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What does saying ‘I love you’ mean?

What does saying "I love you" mean in the context of a dating relationship? What should it mean in a relationship that honors God?


What does saying “I love you” mean in the context of a dating relationship? What should it mean in a relationship that honors God?

I am newly in a relationship with a young lady who has been a good friend for a year. In September I moved away to law school, and we started dating in October. Adjusting to the distance hasn’t been as hard (yet) as we’d feared, because we communicate very well with each other.

I know that the word “love” has a lot of different meanings, but what does it mean to say to a girlfriend, “I love you”? I strive to seek what is best for my girlfriend in our relationship by leading and working toward loving her as Christ loves the church. I have also tried to sacrifice for her when we were friends, and I continue to do so.

While these reflect some biblical meanings of the word “love,” I get the feeling that “I love you” generally means something else. Something like Thrice’s definition from their song “The Weight:” “Love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment.” In this context, “love” means an enduring promise to be faithful to someone, not unlike a marriage proposal. Is this too high a standard? Completely off the mark?

Any kind of help you could give me would be great. I don’t think we’re at the point in our relationship where either of us saying “I love you” to the other would be honoring God. But I’d like to figure this out sooner rather than later. What are some signs or actions that should precede or follow speaking the words “I love you”?


I think you’re right on the mark. “I love you” can mean many different things, as you mentioned, but in an exclusive relationship between a guy and girl of marrying age, it carries huge emotional weight. You’re good to stop and think about it.

Our confusion about “I love you” is complicated by our too casual use of the word “love.” We love everything. We love those shoes! We love that song! We love those French fries. And we love God. By the time we’re finished loving everything, we’re not sure what the word means anymore.

But whenever you say it, you are saying something about how you think and feel about the object or person to whom you are referring.

We know what we mean when we say we love a certain pair of shoes. And we know what we mean when we’re in a forward-moving relationship, we’re of marrying age and we say “I love you.”

The two meanings are not the same.

I didn’t utter those words to my then-girlfriend (now wife) until I knew she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Yes, it was basically a “this is stage one of my courtship of you” statement, because what I meant by it was, “I love you as I have never loved, nor to the best of my understanding could ever love, any other woman.”

“I love you” in that context is a statement of exclusivity, a chip to be played only when you have a sense of “’till death do us part.”

I love a certain pair of shoes, but only until a newer, cooler, more comfortable pair comes along that I love more. Then my love moves on. But love between a man and a woman is a narrowed-down kind of love.

Imagine a very large circle of very many people — a number of whom you love, meaning you share with them a certain level of trust, respect and affection. Then imagine a smaller circle, within the larger, with fewer people. You also respect these people, but you love them on a deeper level of emotion. These are family members and close friends.

As the circles get smaller, the exclusivity grows larger, until you are down to one other human, the one with whom this level of affection, commitment and trust is shared with no other.

This isn’t to say that the love of Christ poured into our hearts isn’t mutually shared with others equally at the deepest spiritual level — it should be as we mature in Christ, but it is to say that there is one for whom that love is intended to bind us for life as a living, breathing parable of the love that Christ has for His church.

When you look around and notice there is only one other person in that small circle of exclusive love, then yes, you can say it. It’s true.



Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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