"I love you" has become an increasingly popular phrase in our everyday language. We say "I love you" to our friends when we split off for class after morning coffee, "I love you" to the guy who helps us pick up our pens when our pencil case decides to dump all over the floor (we've all been there), and "I love you" to the semi-stranger commenting heart eyed emojis on our latest Instagram selfies. But when it comes to dating, "I love you" takes on a whole new meaning entirely. Even if your significant other was your friend long before you started dating, now saying those three words is completely different. It's no longer a "see you later," a "thank you," or a response to a good deed. It encompasses the bond between two people who choose to be closer with each other in a way that they are not close with anyone else, who form a deeper commitment and bond, who tug at your heartstrings each day and make you wonder if you should start a Pinterest wedding board, just in case. It's a secret you lock behind closed lips until the time is right.
Like many of my peers, I am a frequent user of the phrase. I throw it around flippantly, to my friends, my peers, the guy who gives me my latte at Port City Java. But once I started dating my girlfriend just over a month ago, I ran into a problem. Now, a phrase that fell as easily from my lips as saying "me" to a funny post on Instagram is something I have to safeguard, something that I've slipped halfway out many times and turned into an awkward "I lov-iiiiike you. I like you." Luckily, my girlfriend understands (she uses the phrase the same as I do), but it's difficult to convey how I care for her without saying those three words. I wouldn't say I'm in love -- we haven't been together long enough for me to feel that deeply. But I enjoy being around her and appreciate the little gestures she makes each day, like bringing me soup when I'm sick or sending me a cute Tweet because "it reminded me of you."
I've asked around a bit to see if anyone has come up with a viable alternative for a boo who's not quite to the stage of "I love you." Much to my relief, consensus on this issue seems to be as confused as I am. One of my friends, Allison, replied to my question, "'I like you a lot. So so much.' is what I've resorted to." Another friend, Brie, says "I really like you a whole lotta bunches." Though these phrases are cutesy, they don't convey the same direct, deep message as "I love you." I continued to search, kicking myself in the meantime each time I slipped up.
After the long, drawn-out research that reading comments on an Instagram post entail, I came across some good alternatives. My friend Maia suggested "I adore you," which I feel to be the right mix of serious and sweet to be a serious contender. My girlfriend suggested "Je t'aime," because saying anything in another language is easier than admitting your feelings in your primary language. For the time being, I have settled on "I appreciate you," and using my actions rather than my words to show my girlfriend just how much I care for her until the time is right to say that three-word vow.