Jessai Flores

Three words, eight letters, and so many ways to go wrong. Saying “I love you” is culturally significant because we’ve been doing it since the dawn of time. Our parents said it to each other in the ’90s, just like John Cusack did in the iconic boombox scene from “Say Anything.” More than a century before movies, Jane Austen wrote “Pride and Prejudice,” which includes where the dreamy Mr. Darcy proclaims: “You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love you.”

This confession is universal, and our society has hyped it up to an insane degree. I’m curious, can you think back to the last time someone told you they loved you for the first time? I can, and my answer might surprise you.

It’s Saturday night, and even though I’ve only just recovered from my most recent case of the Yague, I find myself wearing a sequin gold top, holding my friend’s hands as we weave around the dimming High Street lamp posts. Usually I have better judgment when it comes to my health. But my high school friend is in town for a conference, and the typical tour of Old Campus and a half-assed explanation of the residential college system isn’t going to cut it. I have to rally to give her the full Yale experience, frat basement and all! 

Nothing seems out of the ordinary until I hear a car screech to a halt behind us. I break away from my friends and stop in my tracks, curious about the source of the commotion. When I turn back, a man sticks his head out the window and looks in my direction. We make eye contact and he smiles, shouting “I LOVE YOU” with obvious gusto. I tilt my head back and become overcome with frenzied laughter, and when I look up, I respond, “I love you too!” 

I can barely see his face, but the timbre of his voice was undeniably attractive. I give my friends mischievous glances, and I yell, “My phone number is—” I barely make it past the area code before one friend pinches my forearm and the other clamps her hand over my mouth. They admonish my thoughtless spontaneity, and we giggle together about the absurdity of the interaction, linking arms again with a renewed excitement for the night ahead. 

That, my friends, was not the ideal way to hear those three words in order for the first time. Sure, it was harmless and fun, but let’s just say, stories like these don’t lead to happily-ever-afters. I’ll never know for sure if car-man is worthy of my heart. Legitimate declarations of love should be special and significantly more thought out. Think of Kat Stratford’s poem in “10 Things I Hate About You” or the rainy, tear jerking reunion in “The Notebook.” Rom-coms concoct this moment perfectly, and audiences eat it up. 

So why do we love watching and experiencing romantic love so much? And why is saying “I love you” such an important gesture that is very difficult for some people in the real world to get right? I don’t have the answers to either of those questions. But I can tell you what NOT to do when it comes to saying the L-word for the first time. I’ve both declared and received a fair share of odd love confessions in my day. 

Here is a comprehensive list of where, when, and how you SHOULDN’T drop the L-bomb.

On a first date: Relationships are a lot like taking polaroids. You have to invest in the camera AND the film before you can even take any pictures. And once you do get that first shot, you need to wait for the photo to print, and then shake it for two straight minutes, vigorously enough that it makes those audible “thwack”  noises. 

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. My point is, romantic love is something that takes time to develop! You need to go through the process of getting to know someone before you know if you like them, let alone love them. Some of you might counter, “What about love at first sight?” And to that I say, those first impression feelings are all based on who someone might be in your head. Not who they actually are. 

So if you’re sharing tapas at Barcelona and you catch yourself wanting to share the L-word too, remember that you’ve just met. Your date might invest the majority of their income in cryptocurrency. They could have an extensive SoundCloud rap career. Let the infinite potential icks calm your feelings down, and just get to know each other first. 

At the end of a phone call: I get it, saying an affectionate goodbye is a habit most emotionally available people partake in. Sometimes I catch myself almost saying “Bye, love you!” when I’m making a dentist appointment on the phone. I’m all for spreading the love! Hug your DoorDash delivery person for all I care. But when it comes to serious relationships? I can’t imagine anything more disappointing than an impulsive, instinctual, anticlimactic “Love ya” at the end of a phone conversation where we spent 75 percent of the time talking about hair products I needed from CVS. 

Over text: Actually, I’ll admit that there is one thing worse than the phone call scenario. It doesn’t matter whether their messages are iPhone blue or Android green — and I’ll even cut WhatApp users some slack and group them in here too — nobody deserves to hear the L-word for the first time over text. There’s no conceivably correct way to convey these emotions on a phone screen. Text paragraphs are exhausting in any context, and if you have something that monumental to say, you might as well just meet up in person. On the other end of the spectrum, misspelling and acronyms are shorthand for when you’re being casual and they are never appropriate for major revelations. Don’t hit someone with a “love u” or an “ilysm” ever. Unless you want to get ghosted.

Mid hookup: I’m leaving the definition of hookup up for interpretation here, because it’s already so unspecific. Its usage ranges from adults ‘hooking up’ for dinner to deeply intimate, intertwining acts. I think the one-hit-wonder band Asia said it best in their iconic ’80s song: “it was the heat of the moment.” The magic of togetherness can sweep anyone off their feet. Words might slip out that you don’t mean, or at least didn’t mean to share right then and there. 

If you truly love someone, that’ll be a constant feeling that persists whether you’re listening to them passionately talk about climate activism or you’re enjoying sex-iling their roommate for the night. Loving a person translates into loving the moments you spend with them, heat or no heat. Sometimes hookups are just fleeting passions, so be glad you didn’t let your emotions complicate your love life. But if it really is that ecstatic to be close to someone, you owe it to share that with them in a less overtly sexual setting. 


It’s not my fault that I harbor such high expectations of love. We inherit a desire to love and be loved. That’s precisely why we fixate on romanticized displays of adoration from books, movies and family stories. But, in reality, saying “I love you” doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be meaningful. You should mean what you say and put thought into how you say it. The best kinds of love make you feel understood. 

Say it after returning their favorite book, which you’ve drawn hearts in the margins of. Shout it to them across a soccer field after you’ve scored a goal. Take them for a walk in the park where you first met, and say it while you’re holding their hand. There’s no need for any kind of cinematic build. If they love you back, whatever means something to you will mean something to them. 

Putting your heart out on the line isn’t easy. Many people find it safer to avoid romance, because it hurts when your feelings aren’t reciprocated. And it’s even worse when you both care about each other, but things don’t work out because one of you didn’t say something. Here’s some tough love: you can’t help it if you love someone, so you should definitely tell them, but in a considerate way. Don’t ruin what should be a special moment with a stupid text.

Eliza Josephson writes personal essays for the WKND desk as a staff reporter, ranging from contemplative memoir to light hearted satire. Originally from New York City, she is a sophomore in Pierson majoring in Comparative Literature.