Though those three words can mean so much, the phrase "I love you" gets tossed around a lot these days — in fact, it gets tossed around so often that I wouldn't be surprised if you told your taxi driver this morning that you loved them, just because they weaved you through seemingly impossible traffic. Our partners aren't the only ones on the receiving end of this affectionate phrase; in fact, they might be hearing it less than anyone else at this point. Recent research shows that we're less likely to say "I love you" to our significant others than ever before, especially if we've already gone through the honeymoon phase.
We like to tell everyone that we love them, particularly after a couple glasses of wine, and although there's some talk out there that this sweet expression has lost its meaning because we overuse it, I couldn't disagree more. I'm convinced there's nothing wrong with verbalizing our feelings on a regular basis; this world could always use a little more affection, a bit of extra magic. But we'd be silly to think that saying "I love you" means the same thing to each person you say it to. Your mom doesn't get the same kind of love that you give to your kitty cat, and that doesn't mean you care for one more than the other. So, no matter how you say it or who you say it to, keep passing on the love — even if those words accidentally slip out when you're talking to the bartender on an especially fun girls' night out.
The list could go on and on, but here are 11 different meanings of "I love you."
1. Your Partner
You appreciate all of their characteristics, from the way they sip their latte to the values they wouldn't sacrifice for all the riches in the world. When you whisper this phrase into their ear, it comes from a deeper sense of connection; after all, they're your closest friend, your lover, and your most committed cheerleader. It can also be a question of sorts, to make sure that they still love you back, flaws and all — or it can be an invitation to hop in bed and mess around.
2. Your Best Friend
When you say "I love you" to your best, it actually means, "I know everything about you and you annoy the sh*t out of me sometimes, but I'll always be here to make you feel better about yourself." The love you have for your bestie is complicated, that's for sure, but it's rock solid. You're telling them that they inspire you in every single way, and that life would be incredibly dull without them.
3. Your Mom
Yes, even when she says politically incorrect things and pries into your dating life at the most inopportune times, when you tell her you love her, you're saying, "Thanks for always caring." She knows the depth of your love, even when you don't say it, but verbally reminding her makes both of you feel good. Plus, it patches things over after you've recovered from a massive argument.
4. Your Cat
I consider this one the most soul-cleansing "I love you" of all, because that little kitty is the only one on this whole list who accepts you unconditionally, no matter what your hair looks like or how much money you just spent on totally unnecessary Internet shopping. As you cuddle your angel and utter these words, you are acknowledging their never-failing ability to make you smile and cry at the same time.
5. Your Hairstylist
When you scream this at the person who just cut your hair, it's more of a declaration of excitement than anything else, kind of like, "OMG, I look amazing and I can't wait to show myself off!" Your hairstylist lives for these moments all the same, so it's not weird in the slightest sense. Just make sure you pair your love with an appropriate tip.
6. Your Boss
They probably just tacked on a couple days of paid vacation when you were least expecting it and you couldn't help but shout these words at them mid-meeting. Saying you love your boss is another way of thanking them for not being a total jerk (like the kind of bosses you know many of your friends have to deal with). It's also a phrase filled with gratitude for the way they they bring in those yummy baked goods every Friday.
7. Your Barista
What you really mean is, "Thank you for providing me with the fountain of youth every single morning (and afternoon) of my life. I couldn't survive without you." They totally get it — or else this wouldn't be be their job in the first place. Every time you hand this phrase over to them, it's usually accompanied by a long sigh of relief and maybe the jitters, as you've been dying for that cup of coffee.
8. Your Dry Cleaner
It's a statement of disbelief — how could they possibly have gotten that stain out of your favorite little black dress in such a short amount of time? Chances are your dry cleaner will be as stone-faced as they always are, but this "I love you" doesn't require a verbal reply. They just continue their work and you keep bringing them business — and lots of soiled outfits that need some TLC.
9. Your Yoga Teacher
You come out of a Thursday evening hatha class feeling slightly high and tingly, stoked that something could pull you out of that funk you've been in for the past few days. When you tell your yoga teacher that you love them, you're merely conveying how much bendier and relaxed you are compared to before — and how awesome their sequences are. They'll probably respond with a hug and pat on the back.
10. Your Landlord
"Thanks for not caring about those loud weekend nights and not raising my rent this year" is what you're trying to say here. Having a solid relationship with your landlord is not the most common thing these days, so telling them you love them is an affirmation that they're abnormally cool — and you hope that they stay that way.
This is the most important "I love you" of all. You should say it to yourself more than you say it to anyone else. It means the following: "I'm your biggest fan and there's nothing you can do that will make me love you any less. You are perfect and fearless!" You might not fully believe it every time you say it, but the more you utter it, the more convincing it will become.