Those Three Little Words (“I Love You”)

By Keith Ablow, MD

The three words in the English language I think may be most powerful and most misused are these: “I love you.”

We all have an innate desire to feel genuine love for others and a corresponding desire to receive it.  We want to say we love and hear that we are loved.  But the words have become generalized to many other meanings:

In romance, “I love you” can actually mean, “I want you–sexually.”  When people date, the warmth and attraction they feel for one another can feel very much like love, but those ingredients aren’t all there is to it.

“I love you,” can also mean “I need you.”  “You make me feel better about myself.”  But while needing someone can be an element of true love, that isn’t all there is to it, either.

“I love you” can also translate to “I don’t love me.”  But when a relationship is based on self-hatred and putting one’s partner on a pedestal, it is a formula for disaster.

I think we’d all be better off waiting to say “I love you” until the critical ingredient is present:  the certain knowledge that the other person is joining hands with the real you (not the pretend you on display at parties) and that you are with him, too.  This being known and knowing is the real glue of long-term attachment and represents the core of those seemingly simple words.

So wait longer before pulling the trigger on “I love you” and give your boyfriend plenty of time to say the words himself.

What if he doesn’t, even after a year?  After two?  Ask him what he thinks people mean when they say the words.  Ask him whether people misused them with him.  You’ll be doing the sort of soul excavation that uncovers real love.  And then the words might make a lot of sense.


Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist and member of the FOX News Medical A-Team. If you’re interested in a private session, please send an email to


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