopped saying it. Now that my newish friend is starting to get back on her feet, it just feels weird for me to say it to her! We know that we all…um…you know…um…each other.

  26. I’ve very nearly dropped “I love you’s” by accident a few times, and once sent an email meant for my husband to a colleague (thankfully a very tame, just-the-facts-email, but still signed ILU). Let’s hope your potential BFF only slipped up, b/c it’s way too early for the L word.

    Funny post!

  27. Pingback: Much Ado About Something? « MWF Seeking BFF

  28. marielle

    I once was the one who said “love you” too soon in a voicemail to a friend who I was only just getting to know. It slipped out because of habit and I was horribly embarrassed as soon as I hung up the phone, but I don’t think it ever bothered her. Eight years later, we are still very good friends (even though being long distance, we don’t talk nearly as often as I would like to) and even were roommates for a year during college. Looking back, I’m glad it slipped, because I feel that was a defining point in our friendship!

  29. i too have said “i love you” first, but to a dude (the one i now live with), and i chalked it up to simply being an emotional pisces. pisces or not, you will never hear me say it to a friend. not because i don’t love my friends, but it makes me feel kind of funny. don’t even get me started on friends who try to hold my hand.

  30. Laurie Lee

    I do say “love you” to a few friends and family as well. I don’t just say it to say it, like a greeting, I only say it if I really mean it. Like you, Rachel, I’ve been surprised by people I don’t know that well say it to me and it’s awkward!

    As I’ve gotten older I find myself saying “I love you” or “love you” more. It’s not that I didn’t feel this way when I was younger. I just feel freer to say it as I’ve gotten older. Maybe being a mom contributes as I’m always saying it to my kids, even in texts. Also, the difference in me now at 48 and 20 years ago at 28 is that the older I’ve gotten the more I appreciate people and you do realize life is short!

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