Saying “I Love You”

Saying “I love you” seems to be a trick, a chicanery, a manipulation just to get the other person to say “I love you too.”

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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25 Responses to Saying “I Love You”

  1. arielle81 says:


    It’s funny how the greatest thing that should be so easy can be so difficult. I think it is because of rejection. Not wanting to put yourself so far out there and be truely honest only for it not to be reciprocated. After you’ve said it for a while and you know they’ll say “I love you ,too. ” it’s easy. Just remember to keep saying it. πŸ™‚
    Good luck!

  2. arielle81 says:

    Oh, I forgot to leave my URL, sorry.
    Have a great day!

  3. shaunmiller says:


    I don’t think it has to do with rejection. I think it’s because of societal norms where that’s the expectation to say and hear. Imagine saying the words “I love you” but not getting “I love you too” back. There’s an upset in our emotional world. Likewise, if you don’t say the words “I love you too” to the words “I love you,” it causes an upset in the other person’s emotional world.

    But just because we keep on saying it and it forms a habit, the question still comes back: we say it because our societal norms suggests that we say “I love you” only under certain circumstances. I call them the three M’s. We only say “I love you” when:

    1. Making an exit.
    2. Making love.
    3. Making up after a fight.

    That’s it. If you said “I love you” at a different time, I can guarantee you the other person will look at you weird, or will say “what was that for?”

    It seems that that’s the only purpose of saying “I love you”: namely to hear the other person say “I love you too.” If that’s the case, then love is one of the most selfish emotions out there.

  4. arielle81 says:

    That is a completely differnt take on the subject. I have never heard of it put that way.
    I guess if the only reason you say ‘ I love you ‘ is to get someone to say it back to you then it would be selfish or needy.
    However, I do happen to say I love you to people because I do love them and I don’t care if they say it back to me. ‘ I love you ‘ is a statement. A statement of what you feel for someone, not for your self. I hope that you meet someone who actually cares for you. Not just for themselves to feel good about loving someone for the perfumed hearts idea of it, but in reality. Maybe, then you’ll feel differntly.

  5. shaunmiller says:

    Why must you assume that no one cares for me? I have many people that care for me and that I care for them as well. But then you said “in reality.” What do you mean by that?

  6. arielle81 says:


    Care and love are at very different degrees of emotion. Love ” in reality ” is selfless. When love is true it is not about the idea or the self gratification it. Love is an emotion and not just a word you use to get what you want. So, if and when you experience this I’m sure you’ll understand.
    Love you! πŸ™‚

  7. Nancy says:


    i think it’s about context-
    certainly there are contexts in which one says the words “i love you” without expectation of response- someone who is asleep, or comatose, or deaf, or an infant, or a parent to a teenager, etc. even to pets.
    while i would tend to agree with you that perhaps the majority of utterances fall into the categories you described, i think that there is certainly plenty of room for those words (and thus the sentiment) to exist simply as a statement of fact rather than a response-seeking manipulation.

  8. Nancy says:

    and sorry, i see i misspelled your name. :p

  9. shaunmiller says:


    You are still assuming that I have never felt those feelings before. I have felt those feelings before. More than that, I do feel those feelings. But I would argue that love is still selfish. With emotions, they are intentional. In other words, emotions are about something. You can’t just love, you have to love someone or something. You can’t just be angry, you have to be angry at someone or something. Thus, emotional attitudes always have an object to have the emotional attitude about. Most people see love as one of the most selfless emotions out there. But that’s just simply not true. It’s actually a misunderstanding of love. It’s as if to say the more I love person x, then it’s more of a selfless love (which is just another way of saying self-love goes down). But that’s impossible. All love isn’t just loving a person, it’s loving with a person. The self is already involved. Indeed, it is impossible to have an emotion without the self involved. So when you say “love is true” (which I’m assuming this selfless love), my reply is “that’s impossible.” The self is very involved in the emotional world.

    Nancy, I think context helps, but the words “I love you” have a certain illocutionary act behind it. Yes, I know I’m appealing to J. L. Austin and the philosophy of language.

    So with this, the locutionary act is: “I love you.” I would argue that the illocutionary act is: S/he wants me to say “I love you too.” And so of course, the perlocutionary act is: you say “I love you.”

    Of course, I know you didn’t like Wittgenstein (perhaps Austin as well), and I believe you’re right that language is more than a response-seeking mechanism. However, those things are rare. Anything different in language is poetry, metaphors, or perhaps some Continental Philosophy πŸ™‚
    We are a pretty analytic society (meaning here in America) and our language is constructed in a way to respond to various locutionary acts. But you’re right, there’s more to language than just responses. Sadly, I don’t think most people think about the literary flow or the emotional aspect when they say the words “I love you.”

  10. thekillerj says:

    Well, from an evolutionary perspective “love” is what ensures our species pair up long enough to pass down genetic code. A lot of the things that attract us to the other sex are protective factors. Men’s attraction to the female form is based on they body style most likely to produce a healthy offspring. Women’s attraction to men’s form is for more utility purposes, and women’s attraction to other qualities like power, prestige, and sensitivity ensure he’ll be able to provide AND be around for a while during the rearing years.

    Maybe love declaration is simply another protective factor, albeit induced more by society than biology. When we say it and it’s reciprocated, we feel safe. We feel secure, in that our partner is a wise investment of our time and genetic coding.

    I’m completely free associating and making shit up as I type, but it sounds good for now. Peace.

    • arielle81 says:

      ( First off I think thekillerj’s answer was cute and may have some real validity about the ” wise investment ” πŸ™‚ )

      You say you feel real love and I really hope you truely do.
      I’m curious, though. You seem to feel quite strongly that love is a selfish thing because the person who loves is involved in the situation and there for it is selfish. The same statement could be used to discribe any situation that any human being is ever involed in. Breathing and eating are life sustaining. Listening to music brings yourself joy. Smiling at someone could just be something you do to make yourself feel better about what a great person you are. All these things are selfish to you then?
      Yes, they do involve something good for the person and at first glance maybe they are selfish in the since of having something to do with yourself. However, the word selfish has harsh undertones. Espescially when combined with “trick, chicanery, and manipulation “.
      Then do you believe all these things to be bad?
      Is there nothing that is selfless?
      For you love is relegated to realms of greed and vanity?
      Is there nothing that is good if love is so bad?

      p.s. You also said that “with emotions, they are intentional”. I thought you might like to know that on a pruely scientific level not all emotions are intentional. More often than not I believe they are instictual. The area of your brain that registers scent actually grows out of the part of your brain where emotions come from – one of the first parts of your brain that grows during gestation and at the core of your brain. When you smell anything you actually have an emotional response before you consciencely register the scent itself. Negating the time for intentions, it is automatic. Also,this is where pheremones comes into play, but that’s another story. πŸ™‚

      • Nicole says:

        Ok arielle81,

        What Shaun is trying to say is that if you say “I love you” to someone and don’t get a response, you will be disappointed. Therefore, it is selfish because the only way to feel truly good about it is to hear it back. Even if you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter they didn’t say it back, it’s natural to wonder “Why didn’t they say it back?” Telling you “I love you” to someone else like a friend or a family member is a different level of love. I’m assuming Shaun is only talking about the big kind, the relationship kind. And the fact that it’s selfish isn’t a bad thing. He’s just pointing out that it is selfish and the irony of how society thinks love is selfless.

        Jeff, are you saying gay people cannot love?

  11. Nancy says:

    this is starting to make me think of a conversation i once had with our good friend jared in which we decided that the only possible truly altruistic action was an accidental one. ex: i wash your socks without knowing they’re in my laundry pile- if i know, i’m doing it with some hope, however small, of pleasing you or receiving gratitude which will make me feel good. the only way an action can be both beneficial to you and selflessly motivated on my part is if i perform it unknowingly.

  12. Kevin says:

    As human beings we instinctually search for patterns. When somebody says “I love you” it’s our natural reaction to expect a reply that follows the pattern. Any other response does not cause a negative response because of rejection or selfishness, but simply because the other person is destroying the possibility of a completed pattern. As humans it is one of our primary urges to reproduce, and the most effective natural way that we have found for succesful reproduction is to mate for life. This is why we seek the pattern of love. This applies to everyone, even homosexual couples. They may not be trying to reproduce, but they are still following the inherent urge to couple. Love is a step in a pattern. You can’t call a person selfish for expecting to hear I love you because our natural expectation is to have the pattern completed.

  13. shaunmiller says:

    Wow, a lot of responses which is perfect because that’s what philosophy is about. Let me take them one at a time.

    KillerJ, you said:

    Well, from an evolutionary perspective β€œlove” is what ensures our species pair up long enough to pass down genetic code. A lot of the things that attract us to the other sex are protective factors.

    Part of me says “exactly.” Now this is a metaphysical claim, but I’ll work with this. Now if this is the case, then it seems that love is a trick that nature has given us. How so? We may think that we’re choosing our mates. Nope, that’s actually nature. How so? Nature tricks you into finding a mate but we just call it love. How do we choose our mate? We don’t; nature does. It’s an illusion that we choose our mate. Notice that when you’re old, procreation doesn’t seem interesting anymore. And when you’re young you want to procreate no matter who it’s with. Nature is strong but blind. With this, love is actually the nature (or evolution) tricking us to keep the species going. Marriage isn’t for mating, it’s to make sure that life continues. Nature doesn’t care if we’re happy or not as long as reproduction is happening. Love is a deception that comes from nature which makes marriage an illusion. To be married and to have sex means you sacrifice your individuality for the sake of the species. That’s the rub of it. If love is something for the sake of evolution, then love is, metaphysically, a manipulation that nature has given us.

    That’s the first thing. Secondly, I second Nicole’s reply to you. Does this mean that gay people can’t love based on your definition? However, I think Kevin may have answered that which I’ll get to.

    Nicole said it best. When people say “I love you,” there’s an expectation and if that expectation isn’t met, then you’ll feel disappointed. Thus, saying the words (but not necessarily the emotion) brings with it the manipulation and the trick of saying “I love you too.” You also say:

    The same statement could be used to discribe any situation that any human being is ever involed in. Breathing and eating are life sustaining. Listening to music brings yourself joy. Smiling at someone could just be something you do to make yourself feel better about what a great person you are. All these things are selfish to you then?

    My answer is yes. All of these activities helps you throughout the day and it has a notion of self-interest. You also mention that are they bad things because selfish implies a negative connotation. That’s a good point. I don’t consider it a bad thing, but only if you realize that it is a manipulation from societal standards. Think of it like this: when people ask you “how’s it going?” Be honest. People don’t really want to know how you are; they’re just making friendly conversation or chit-chat. You simply say “fine thanks” and go on in your merry way.

    Also, you mention that love is bad. That’s a metaphysical claim. I’m not saying that (at least in this post). I’m saying that statement “I love you” has more than what the surface means. In this post, I’m making a linguistic and meaning claim rather than a metaphysical one.

    You also mention that emotions are instinctual. I would argue that they start off as instinctual, but they are eventually trained and then chosen. I’m very influenced by Sartre’s view of emotions here. So you mention smells and that reminds you of something. But you have choices on what to do with that smell. You can choose how to react. It’s the same with love. We see someone and we get this rush of excited feelings and exhilaration, but is this the same as falling in love? No, it’s not even infatuation. It’s just being excited. From here, you have to make a choice. You have to decide to look at that person, whether to talk to that person. Whether to meet the person. Later on, you have to decide if you want to marry that person. As a relationship continues, I am deciding whether to let this relationship develop more, or to let it go. It’s not that I’m setting up the conditions of love. But rather, I’m literally choosing to love. Love is a process and there are lots of decisions along the way. Remember Kierkegaard. And that’s what love is. It’s a series of choices step by step every bit of the way. We decide to live together, we decide to get married, we decide to go on a date. Or we decide to break up. Emotions are our doing; we always cultivate them. We have to practice at them and work at their decision-making. They are like habits if you want to use an Aristotelian term.

    Nicole, you answered nicely. I couldn’t have rephrased it better.

    Nancy, I remember that conversation actually with Jared. I miss him actually. Where is he?

    Kevin, so you’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to respond. Muhahahaha. So you’re saying that love is a way to follow (or complete?) a pattern. If we don’t say “I love you too,” then that pattern is disrupted. Sure, I’ll agree with that. But isn’t that the tricky part? Isn’t that where the manipulation comes in? After all, whether we say the words “I love you” or not, the other person still loves us. We say them to bring about the expectation, or perhaps reassurance (or a pattern as you put it), to hear the “I love you too.” But I guess this is just a matter of difference. You’re saying we say those words to complete a pattern, end of story. I’m saying we say those words to complete a pattern, but that pattern is set up intentionally. Thus, the deception.

    • Kevin says:

      the pattern is set up because we have to communicate. Imagine if the world was full of people that never affirmed their thoughts of love and instead just acted based on what they thought other people felt about themselves. There would be a whole lot of sexual harassment. Sure, by this logic a person only has to ever confirm this notion once then, but we’re human, and we realize that we have constantly evolving emotions. We continue to confirm that the person we have feelings for still has feelings for us. If a person was really self centered they would never need to reaffirm this reciprocation of emotion, because they would just know that they were loved since they’re so awesome. It stems from a more self loathing emotion rather than a self centered one.

  14. shaunmiller says:


    In terms of patterns, check this out where patterns are mistaken and have a false positives. Could love be like that?

  15. thekillerj says:

    Nicole and Shaun: Based on my sound logic, it is impossible for gay people to love each other. You pegged my opinion perfectly.

  16. shaunmiller says:

    Ah, but is it sound? You’ll have to show me that it is.

  17. thekillerj says:

    I guess sarcasm doesn’t translate too well over the interWEBZ. I like Kevin’s response.

  18. shaunmiller says:

    Yeah, sarcasm doesn’t work well on the web.

  19. Pingback: What I’ve Learned this Past Year — 2009 Edition « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

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