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You know what? You gave it away too early. You're an "I love you" slut.—Robin, to Ted, How I Met Your Mother
There is a danger in using the term "Love" when directed towards a person who is not your relative (and sometimes even then). When done properly, it ends up as a Relationship Upgrade when the feeling is reciprocated. Other times, a couple is already in an official relationship they are scared of using any terms beyond "Like" or "Care for" as pseudonyms.
In some instances, reaching the "I Love You" place is seen as point of no return, or at least an indication of a long term relationship. Ironically, sometimes declaring your love for someone ends up as a Moment Killer, not necessarily because the feelings aren't reciprocated but because the other person isn't ready for that commitment.
In a contrast, the Casanova Wannabe tends to use this term so often that it completely loses meaning with them.
- Brought up in The Giver, where the society they live in is an obsessive Utopia that regulates everything from family units to emotions to painful memories, and everything must be kept to a strictly even-keeled norm. While they allow a degree of personal freedom and enjoyment, any emotion above caring for a friend is forbidden. The main character asks his parents if they love him, and they respond with the standard "Love is an innappropriate term..."
- Scrubs — An early episode has Turk generally grumpy, especially towards Carla, and there isn't any real excuse for it. Carla, expecting him to break up with her, eventually just demands he say what he wants to say and get it over with. Turk marches up to her, tells her how annoying he finds her then says "I love you, I want to spend every annoying minute with you." This is a great surprise to Carla, who responds in kind. The following episode was actually about a degree of fall-out with them expressing their love for each other, as Carla started panicking about where this relationship is going. They eventually get married.
- Dr. Cox started seeing his ex-wife Jordan on a regular basis in a Friends with Benefits sort of way, eventually having a family together despite not being married. They acted on the idea they were embracing a long-term non-committal relationship, but by the end Dr. Cox flat out stated that they did love each other and was tired of pretending they didn't.
- Drake and Josh had Josh having a nice moment with his girlfriend Mindy, and at a goodnight kiss at the door Mindy told him "I love you." Josh was flumoxed and awkwardly hurried her away, and after an episode of misunderstandings and mind games they had a more honest conversation about the ordeal. Josh said he wasn't sure what loving someone actually meant and Mindy admitted to feeling weird after saying it. They agreed to be Just Friends for a time so they can better understand their feelings, and they get back together in the Grand Finale.
- In The Big Bang Theory Leonard and Penny had a nice little moment in bed where Penny quoted The Empire Strikes Back and knew the reference, which prompted Leonard to say he loved her. Penny's response was a near catatonic blank stare before saying "Thank You?" The next several days was awkward until Leonard agreed to let the issue go cause, as he said "It's understandable we're in different places, I've been in this relationship two years longer than you have." By the end Penny decided to end the relationship because she didn't want Leonard longing for her reciprocation when she didn't know when/if that would happen.
- How I Met Your Mother
- Ted does this in the PILOT.
- It gets called back to in the next episode as well.:
Barney: (to Ted) I was trying to think, 'What's the quickest way to get rid of a girl you just met?'
(a few seconds earlier)
Barney: I think I'm in love with you.
Works-with-Carlos girl: WHAT?
Barney: (back to Ted): Thanks, bro.
- "First Time in New York" revolves around this for Robin, as apparently she's never actually said it to anyone before.
- On That 70s Show, Eric answers Donna's "I love you" with "I love cake".
- In Parks and Recreation April tells Andy "I love you", then gets angry at him when his response is "That is awesome sauce!"
- Seinfeld: George's subplot in the episode "The Face Painter" is entirely about this trope. After discussing how big a step the "I Love You" declaration is, George goes ahead anyway and says it to his date. The next day, the following conversation takes place:
Jerry: Those damn 'I love you' returns.
George: Well, it's all over. I slipped up.
Jerry: Oh, you don't know.
George: You have any idea how fast these things deteriorate when there's an 'I love you' out of the bag? You can't have a relationship where one person says, "I love you", and the other says, "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat.".
Jerry: Unless you're married.
George: I mean, now she thinks that I'm one of these guys that love her. Nobody wants to be with somebody that loves them.
Jerry: No, people hate that.
- Mind, that wasn't the first time George had said "I love you." He had also said it once, to a dog. Which licked itself and left the room.
- This is the focus of the Boy Meets World episode "What I Meant to Say". Cory tells Topanga he loves her despite the fact that they had only (officially) been going out for a few weeks and Topanga reacts with shocks and leaves immediately. She later breaks up with him and starts avoiding him. Cory confronts her about the issue and she explains that she was scared of those words and what they meant. Cory explains what exactly he means by "I love you", and she replies that she loves him, too.
- On Happy Endings, Brad wants his dad to say he loves him, so he tells him "I love you" when he's at the hospital for his physical. Dad thinks he said it because the doctors found something wrong and freaks out. After his near-death experience, he starts saying "I love..." to everything... except to Brad.
- Noah's Arc: Ricky hesitates to tell Junito he loves him over fear of him saying it changing things for the worse (as well as some deep-seated difficulties with commitment).
- In The Belgariad, Adara is only able to confess her love for Prince Hettar after she's been shot in the back, confident that she has nothing to lose since she's dying. She's mortified to then find out that she's not dying at all and will be fine with some rest, and Hettar is very interested in discussing this interesting topic, and has no intention of letting her get away.
- On The OC, when Marissa first tells Ryan she loves him, he replies with a very un-smooth "Thank you."
- The Order of the Stick: Haley, believing herself to be dying, nearly tells Elan "I love you". When Durkon heals her, she pulls a Last-Second Word Swap and ends it with "...ukuleles" instead. Elan naturally sees nothing strange about professing your musical preferences like that, although personally he's more of a banjo fan.
- Hey Arnold had Arnold trying to attract Lila and get upgraded from an "I like you" to an "I 'like you' like you." Still not quite using the term, but the implications behind it are the same.