Tuesday, June 2, 2009

say "i love you" a lot

Maybe the title of this post should be expressed as a question, because I'm really not sure if this is a white-people thing or not -- to say "I love you" a lot.

I have noticed that many of the white people I've known say it frequently. Women more than men, of course. Lucky me, some might say, to be around so much love.

But then, is it "love," when people say it so often, almost like a habit, or like, a duty?

And even if these expressions of love usually are genuine, is saying "I love you" the only way to express love?

Of course not.

But maybe saying it a lot is an especially white thing. Which is not necessarily to say that it's not something that some other racial or ethnic groups say a lot too.

I see white people habitually ending phone conversations this way--kind of, hurriedly.

"I love you! Bye!"

I've seen them saying it to their children as they drop them off at school, again as the last or second-to-last thing they say: "Bye! I love you, you know!"

It's sweet, I suppose, and as I was growing up, my own mother said it a lot too. I know she meant it, but I sometimes cynically wondered how sincere she really was, if she kept saying it so often.

My father didn't say it often. He hardly ever said it. I now realize, with gratitude, that he showed it instead.

Actually, that's how I hear it generally works in some other cultures -- don't say it, show it.

In Native Speaker, a novel by Korean American author Chang-rae Lee, the protagonist is Henry Park, a son of Korean immigrants. He's married to a Lilia, a white woman, and much of the story revolves around their marital problems. One big problem that Lilia has with Henry is that he isn't emotionally expressive enough. Not enough for her, that is.

"I know you have parts to you that I can't touch," she tells him.

As Henry struggles to figure out whether he does have some problem openly expressing his emotions, and especially his love for her, he thinks about how love was expressed during his immigrant Korean upbringing. He especially thinks about his father:

To tell him I loved him, I studied far into the night. I read my entire children's encyclopedia, drilling from aardvark to zymurgy. I never made an error at shortstop. I spit-shined and brushed his shoes every Sunday morning. Later, to tell him something else, I'd place a larger bouquet than his on my mother's grave. I drove only used, beat-up cars. I never asked him for his money. I spoke volumes to him this way, speak to him still, those same volumes he spoke with me.

Writing for the web site Urbanatomy Shanghai, a white guy named JFK Miller takes on the dubious task of speaking for Chinese people on this topic. Miller attempts to explain, as his article's title says, "Why the Chinese Don't Say 'I love you.'"

Miller finds evidence suggesting that in China, verbal expressions of love may be common between family members, but not between lovers:

Shanghai Love Education Institute founders Ni Meiqi and Dong Xingmao say Chinese love is “like a thermos – cold outside but hot inside.” Western lovers (particularly those of the American variety), they claim, say “I love you” far too much, and what’s worse, “they don’t actually mean it all the time.”

So while some Westerners tend to overuse “I love you,” those three little words (or rather, their Chinese equivalent, “Wo ai ni”) just don’t seem to roll off the tongues of Chinese lovers so nearly as readily. Between parent and child, yes; but between man and woman, well, Chinese people seem to subscribe to the notion that some things are best left unsaid. . . .

Miller also interviewed professor of psychology Yan Wenhua, who says that in Chinese culture,

actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to love.

“To the Chinese mind, if I do all these things for you, then you should know I love you," explains Prof. Yan. . . .

“In Chinese people’s eyes, if I say ‘I love you’ too often . . . then maybe you don’t really love me because you say it so much."

In a recent memoir, Vietnamese American writer Lac Su directly addresses this topic, right in his book's title: I Love Yous Are for White People.

Like Lee's Henry Park, Lac Su is a son of immigrants. In a review of Su's memoir, Terry Hong writes,

Desperate for his father's approval, Su dares to voice his love for him. His father's reaction when Su utters the three unforgivable words ironically gives Su his title: "Are you trying to imitate those white people by telling me those f- words? . . . Is that what the whites are teaching you at school? To say stupid things and stand there crying like a girl? If you love me, show me. . . . Words are useless -- they do nothing but piss me off."

Maybe, instead of saying "I love you" a lot being a white thing, not saying it much is more of an Asian thing? No -- I'd need a lot more evidence before I could safely say that. Again, at this point I can only speculate, and sift through largely anecdotal evidence.

I don't know much about how love is expressed among other groups, and I suppose even what "love" itself is could vary widely across cultures. Who knows, when different people say "I love you," they might be saying very different things.

I also imagine other factors play a role, such as gender, as well as socioeconomic status, and all that goes (or doesn't go) with it. Being exhausted or frustrated or frantically busy can leave little time or inclination for expressing one's love.

And yet, people still do find ways, don't they?

I remember the following poem, by African American poet Robert Hayden, about a father who found ways to show his love, apparently instead of saying it. However, I don't know how "black" this poem is (no matter how much I'm encouraged in America to read it that way by my awareness of the author's race).

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

What do you think?

Is it an especially white thing to say "I love you" a lot? Or maybe, to say it lightly? And to put less emphasis on instead showing it?

Do you think white people tend to say that more often than members of other racial or ethnic groups?

And if so -- why might that be?


  1. In an attempt to be less lurk and Boo, here is this.

    I do not think this is a terribly racial thing. Societal, perhaps, but societies can often span race. Expression of love, at its most basic, is an expression of emotion. Western society (be it European or American) has tended to embrace emotion and its expression. And, from my observation, the Eastern/Asian focuses tend to be less on vocal expression and more on action. As you mention.

    Still, such vocal restraint is found often enough in Western culture. Specifically, even, in the Western film genre. The machismo associations that are so engraved in the style seem to parallel quite well the Eastern ideals of action over words. Enough so that one of the Western classics (The Magnificent Seven) is a direct adaptation of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

    Though I do not seek to follow the role of the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods, my own personal philosophy speaks more towards action than words. As with the character in the novel you mention, this has caused some clash with some of the women I have dated. Women who, though of varied race, all fell into the Western societal influence.

    Is East/West still a vast oversimplification? Definitely. But then, I think, so is much racial distinction regardless of the side the commentary comes from.

  2. Hmmm, is this a white thing?

    If so, I'd be very interested to know.

  3. not saying "I love you" is true of my Asian parents - at least until I left home during highschool and then they smothered my siblings with "I love you"s - to say "I love you" a lot was seen as weak and lazy, it's like you can't be bothered doing stuff to show the love and would rather just say those simple words...

    only poets, song writers and lazy people say "I love you" according to my parents LOL

  4. My upbringing was around (pretty much) solely African-Americans and European-Americans ("whites").

    I had to really learn the hard way that white people use "friend" and "love" in an entirely different way than I was brought up to (I'm Chicano).

    For me, friend meant "I'm willing to stand in front of a bully and maybe take a beating for you" and love meant "I'm willing to stand in front of a car for you".

    In my opinion, for some whites friend means "I'm willing to call the cops for you and hopefully they get here before the bully beats you to a pulp" and love means "I'll be with you through moderately stressful times"

    That was just my experience coming up. I think everyone in general has, in the ensuing time, moved further in the wrong direction with how loosely they throw around those words.

    So, the interesting thing for me is trying to untangle the causes. I can think of three potential:

    1) Culture - this is the least familiar one to me. If any white folks want to comment that would be great. I, personally, am not inclined to think it is culturally-based because, on average, I think whites are less expressive than people of color.

    2) Gender - women, feel free to slam me on this, but, I see women throw around these words a bit more loosely than men, on average.

    3) White privilege - In so much as I understand it, I think this is the biggest factor. I think that being, on average, in a more stable place with greater acceptance and a bigger, stronger safety net means one can "play around" a bit more.

    I don't mean play around in the sense of cheating. I mean that privilege means the effects of a previously-trusted relationship lost here or there has, relatively, a minor impact.

    For many people of color, every day is a potential new day to be betrayed or exluded by white friends, acquantances, co-workers,etc... I think the "survival" mentality that ensues makes the senses more acute to "fakeness" and demands one not flippantly risk the fragile psychosocial guards (e.g. friends) built up to face the trials and tribulations of daily life.

  5. From a white girl's perspective - white people saying "I love you" might depend on other things-such as class. In the white rural area where I grew up, the phrase wasn't common at all.

    From what I've seen, it's a white person thing to realize how much someone loved you when you're stuck writing their eulogy.

    No one in my household used to say it, myself included, until a slew of my grandparents passed away all within a same stretch of time. At that point, I made a conscious decision to say it when parting with people like my parents.

    It was the realization that I NEVER wanted that "stereotypical" regret-where people part in anger/frustation/ambivalence and then one person dies, and the other regrets their last words forever.

    It's especially important to me now, since 'actions' of love are harder to demonstrate when you're thousands of miles away from friends and family like I am now.

    So is it habit? Sure it is, but for me it's a good one that I've consciously chosen to adopt. Every time I say "I love you" I mean it as an expression of love and joy for that person.

    If I have children, I plan to say it to them every single day and as much as I can, AND back that up with actions.

    I also like to think that if-unfortunately-something like an abusive situation ever occur, where my kid is told the line "No one loves you," they can remember every time I've said it out loud, and call BS on whoever utters those lines and is trying to hurt and control them.

    But I can completely see where it comes off as glib and insincere. Most recently one woman I've only met and worked with for a short amount of time with has started saying the "I love you" as part of her goodbyes. It feels flippant, and bugs the hell out of me, especially since I don't particularly feel the same way back.

  6. I think that it may be more of a cultural phenomenon than a white one. My African American family says I love you all the time, gives hugs, and kisses, etc.

    This was unheard of with my black South African mother. She is more affectionate with my son than she was with me or my brother, but
    I love you's and compliments in general were rare when I was growing up. I asked her about this when I reached adulthood and she pointed out that she was raised to demonstrate affection through actions rather than words.

  7. My experience as a white American woman...
    I agree with PegsPirate as for the reason I say "I love you" at the end of conversations. I never want to regret my last words. For my part, I only say it with those whom I really do love. In fact I refused to say it to my now husband when we were dating the first time he said it to me, I responded "Yeah, o-kay, bye" and hung up the phone. (we were in seperate countries at the time.) I then sent an e-mail explaining to him that for all that I really cared for him, I wasn't ready to say it yet, but when I did say it, he would know I really meant it.
    I also agree with cdwriteme that there is often a different meaning in the terms "love" and "friends" within white america. I don't use the terms nearly as freely as most of my white acquaintances because to me it means a closer bond then the way that they use it.
    For my husband, who is from Chad, in his mother tongue there isn't even a word for love. He explains it as it is an action, not something that can be verbalized. That being said, he knows that it is important to me to hear, so he makes a point to tell me.

  8. Here's an interesting quote from the movie Angela's Ashes (set in Ireland):

    If I were in America I could say "I love you, dad", the way they do in the films. But in Limerick they'd laugh at you. In Limerick you are only allowed to say you love God, and babies, and horses that win. Anything else is softness in the head.

    As a part of a white middle-class American family, I find that "I love you" is pretty much just an expression of positive sentimentality. It's like a verbal hug.

  9. I agree with cdwriteme. Growing up, I also noticed the differences between POCs (e.g. black, Latino, Asian) and whites when it came to "friend" and "love".

    For me, the POC concept was "through thick and thin" and "for life", not like the white concept of "when it no longer benefits me" or "until it gets too hard/difficult/tough".

    It has a lot to do with culture, though. Growing up in urban Philadelphia, neighbors looked out for each other. So, you definitely knew who your friends were and who cared/loved you. However, since living in suburban Los Angeles, the opposite is true. You don't know your neighbors, even if you have lived in the neighborhood for years, and you don't know if anyone cares. Isolation rules.

  10. i never really thought about it before you pointed it out. i say "i love you" to my fiance whenever one of us leaves in the morning, and before bed at night. i say it to my parents when i finish a phone conversation with them (they live in a different state now so it's not like i can show them all that much).

    i used to think it was weird when my stepdad would tell my mom he loves her and give her a kiss before going around the corner to the gas station--he used to say this whenever he left the house for any reason or amount of time. when i questioned him about it, he said "You never know what could happen. Yes, I'm just going down the road for five minutes, but if something happened, at least the last words I said to your mother were "I love you."

    that stayed with me, and so now i find myself kissing my fiance and telling him I love him as I leave the house, even if I'm just going for a bike ride. we still show each other we love each other, but we still say it too.

  11. I am a WOC and I make a conscious effort to tell my children how much I love them daily. I never want them to doubt for one moment that they are the love of my life. I think that when it is done casually it can be a problem but when used to convey a genuine connection it is a beautiful gift. I always look my child directly in the eyes and touch his little face when I say it. I want him to know that I mean it to the bottom of my soul and judging my the closeness of our relationship he believes me.
    I believe the problem arises when we use the words I love casually to people that we do not really love. When we do this it devalues the meaning of the words I love, and makes them no different than saying have a nice day.

  12. Diana Barry BlytheJune 3, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    It maybe something that American females do a lot regardless of color.
    Insincerity as a problem (of any color), but the words themselves are not.

    And how appropriate this is, coming off the heels of Rick Santorum's blanket statement last night that African American men are not interested in love and marriage. So I'd guess Rick would say the "I Love You" thing is a white issue, or at least a not-black issue.

  13. Diane, well considering Rick's obsession over homosexuality and bestiality, he has some "issues" about love to work out himself.

    My husband and I tell each other every day that we love each other. So, Rick would have a problem with the fact that, as a black couple, we're married and happy. Yes, my husband wanted to get married. Crazy, huh?

  14. LOL This is a constant problem between my parents and I. I work hard with actions to tell them I love them, but they have unrealistic ideas of what I have to do to show my appreciation of them. It really is a lot of non-verbal communication and negative "talk is cheap" reactions.

    Regardless, I also am careful not to use the word "love" cheaply even with friends which causes clash with my friends, who are White ad throw "I love you's" as jokingly and affectionately as "I hate you."

  15. This is a phenomenon I noticed with my coworker and since this is the first time I ever had to share an office with someone, it's also the first time I noticed it.

    It surprises me that she tells her mother and father that she loves them at the end of every conversation. I wouldn't notice it once or twice but it's all the time. I really took an interest when she said it to her brother. Which prompted me to ask a friend, who has a brother, if she ever said I love you to him. She responded with a NO.

    I can certainly understand saying it to ones children or boyfriend/fiancee/spouse, but to your friends. I never say I love you to them. They better know I do when I sit in the Strand Bookstore with them waiting for four hours to get a book signed by an author I have a fondness for but was also happy to go home and watch Road Rules instead, LOL. That's where my love comes in.

  16. As a Chinese person, I think you've made a pretty good observation. I don't know if it's a "white thing", but I can say that among my immediate and extended family (who don't really speak English), nobody says the word "love" except the "white-washed" 1st generation family members. It'd sound phoney, to the point of being ridiculous, for any of my older family members to say something so direct.

    BTW, hugging or touching friends (and even family members once you reach a certain age) is also a "white thing".

    I think you have a great blog .. your insights are both brutally honest and inadvertently humours (I don't know if that was the intention but they are).

  17. I think there's a ton of variation within any group. Repression and discomfort can come in any color. I grew up in a family where "I love you" was seldom heard. You knew your parents and grandparents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins loved you, but good gravy, nobody was going to say that out loud. These are white people I'm talking about, coming from blue-collar Midwestern roots.

    My husband's family is very open with the "I love you"s, and they're Fiiipino. It's routine for us to exchange "I love you"s with them, but among me and my sister and our mom? Hell, if you say "I love you, Mom," to my mother, she might well stammer out a "thank you." She never learned to be comfortable expressing her feelings that way.

  18. I am from a white, midwestern, lower class family, and we did not say "I love you" or hug and kiss. We simply were not brought up that way. I don't know if this was due to race, culture, class, problems within the family (I highly suspect that my mom suffered from depression), or a combination of these factors.

  19. Diana Barry BlytheJune 3, 2009 at 7:53 PM

    I've mentioned you over at another blog that I read: The Black Snob


  20. Indeed, I was raised in a Japanese-American household by a Japanese mom and 4th generation dad, and I've never heard them say "I love you". My parents kiss and we all occasionally hug each other (before a huge trip or something) but we've never uttered the words. It didn't seem "weird" to me until some of my white friends mentioned it. I don't doubt that my parents love us very much; they've sacrificed a lot for us.

    The lack of "I love yous" still aren't all that weird to me either; my boyfriend and I have never said those words to each other, but we still know that we have a special bond, and we're physically affectionate. :)

  21. I do hear it alot and I use it alot. Verbal expression of love was not as common in my father's day and because of that, I think alot of babyboomers use it alot to avoid having their children wonder like they did. At any rate, if you're using it in the form of a casual goodbye, like "love ya babe" or saying it to veritable strangers it losing it's meaning but I don't think you can ever say it too much to your children and loved ones. Actions are just as (if not more so) important but it's a great phrase to hear!

  22. For me, friend meant "I'm willing to stand in front of a bully and maybe take a beating for you" and love meant "I'm willing to stand in front of a car for you".

    Me too! Although I usually phrase the last part as "I'd take a bullet for you."

    I think that's a common attitude among people of italian/sicilian background, regardless of class.

    In my (large, extended, but insular) family, verbal expressions of love were common, along with physical expressions. But it is not common to use these expressions outside of the family.

  23. Within the US there definitely seems to be a trend towards tossing the word love around lightly that goes far beyond it being just a white thing or a spanish thing or a [instert group x] thing.

    People my mom's age (50ish) didn't get a lot of verbal expressions of love from their parents, and during the critical cultural junctures that happened in the 60s and 70s (and 90s?) there was a concerted effort made to talk about love. See studies about autism and "Frigid Mothers". There are probably connections that could be drawn between increased public useage of terms of endearment, particularly by women, and the increase of women in the workplace, etc.

    That said... I have noticed a distinct class difference in the way some of the people I know throw around "love". The upper-middle class kids I went to high school with were all about using "love ya'" as a goodbye line, which always made/makes me slightly uncomfortable. Friends from poorer areas are not dramatically less likely to do this (though slightly less), but are much more likely to talk about how much they love specific friends or family members.

    In my (probabably somewhat non-representative) experience people with Privilege (white, class, etc) use the term more and talk about love less, where as poorer people/people of color toss the term off a little less cavalierly but are much more likely to talk about actually loving people in a non-romantic or sexual context.

  24. interesting take on this topic macon. i've long subconsciously thought saying "i love you" was a white thing - or at the very least, something i personally am uncomfortable with.

    i am annoyed by the need for people to hear that they are loved from people close to them. this also - for whatever reason - sounds like a white thing to me.

    the only person who i don't mind hearing it from is my mother. i don't even care to hear it from my wife, as i shouldn't need her verbal confirmation for what's already obvious. and then i actively dislike hearing it from other family members or friends - it makes me feel less close to person who says it.

    in any language, we've loaded too much power into certain words, and "love" may be the worst of them. people say things like "i love to eat cheese!" or "i love star trek!" that it no longer means what we pretend it means - yet we still pretend it means love.

    the actual concept of "love" is far too complex and large to be encapsulated or represented by any word or combination of words. so for me, using the phrase "i love you" is like showing a cell phone photo of the grand canyon or niagara falls to you...

    i don't, however, make judgment against people who freely use the phrase with each other - that means they're into expressing themselves the same way. but i resent the phrase being thrust into my life by people who i don't want to hear it from. it sounds cheap to me.

  25. I'm Asian female and I did fight with my white boyfriend about the word 'love'. For him love was an emotion. But emotions come and go, so for me it meant, 'I'll be there for you until the day I die and I will put your interest before mine'. The first time he said it, I didn't say it back because I wasn't ready to be there for him till the end. But when I didn't say it back, he felt rejected. I wasn't rejecting him. I just wasn't ready. Neither was I convinced that he loved me.

    We also had very different ideas about 'commitment'. For me it means marriage (i.e. a promise to be there till the end through thick or thin). For him it meant: I'm not ready to commit to you forever, but I'll commit to you for now and we'll see what happens later (i.e. the back door is open). For me, if the back door is open, it's neither commitment nor love. So when a man says it to me when he's not ready, it hurts. I'd rather not hear it.

    But if the commitment is already there, then I'd probably say it a lot myself. This applies to friends too.

    For me love is not something you feel, it is something you do. (I've heard other Asians say this.) It's a verb, not a noun (cf. 'I love you')...so it does seem like a culturally 'white' thing to me. I say 'cultural' because I have heard white Christians point out that love is an act, not an emotion, and that their society has misunderstood this part about the bible.

    Also, I think (romantic) 'love' has been so commercialized today and there is so little trust in 'love'.

  26. There have been times in my life when I've told friends and family I love them mainly to get some reassurance that they loved me too. Not that I didn't mean it, but I felt insecure and wanted verbal confirmation.

    I wonder if this is a reason other (white?) women are more likely to say "I love you."

  27. Good point. I remember saying 'I love you' to family for that reason. Perhaps that's also the reason why the (white) man I described above felt rejected when I didn't say it back.

  28. My family believes that love is something you feel, something you say, and something you present in your actions. But it is -NOT- something you take lightly.

    My parents, sister, & I always hug, kiss, cuddle, and always say "I Love You". We make sure we always say goodbye to one another b/c once you step out that door, you never know if you're coming back.

    I am also used to being close to my friends as well. Complimenting and hugging them when you meet and when you leave each other (white & black).

    However, recently my closest friends Viet & Chinese. And I've felt so confused! They do not hug and the highest compliment is "it's not bad" or something like that. If it wasn't for them inviting me out, the way we really get along, and how considerate they are--I would doubt how close we actually are.

    My last boyfriend found it puzzling that I demanded he give me a hug & a kiss before he left, every time. His family just wasn't that affectionate, but I think he really enjoyed it & appreciated the reason behind it.

    My experience with white & black friends has been similar to cdwriteme. When I say I'm your friend, I mean it. I'm your partner. I've got your back. If you're going to be in a fight, I'm going to be there. If you need help, I'm going to be there. If we fight, we're going to work through it. We're sisters. I'm a very loyal person.

    I've never been friends with a white person where that was really reciprocated despite their hugs & compliments.

  29. Wow. This post is, in my opinion, one of the best so far (since I became a member of SWPD).

    These comments about individual experiences concerning the preventable pain and confusion caused by ignorance between friends/partners of each other's cultural/family/personal interpretations of spoken language and body language make clear how important regular interactions between persons of all hues really is if our intent is to strive for peace and unity among Americans.

  30. I don't know if it is a white thing, but definitely an American thing, for at least some segments. I agree with your very insightful commenters who have said it better than I can.

    I'm black, and my father, who didn't raise me, didn't pay child support, and hardly knows me, would say to me constantly as a child (usually on the phone), "Daddy loves you" and as I got older it rankled. My Mother, who raised me single-handely, almost never says it and usually only if I say it first. It finally occured to me that it bugged me when my Dad (who would go nuts if someone told him something he does is a white person thing) said it, was that he'd say it but never showed it, whereas my Mom, who rarely says it, showed it to me as a child by taking good care of me, working two jobs, scrimping to send me to college, raising me in a place that had good schools that was kind of pricey rather than living somewhere cheaper with lesser schools, etc. I do tell her I love her now, occasionally, and I have one close friend from college who I'll say it to, other than that, I try not to throw it around too lightly.

  31. German-American white Lutheran women always say it since they're all about the trends. But German-American White Lutheran men don't say I Love You if they can at all avoid it. Praise the Lord Hallelujah!


  32. I'm really uncomfortable the direction some of the discussion has gone, people making value judgments on either way to do it. A tendency not to say "I love you" a lot is not bad, cold, cruel, or child abuse (as I've heard some say about various Asian cultures.) A tendency to say "I love you" a lot is not bad, frivolous, or "devaluing the meaning of love." They're different cultural behaviors. Can we please not attach value judgments? It REALLY bugs me.

  33. A lot of white people do throw I Love Yous around, but it's far from universal, and I think some of the people observing this phenomenon and remarking that only the younger, Americanised immigrants say "I love you" are overlooking the fact that societal attitudes change over generations. From family stories I gather that no one in my (white) family EVER said I love you to their children or friends, and probably not to their spouses either, until roughly the late Sixties to early Seventies, when everybody decided the healthy way to live was to constantly express their emotions. Suddenly it was more acceptable to say "I love you" than "see you in the afternoon, try not to disgrace the family name too badly in school today". I soaked up this attitude, and to this day I give my wife and kids random Love Yous all the time. But I don't use it to end conversations with co-workers, and I don't say it if I don't mean it.

    On the other hand, it is true that my wife, a black South African woman, doesn't say Love nearly as much as me. Is that because of her culture? Maybe, maybe not.

    On the subject of hugging and kissing one's friends being a "white thing": definitely not in my experience. Most of my South American friends make fun of the American habit of shaking hands with one's friends. For them, the natural greeting for a friend is a big hug, and a kiss if the friend is a member of the opposite sex. A lot of Africans and Middle Eastern people are very big on hugs, too. I grew up in Israel, and most of my friends there would be insulted if I didn't hug them after an extended absence.

    I have to say that I also don't see much evidence that being friends universally means more for POC than it does for white people. My wife and I have had friends of all colors and cultures, and in every group there were some who would do almost anything for you and some who would usually call you up when they needed a favor and were never, ever available when you needed help. Some people use the words "friend" and "love" casually, some use them to signify a great commitment, and some people (gasp) don't really mean them at all. At least, in every culture I've encountered.

  34. >A tendency to say "I love you" a lot is not bad, frivolous, or "devaluing the meaning of love."

    No, it's not. And yes, it's cultural. But the issue is whether or not people actually mean it when they say it. Often they don't. This becomes apparent when the going gets rough (whether in a romantic relationship or with friendships). Today it's 'I love you', but 2 months later it's 'I don't really want to see you because the relationship is no longer as beneficial to me'. That's the kind of 'I love yous' I'd rather not hear (especially if the person saying it demand that you say it back).

  35. Like many people commenting, my experience with love and friendship has been to say it less and do it more. I'll be honest - I've gotten hurt by people who'd swear up and down that they're my friends, who'd constantly tell me they love me, but then disappear when I really need them.

    These people have usually been White.

    Also, Macon D, you might want to do a post about how White folks define "community" (especially WRT intentional community) because I'm often scratching my head about it after they say "We're a community" yet feel OK with what amounts to throwing people away.

  36. So are we looking to develop and assign new racial stereotypes while at the same time clearly asserting the inferiority of the behavior?

    It is certainly a cultural phenomenon but I don't know that it is a racially developed one. Many comments here have already shown that it occurs in a variety of places.

    It seems that this post is more about insinuating that white people put less meaning behind their words or rather don't act in accordance with their words. Putting a question mark at the end of this insinuation doesn't do much to change it.

    The alternative behaviors described in the post were not portrayed in the same negative light and the "i love you" behavior was shown clearly as a negative. How is this fair or balanced? How is this not assigning a negative stereotype?

    If this blog is concerned with scrutinizing that sort of behavior in general, then why do it here? Why create such a leading and biased examination of this occurrence rather than striving to find the good along with the bad? Why not look for the bad along with the good in the alternative behaviors?

    This post was weak and stood out for its attempt to create "otherness" out of something as simple as "I love you".

  37. I can only comment on my own experience. I'm white (Jewish, specifically), and my boyfriend is Argentine. We're not big into saying "I love you," even though we're madly in love and have been for years. We're more into tacit expressions of love: the BF makes my lunch every day, and I do his laundry.

    However, I have noticed that I easily proclaim my love for things. Not only does he not do this, he gently mocks me for doing so. Example: I exclaimed that I loved a mini periwinkle blue vacuum cleaner I'd bought. "It's very functional," was his wry reply. "I love him and I don't even know him!" I proclaimed about a monkey at the zoo. BF said that he'd like to get to know him better.

    It's not just us. I started to notice that my family "loves" things while his family takes a more pragmatic approach by being merely interested.

    Not sure if this qualifies as a racial divide or not, but whites' casual use of "love" is something I've noticed, too.

  38. I truly believe how much, or how comfortable, it is for someone to say I love you is more of a personal thing than of a racial thing.

    Most commentors are saying that white people just "throw around" the I love yous frivolously. I've had Asian and African-American friends who do say I love you more than some white people I know.

    A personal experience of mine was when my boyfriend (who is from a lower class Hispanic family), first said I love you to me. I, very uncomfortably, said it back, so as to not make him feel bad. I do care for him deeply, but it's just hard for me to show my emotions to people. To this day, he still sometimes apologizes for making me uncomfortable by rushing me even though I'm now able to say it back now without inwardly cringing (wow, I sound awful, don't I?).

    I am white and I do have a mother who always says I love you, or "love you more." But I don't think that makes her care less about me or anyone else, she is a very loving, caring woman. I just found myself uneasy saying I love you to just anybody. I believe it's how the person is, and not what the racial stereotype might be, is from my experiences.

    P.S. The comments about white people generally "looking for an easy way out" and only being there for friends if it benefits them are a bit low.

  39. @MLeigh, it's not "a bit low" it's our personal experience. I feel this was made very clear through out the comments. Let's not pretend as if we were talking about ALL white ppl here.

  40. Old blog post but new comments so I will comment. I really don't think this topic refers to lovers or husbands/wives even though the longer you're supposedly with someone the less likely you are to say "I love you." I've said I love you to my boyfriend(s) and I think it's natural because we are expected to say that in some point in the relationship. However, we are not expected to say it to our friends casually for no other reason than to say bye. I think that's where the disconnect lies.

    Honestly, I never tell my sisters that I love them. I also never tell my mother. Does that mean that I don't? No. It means I reserve those words for strictly intimate setting or traumatizes life events not as a "see you tomorrow" type of thing.

    Like I stated above, I noticed with my coworker who said every time she spoke to her family, which was at least once a day, and some of her friends. I was extremely curious as to why she did that but I never inquired.

    Maybe it could have something to do with her parents being in another state, albeit, that state being Connecticut and we are in NY but nonetheless, another state.

  41. I am unsure it is a white thing. I hear "I love you more" and more out of my friends and, although I solely reserved the word for family members during the first 17 years of my existence, the frequency of those words by my mostly white friend group has prompted me to throw "I love you" around a little more often - admittedly, too often.
    My father (white) and myself (white) have had numerous disagreements in the past over words. He doesn't communicate via words and the rest of his family doesn't either. As a white, upper middle class family of a WASP-y mode, they sort of travel around each other politely expressing very little. They are a family with Family Secrets (writ large) and tight lips.
    My mother's more working class, middle class (white) family, on the other hand, uses "I love you" frequently and expressing their emotions verbally constantly.
    I've always thought that "I love you" was more of a class thing. If you are on the very top or the very bottom, you aren't being emotionally expressive in your language due to any number of barriers - I thought, the patterns of those around you being the primary reason. I thought that, perhaps, if you were in the middle - comfortable and seemingly, assuming yourselves to be "average" - you wouldn't mind saying words that could, in the end, hurt you or damage or embarrass you and your family.
    Those are just my thoughts on it, though. I have no idea.

  42. I know that we are influenced by our ethnic & family background in terms of how we verbally express our emotions. However, I tend to agree with those who have said that this matter has more to do with individual personal expression than what our race or ethnic heritage is. I think we all make a choice (conscious/sub-conscious), based on rejecting or accepting what we experienced growing up.

    We may feel that it doesn't feel natural to say "I love you" because that's not the way we were raised, so we don't say it. Or we may make a conscious choice do things differently.

    I am an African-American female, and I probably can say "I love you" to most of the people I care about relatively freely. However, I find that I am discriminating in who I say it to. I've also noticed that it isn't as easy to say it to people who are uncomfortable in hearing it, even when I know that they do indeed love me. I also believe if there are no actions to back up that expression of love, it's a pretty empty and meaningless statement.

    I'd just like to add another point to the discussion that hasn't been raised. I don't really like hearing "I love you" said to me in an offhand manner. It seems to cheapen it. And in romantic relationships, maybe because I'm an artistic person, I prefer if the person finds more creative way of expressing it, than the standard 3 words, which after time can feel "stale" if said matter-of-factly.

    Sorry for the long post - fascinating topic!

  43. I don't agree this is a racial thing at all, its far more complicated than that. It's not even consistently an ethnic thing or a class thing, it varies from one class to the neighbouring class, between generations and between different parts of a country. In some ethnic groups its more a middle-class thing, in others its the working classes that do it more.

    Here in the UK you only had to look at the culture clash between the Royal family and Princess Di to see how much attitudes to public expressions of emotion can vary hugely even between social classes that appear almost identical to outsiders (though it was also a generational difference). Certainly the Royal family (white, last time I looked) have never been big on displays of affection or sentiment(not surprising in a family where the children had to make appointments through their mother's secretary if they wanted to speak to them)

    Some sections of the (white) working class are famous for never expressing such sentiments either - just the other day there was a comedian on TV getting bitter-sweet laughs out of the total inability of his hard-man Cockney dad to ever say anything remotely affectionate or encouraging to his children (on the grounds it would 'make them soft'). But there are also strains of sentimentality in the working class here, depending mainly on which region of the country you are talking about. That might be down to the Irish influence, not sure.

    The most self-conscious displays of emotion probably come from a particular sub-section of the middle-middle-class(!), particularly those who want to act more 'European', and distance themselves both from the proles and the upper classes.

    Its complicated, and I agree you can't make simple value judgements about it either. I really don't know what ground one can stand on to make a judgement about what is the 'correct' attitude.

    (My own parents, being both mixed race and mixed class, had _very_ different attitudes to this)

  44. Not sure it's a chez whitey thing. But perhaps it's the same reason more white cars get tickets than any other color...because simply... there are more of them. Instead, I suggest that it begs the "nature vs. nurture" debate. My bf is Italian/Puerto Rican descent and he is SMOTHERING me with "I love you's." I am white (irish/german). I found this blog b/c I'm at a loss and I simply had to know more why my guy smothers me with I love you's. I told him it's too much! In fact, it dilutes the value! And then I feel forced and obligated to reciprocate. Of course I love him, it's constant and non-negotiable. I show him and I tell him when I'm especially sentimental. Looking back at the nurture thing, he belongs to a big family of 6 other sisters/brothers. I was brought up with little I love you's. We didn't say it much, but my mother loved my sister and I so, by taking REALLY good care of us. However, in the case of my bf, it's maddening to say such a positive thing so much. I'm sure things could be WORSE!

  45. I don't know if it's a 'white' thing. I'm black, but my mom and I used to say "I love You" to each other regularly. Mom felt that if it wasn't said, then it wasn't meant (sometimes she'd get sad if she told me she loved me and I said nothing). On the other hand, my dad IS about action and not about words. In my whole life, I've only told him I love him maybe twice, and he the same. We know we love each other, but we express it through actions. Since my parents were (my mom is dead now) so different in that way, I'm in the middle. I show my affection for someone in actions, but I might say "I love you" if someone says it first (though, it makes me uncomfortable if anyone other than my mom or grandma says it). However, I tell my dog "I love you" all the time.

  46. In my experience, it's been White folks, especially White women, that jump the emotional gun. White women especially seemed to want "insta-friends" and insta-relationships" base on the barest of amicable sentiments. For them the word "friend" used towards me meant "their Black friend" or "a nigger I do not absolutely despise who I can kinda pick out in a line up." Whites being "friends" or "loving" PoC also seems to mean "I'm in this relationship as long as it's convenient for me and knowing you will not fuck with my White privilege. Once that happens, you're dead to me." And it doesn't even take much to go from beloved PoC friend to "that [insert ethnic slur here]!" I've been relegated to uppity niggerdom for daring to show I'm intelligent and well-traveled (often moreso than the White person I'm talking to) and have had experiences that the White person hasn't. Many a "friendship" with a White woman ended once they realized I was not the ugly, Black duckling next to which their beautiful, White swaness can appear even more radiant. If I dared get attention from a WHITE male? Friendship was OVER!

    I also grew up with a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who often insisted she loved me while emotionally abusing me. Because of that I really don't trust that word. And I really don't trust it coming from White people. Well, none outside my husband since he has SHOWN me he's not about to throw me under the bus to protect his Whiteness.

  47. After reading the post and many of the comments, I'm left thinking that "I know you love me*" would be a much more powerful statement than I love you. I almost never hear it. And yeah, I would really only want to hear it in my closest relationships (nuclear families and three of my long-time friends.)

    *In the sense of "your actions make me feel loved" as opposed to "despite your denial/lack of expression of love, I still know you love me."

  48. my father's indian and my mother's white. i remember when i was little, my mother would want to kiss him, and he wouldn't want her to. i think he thought that was something they shouldn't do in front of the children. i asked him once why he never says i love you, and he told me, "i pay all the bills, the lights are always on, there's always food in the house, why would i do those things if i didn't love you guys?"

    i was engaged to a white guy for about a year, and i got into the habit of saying it to him everytime we hung up, and when he broke up with me, i was a mess. i went to my best friend's house (she's afghani), and her mother saw me crying and she hugged me and told me that when she prays for her daughters she prays for me as well. there was so much love in those words, and i thought to myself, the man who told me hundreds of times that he loved me is gone, and the people who've never once said those words to me love me more than he ever did. i agree with cdwriteme's definition of love, and maybe that's what happened, he loved me whitely and i loved him non-whitely?

    i seem to recall my mother saying that no one said i love you when she was growing up, (white, blue-collar, and in the country), i think my white grandfather ascribes to the same philosophy as my indian father, so maybe it's a generational issue.

    also on the topic of white emotion, my mother says that white people consider it a weakness to cry. i always thought that was strange, in fact, to me that's always been just about the strangest and saddest thing about white people. to most of the people i know, crying is considered not only acceptable, but actually desirable. we look at it as a sign of compassion. but i'm not sure if that's an eastern thing, a muslim thing, or both.

  49. Lol...as someone who recently came into the US, as soon as i saw this post a smile came onto my face because i remember noticing the same thing. I remember that a girl in my dorm would say this to me and be surprised i did not say it back. I know i may sound rude but no matter how strange this sounds, In Nigeria, my Mum and Grandma have said that to me once in a blue moon.But oh heavens, my Mum when i was sick, every single instance, would nightvigil on the hospital floor for weeks beside my bed and my Grandma could sell all she had for me if it meant my life. Yet it was not something we said. My Grandma told me she loved me the night i was traveling to America...and it made the atmosphere feel a cloud of eternal separation. I dont know why because it made me very emotional and teary. As the typical/average Nigerian, its engrained in our heads that our Mothers, Fathers love us even if they smack/beat you or dont say i love you.
    You are a child to them till you get married (this does not mean you dont act your age or do what people of appropriate age do) .They are heavy disciplinarians but seldomly would they allow you digress on the path of "good God fearing" life if it means directing your life for you till you are an adult, which does not mean eighteen years old, but all through the journey, you may be told "i love you" usually on milestones in life e.g graduation from university, marriage. Oh and now i'm abroad and we speak on the phone, i hear it more often because their daughter is not by their side.lol

    One thing that i noticed in America is that if parents seemed to discipline a child, it seems as if they are caging the child or been bad parents but at the same time have to say "i love you" so many times a day whereas in Nigeria, it is seen as a positive thing to discipline. Society sees the child as loved, guided and protected which results in respect and more societal acceptance of the child compared to "free independent" children at home who are depicted as carefree, irresponsible or lost. To a lot, this might sound ridiculous since now i live in America and see how things are but what is positive to one is seen as negative to another.

    Back to the topic, sorry for my digression, Saying i love you to my parents or little brother echoes needless repitition. Its as if we look at each other nad say "you know, your Surname is Ajayi because we're in this family". Well...

    Thus, it was very strange when some girls in my American dorm i befriended for a month said they loved me as they passed by or were leaving the room. I usually just smile and nod and hug instead because in my Culture or my family, loving someone carries a profoundly heavy meaning. Even my three friends since Secondary School in Nigeria till today have not told each other we love each other. It does not mean we do not but we leave those words for future partners.

    Nevertheless, I assume its based on cultural difference and that the girls in my Texas Uni. do that as part of their culture...verbalizing it is done in the spirit of friendship. I wont lie, i liked hearing it from my friend after sometime but then the next action might strike what she just said and then i became confused. But all the same, just my observation.

  50. It's definitely a cultural thing. Generally speaking, people from western countries tend to express their emotions louder than people from Eastern countries for sure. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but doing something too often for sure will dilute the true value.

    According to this article http://loveinjapanese.net/japanese-word-for-love-taboo/ Japanese people do not normally use "I love you" even though they have that word in their vocabulary. I have lived there for a while so I know personally this is true, and when someone says "I love you" in Japanese, you can truly know he/she really means it!


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