About a decade ago, when two formerly unattached people wanted to profess a special, unique and exclusive bond with each other, they would say “I love you.”
“I love you” indicated a lot of wonderful things all at once. First of all, it indicated that you had been singled out as very precious to the person you were dating. There was also an inferred commitment to developing the relationship further.
The Modern Way of Saying "I Love You?"
Polyamorous relationships aside, “I love you” generally implied an intention to pursue a monogamous, committed partnership. It was the thing you waited for and the thing that gave you the deepest thrill of delight to hear for the first time. And apparently it’s not the same thing that people wait to hear these days, at least if reality TV dating shows are any indication of the cultural zeitgeist.
Nowadays, it would appear that those with budding romantic feelings make a two stage declaration instead. First, they will tend to initially utter the phrase, “I am falling in love with you.” This appears to be a tentative statement – an exciting one to hear for the recipient – but does not seem to indicate any intention of exclusive commitment.Someone who is “falling in love” with one person over a romantic breakfast may find him or herself “falling in love” with another person entirely at dinner on two different "fantasy dates." The statement “I’m falling in love with you” seems to indicate movement toward something without making a firm commitment. This statement essentially gives voice to the initial pull of a powerful romantic chemistry.
The next statement, which now seems to be the ultimate profession of feelings nowadays is: “I’m in love with you.” This is the romantic utterance that typically brings tears to the eyes of the recipient. This two-stage sequence, beginning with "I'm falling in love with you" and ending not in “I love you” but rather “I’m in love with you” seems to be what many people now say to profess strong feelings towards each other. So much so, that plainly saying “I love you” seems rather quaint and out of place.
If reality shows are any indication of current trends, “I’m IN love with you” now seems to be the go-to way to signify a special attachment. And it is what psychologists might term a "state-based" experience (calling to mind the difference between the state-based expression "My anxiety is high right now" and the over-arching, trait-related statement, "I am an anxious person across situations").
Words have meaning, and paired with the inherent push to see explosively positive feelings as the mark of “true love,” this shift in how we profess our feelings seems interesting. “Falling in love” seems to indicate a process of lowering defenses as we begin to be pulled into the spell of new love, and being “IN love” seems to place the emphasis on euphoric feelings that may ultimately be impermanent. And perhaps what we are waiting in breathless anticipation to hear is not that someone is solidly and purposefully committed to us but rather that someone is under our spell.
Could this shift in how we currently profess romantic attachment be yet another reflection that what we are told to chase during courtship is chemistry, and not character? Chemistry alone should not drive life-altering commitments and it does not serve us well to take explosively positive feelings as a sign that we have met our “soul mate.”
Bottom line: If our goal is to create a happy lifelong relationship, it is critical that we assess not only chemistry, but also character. This requires that we develop a model for how to assess character in a potential partner. I was given permission to create and post on my website a profile of an emotionally safe person based on the book “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend. Many of my clients have used this targeted assessment as a tool to help them assess the character of potential partners. While this permission does not extend beyond posting it on my personal website, you can access it here, at no charge and with no strings whatsoever attached.