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Levels of Love

October 15, 2010
love, candy heart, I love you

Photo Courtesy of Tony Eccles

So, last week I admitted that I am a love Indian giver. Frankly, this is not a flattering thing to be in the world of relationships. Makes me feel like sort of a jerk. But I appreciated everyone’s comments and support when I admitted my fatal flaw: I’m not ready to admit love for Chef, or for any romantic partner. However, what’s funny is that I throw the “love” word around with reckless abandon to everyone else but my romantic partners.

“Love ya!” I proclaim to my coworker who helped me reach an important deadline.

“Okay, tomorrow at six. Love you!” I say to my friend as we are scheduling drinks.

“Cookies and cream ice cream. I. Love. You.” I state to my Breyer’s Oreo ice cream as I’m eating it directly out of the carton.

“Love you, sweet dreams,” I text to my best friend Dawn. I tell her I love her almost as much as I tell my Mom.

So you see, my friends, I don’t exactly have a problem with l-o-v-e. I have a problem saying it to a romantic partner. In fact, I come from a very love-focused family. We say it every time we get off the phone, every time we leave each other. There’s some old story my Dad used to tell my sisters and me (although I’m not sure it’s entirely true) about his aunt and his mother, who got into a fight before bed. In some variations of the story, his mother said, “I hate you!” to her sister just before they went to sleep. In other variations, they just went to bed angry. Either way, that night, his aunt died, and his mother always regretted not saying she loved her one last time. So in my family, you always say you love someone – after every phone call, every night before bed. Even if you aren’t getting along.   

This past weekend, Chef and I went to his friend’s wedding. I told you guys I was a little nervous about going to my first wedding since I cancelled mine, but it was fine. Once the ceremony was over and I was able to partake in the open bar, I was all good.

After the wedding, Chef and I went to his restaurant to listen to a band play and hang out before we went home. Chef was our DD, and I was pretty set on free wedding drinks (read: I was tipsy. Maybe bordering on drunk. But not crazy drunk or anything.). Turns out, the band was my absolute favorite local band, so I was a very happy camper.

I sat next to Chef, listening to a great band and reminiscing on the night. Chef matched his tie to go with my dress. That was really cute, something no guy I’ve dated has ever considered. (Interesting note: he actually loves wearing suites and tuxes. You can’t beat that! There’s nothing worse than having to convince a guy to dress up for an event.) Chef had actually weighed in on my shoe choice, and didn’t roll his eyes at me while doing so. He had told me repeatedly throughout the night that he felt lucky to be with the prettiest girl at the entire wedding (points for that, and he’s a good liar). He had gotten me drinks, humored me when I was incredibly excited about wedding cake and overall been a really good date.

I looked over at him, and I just wanted to say something to him to describe the warm and fuzzy feelings I had inside. In my head, I thought, “I feel really strongly about you.” But um, that isn’t very romantic. Somehow, this is what came out of my mouth:

“I heart you.”

I know, ridiculous. What am I, 12? But it felt good to say and he laughed and told me that he “hearted me” back.

So this brings me to the actual purpose of this blog post. I believe there are different levels of love. After telling Chef I “hearted” him, I took some time to explain what that means to me. These are my stages of love:

  • I love you. I’m in love with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
  • I love you. I’m in love with you.
  • I love you.
  • I heart you.
  • I like you a lot.
  • I sorta lika you.
  • I nothing you.
  • I hate you.

So, in my mind, as juvenile as it is, “I heart you” isn’t so bad. It’s a little more than half way up the love ladder.

On another note, I remember a story my friend once told me about breaking up with a boyfriend. He asked her, “Don’t you love me anymore?”

“No,” she replied.

“Do you hate me then?” he asked.

“No. I don’t love you. I don’t hate you. I nothing you. You are just nothing to me,” she stated.

I have never forgotten that story. What a terrible thing to be nothing to someone. I’d almost prefer to be hated.

So, Chef and I have been proudly proclaiming that we heart one another since last weekend. And strangely, I’m totally okay with that.

What do you think? Are there different stages of love? What are your stages? Do you find that you are like me, easy to say that you love just about anyone, but you take romantic love so much more seriously? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

49 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2010 1:01 pm

    The fella I mentioned before, who I forbade telling me he loved me, did comply for a while and we would say, “Olive Juice” to one another.


  2. Nancy permalink
    October 15, 2010 1:19 pm

    In a previous relationship, neither of have said “I love you” to another at the age of 25 … we talked about how it made us felt and decided on MTL

    MTL = More than Like

    Maybe it’s an equivalent of I heart you?

    the relationship didn’t work out, but it was our thing that we slipped into everyday life as code without sounding like 12 year olds. hah.

    • October 15, 2010 1:24 pm

      Haha, I do like that one! Thanks for sharing. Very similiar to my “heart you.”

  3. October 15, 2010 1:36 pm

    Ha! you are such a funny character. I know that no one wants to be the first but after some point someone has to be or both sides lose. He heart you back…doesn’t that tell you anything? Its entertaining reading your blog. Much better than watching an ant farm :-)LOL! just having fun… have a great day!

    • October 15, 2010 1:45 pm

      Thank you… I think? Can’t say I’ve ever been compared to an ant farm…
      LOL! I appreciate your comment.

  4. Claudia permalink
    October 15, 2010 1:39 pm

    For me, being IN love with someone and loving someone are completely different things. When I tell my friends and family I love them, I mean in the 2nd way. But when you tell a romantic partner that you love them, it’s assumed in the first. So to avoid any confusion I don’t say love until I mean the IN love way, even if I do feel the earlier love stage.

    My favourite parts of a new relationship is the cute juvenile things you do. So I say enjoy it 🙂

    I’d add a few more levels to your list:

    I hate you.
    I don’t like you.
    I nothing you.
    I sort of like you.
    I’m into you.
    I’m really into you.
    I’m smitten with you.
    I ❤ when you do…
    I'm falling for you.
    I ❤ you.
    I love you.
    I'm in love with you.
    I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.

    I find that there are so many more steps and cute ways to say how you feel before the I love you, that there is no point in rushing it. Especially given that once that bomb is dropped, there isn't much progression until the last one.

    I'm currently in the I ❤ when you do… phase with tiptoes into I'm falling for you level. It's fun and cute. If we stay at this point for a while, I'll be more than happy.

    • October 15, 2010 4:06 pm

      I love your additions to the list!

      “For me, being IN love with someone and loving someone are completely different things.” I agree completely.

      And you are right, there definitely needs to be some steps between “I nothing you” and “I hate you.” Good call 🙂

  5. Matt permalink
    October 15, 2010 3:47 pm

    I agree that there are different stages, although I’ve never really thought about what mine are. But definitely separate from platonic love. I don’t tend to say it to friends much or to colleagues at all, but I think that’s a guy thing. I think the phrase which you and Chef have now is really nice!

    • October 15, 2010 4:12 pm

      Haha on the guy thing. Good point – you don’t hear guys saying “I love ya” to their guy friends before they get off the phone after they’ve talked about the scores of the recent game for a total of like 2 minutes. LOL!

  6. October 15, 2010 5:19 pm

    “i heart you”? That’s pretty cute.

    • October 15, 2010 5:24 pm

      Thanks! I know it’s a little juvenile, but I can’t lie: it feels pretty good to have something to say in moments when “I love you” isn’t a option!

  7. October 15, 2010 6:52 pm

    “For me, being IN love with someone and loving someone are completely different things.” I disagree completely. There’s something chicken and dis-genuine about that.

    But anyway…

    I used to say I was “in deep smit” with my last boyfriend. It was true and I enjoyed the implied pun.


    • Claudia permalink
      October 15, 2010 7:26 pm

      It’s chicken and dis-genuine when you feel love for your friends and family but it’s not IN love with them? Yeah… how does that work?

      There is a huge difference between the two feelings.

      I’ve dated people who I never got to the IN love part, but I still loved them as a person. I dated people that I was IN love with and now just love them as a friend.

      What’s chicken and dis-genuine is feeling love, but saying you are in love.

      • October 17, 2010 12:24 pm

        Claudia, I definitely agree with you on this. See the comment above back to Crystal.

    • October 17, 2010 12:13 pm

      Crystal, I like “in deep smit.” That’s pretty funny. But I agree with Claudia on this one, I feel like there is some distinction between “I love you” and “I’m in love with you.” I love my mom, I love my sister, I love my best friends… but I was in love with my ex. And I think that sometimes, you can really love someone – love everything about them – but find yourself not in “romantic” love with them anymore. So many that’s what it is- the distinction between loving someone and being in romantic love with them. Just what I think.

      • October 17, 2010 4:22 pm

        What can I say, the phrase “I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” makes me want to wretch. It reduces something complicated, special and painful into mere semantics.

        It is a gross oversimplification of the truth of any possible male-female situation and it should never be said to or about anyone. It is detestable that our culture allows it to stand as some sort of over-arching explaination or justification for anything.

        It just isn’t enough.

        Beyond that, it is cruel because it can’t be anything but dismissive and reductive of the person it is being said to. That phrase should be outlawed.

        • October 18, 2010 10:39 am

          I see what you mean with the “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” I think people definitely usually that phrase as a crutch, an excuse for breaking up with someone or hurting their heart. I’m trying to remember where it even started – must have been a movie or something? I think the concept is somewhat valid, but it’s vastly overused, and I agree that phrase plain sucks.

      • October 18, 2010 10:55 am

        Yes, I think it was a movie. And I’m sorry if my gag reflex and subsequent posts were offensive to you or to Claudia.

        I can’t concentrate — or type — very well while retraining vomit.

  8. japanesemiscellany permalink
    October 15, 2010 7:49 pm

    “I heart you” that’s awesome! I wish I had thought of that. No, I think you’re totally right there are different stages of love…and that’s not a bad thing…we all don’t move along loves highway at the same rate. When I 1st began dating the man who’d become the love of my life, he was very open with his joy and deep love for me and stated in a very romantic setting that he loved me. Though I felt very strongly for him and I knew in my heart I would love him soon …. I just wasn’t quite there yet enough to say it. I told him of my strong feelings but that I wasn’t ready to say the L-word yet…….and just prayed that I hadn’t quash his feeling and ruined what was an amazing relationship. But I wanted to be 100% honest with him and myself. Thankfully he understood and waited and when I said I truly meant it and every things have only gotten stronger since.

    • October 17, 2010 12:27 pm

      Japenese: That’s a great story – thank you for sharing it. I’m glad that he waited for you to be ready, and I think it’s great that you had the maturity to not say it back just because it was expected or desired on his part – that you waited until you were ready. For those who haven’t done that, I’m not sure they know how hard it can be to hold back until you are ready. You really do feel like you are hurting the other person. I’m glad it is working out for you though.

  9. jen eppery permalink
    October 15, 2010 9:25 pm

    Why focus so much on saying ” I Love You” or ” I heart You”. You have been through alot in the last year. How about just letting someone show you they love you. Let someone make you feel like your the only girl in the room. Catherine saying ” I love you” is sometimes very overrated. I gather from your blogs you were young when you fell in love with your ex, and your still very young. How about taking some time to figure our what you are really looking for in a man. I married my highschool sweetheart and then in my late twenties I realized what a mistake I made because I never really knew what I wanted in a man. I just thought we were together and we were supposed to get married, just like everyone else. So let chef “love you” in the sense that he is nice to you, treats you well. He does not lie to you or scream at you. Maybe chef is not the “ONE”, but he may be the one to make you realize what your looking for. Bad news for chef or in the long run he could be what your looking for. Stop sweating the word “Love”, anybody can say it but it’s how you show it.

    • October 17, 2010 12:45 pm

      Hey Jen! Thanks for your comment and for reading :). You are right, I was very young when I started dating my ex and I am 25, will be 26 is January. Thanks for sharing your perspective about marrying your highschool sweetheart and learning in your late twenties it wasn’t right. I think that happens a lot (but doesn’t make it any easier). I am definitely figuring out what I want in a man, and it’s all a learning process here. I don’t even know if I believe in the “one,” so that’s another story all together. But you are right, I think it’s about how you treat people and I don’t want to be so focused on the love thing. Once I feel it, then it will be right. I’m not going to force it. And frankly, I don’t want to stress about it anymore. That’s where this “I heart you” thing was coming from. It was a safe place to express emotions and also be a little more casual. Exactly what I need.

  10. October 16, 2010 12:55 am

    Well, I read the post and was right on my way here to comment and I was stopped short by the comment above. She said it pretty damn well. It’s not about the word, its about the actions. I said I love you for a long time to someone who I was not in love with. And then I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back. Now, I have learned that love happens in the silence. It’s in the way you feel when you are all alone. It’s in the way you act. It’s getting up earlier than you ever have to so that you can make his coffee for no other reason than you want to. It’s seeing his worst habits and smiling and knowing that it just doesn’t bother you because you know that at the end of the day he’s the man you love. All the in between is just growth. It’s just the learning curve… and Chef may well be the casualty of that learning curve. Not a great feeling, but we all have a casualty.

    • October 17, 2010 12:48 pm

      Rambling: I love what you said, “love happens in the silence.” I agree, it’s in those little actions that you show your love for someone. Those were some of my favorite things about being in a relationship with my ex fiancee… he did a great job of doing little things to show me he loved me. In the end, that wasn’t enough (obviously), but I am definitely looking for that in my next relationship.

  11. October 16, 2010 1:04 am

    I don’t have a love ladder – mine’s more of a love elevator. Pretty straightforward. The relationship is either going up or going down. Sometimes we even get stuck between floors. “I love you” is good from about the 46th floor up (my love skyscraper is pretty tall). “I heart you” probably falls around the 25th floor. “I nothing you”? That one’s in the subterranean parking garage.

    • October 17, 2010 2:13 pm

      Mark: Your love skyscraper is pretty tall! I guess my thinking has been a little limited… my love elevator had like 10 floors, tops. Your comment reminded me of what Megan said on the blog post: On The Rarity of Mutual Need:
      “So true! It reminds me of a friend of mine who has a relationship ‘elevator theory.’ She says even when you are in a relationship, the amount two people like/love one another is like two elevators right next to each other. The elevators go up and down all the time and rarely stop on the same level.”

  12. October 16, 2010 9:05 am

    Hi Catherine,

    I really like the differentiation, and also the terms you use (which are anything but juvenile).

    However, I’m going to be pedantic, is this about levels or perhaps modes of how we feel about someone?

    We love people in different ways, and to different extents. I think that in fact the nature of our love and the way that we express it is specific to the person. So I love my ex-partner and I love my children, the way I love them is different, for each one of them.

    This is where our language breaks down; for all it’s richness ours is not an emotionally expressive language. We have the most intellectually sophisticated and fluid language for expressing abstract concepts and hard facts, yet it is a poor vehicle for expressing our feelings, directly, for what they are and where they originate (not in the mind), which stems from our society’s values; we do not value emotion. The language of cultures that do is emotionally fecund, i.e. in Spanish we at least have a conceptual differentiation of ‘Te Quiero’, I want you (passionately, physically), and ‘Te Amo’, I love you (emotionally), the structure of the language gives this difference real meaning.

    It is interesting that the Inuit have over thirty different words for snow, yet we have only one for love, which covers a whole spectrum of feeling, a vital dimension of our lives.

    Language is useful, yet it is a finite, limited reflection of reality. Inherently it is predefined, comes with preconceptions, with baggage. This is where we need to be careful, to ensure that we focus on the content of what we feel not the way it is packaged.

    I am wary of our natural desire to label and categorise too much for in so doing it is easy to intellectualise our emotion, and ascribe our experience to a process, and try to manage it, rather than letting it telling us what it is.

    This is where I think the levels model breaks down, as it implies that we might move from one stage to the next, that we might ‘progress’, which provides a way of presenting (perhaps inaccurately or incompletely) and managing a relationship, but which does not necessarily represent the emotional truth or allow us to gauge whether we are in the right heart zone, or not.

    For me the ‘love’ component is pretty straightforward, it’s either there or it’s not, like resonance. What is more difficult to gauge in terms of relationships are other dimensions such as how much I like, respect and trust someone, (and we can love someone without any of these scoring highly; beware!) and how much being with them makes me feel good about myself (the vital indicator of a relationship’s healthiness), which perhaps could usefully be ascribed to levels to give us a more factual picture to help us manage ourselves through the life-cycle of a relationship.


    • October 18, 2010 10:47 am

      “This is where we need to be careful, to ensure that we focus on the content of what we feel not the way it is packaged.”

      I guess I never really thought about our language and how it impacts the way that we express emotion. You’ve made some really interesting points here, and I can see how our limited language and words to chose from can also limit the ways that we are able to express variations of love.

      “This is where I think the levels model breaks down, as it implies that we might move from one stage to the next, that we might ‘progress’, which provides a way of presenting (perhaps inaccurately or incompletely) and managing a relationship, but which does not necessarily represent the emotional truth or allow us to gauge whether we are in the right heart zone, or not.”

      This is such an amazing point – and I guess I hadn’t considered it. I do not mean to imply (now that I’ve thought of it anyway) that these levels are the progression, like climbing a ladder, and you must hit each level to move upward. Sometimes you skip levels entirely, sometimes you are up and down repeatedly. Therefore, it is not required that you “heart” someone before you “love” them, and you can be in “love” with them very quickly and not really touch these other levels at all. And sometimes, you are on a level, and with that person, you will just never move upward. The relationship just isn’t built that way.

      I really appreciate the distinction in the Spanish language of “‘Te Quiero’, I want you (passionately, physically), and ‘Te Amo’, I love you (emotionally)”. I guess we have that too, in a way, if you just say I want you… or I love you … but they make it sound so much more definitive, and let’s just be honest, the Spanish language is incredibly sexy!

  13. October 16, 2010 2:46 pm

    I am one of the unfortunate people who suffer from serious illness called ILY-phobia. Therefore I always say to my boyfriend: I adore you:) I have never ever said ILY in romantic relationship before and when guys used it, I simply kissed them. Little childish, suprisingly effective.
    Last year, after an unforgettable moment, I decided I would say it for the first time in my life. To my boyfriend. One bright sunny day in future- our wedding day. And cause I haven´t said it to anyone before, it could be really special and unique.

    • October 17, 2010 2:15 pm

      Elle: Ohhh… ILY-phobia sounds like a very serious disease. I think it’s funny that kissing someone after they said I love you is pretty effective. I just made a mental note of that tactic. I probably should have done that, instead of saying “I have to be pee.” this time around.
      That sounds amazing, your plan for saying it for the first time on your wedding day. Very romantic and meaningful. I’m not sure I could hold out that long, once I was ready to say it, but I think it will have wonderful meaning for you on that day.

  14. Alix permalink
    October 17, 2010 3:12 am

    I completely agree. There most definitely are varied levels of love and any emotion for that matter. As, I think, there should be. Nothing, especially something like love can be so black and white.

    • October 17, 2010 2:17 pm

      Alix: You are right – love is so complicated. There’s no way it can be black and white. In fact, I think most things in live are not black and white. Everything has different variations and, definitely, a gray area.

  15. Millie (Mom) permalink
    October 17, 2010 9:58 am

    “Love ya!” I proclaim to my coworker who helped me reach an important deadline.

    I say: Luv Ya!!!thanks for the help

    Cookies and cream ice cream. I. Love. You.” I state to my Breyer’s Oreo ice cream as I’m eating it directly out of the carton.

    This one’s hard I love apple pie, and I love you…

    Okay, tomorrow at six. Love you!” I say to my friend as we are scheduling drinks.

    I say: Lov ya see ya at six

    • October 17, 2010 2:22 pm

      LOL Mom, so you basically use Luv and Love and Lov… just depending on the situation and the person 🙂

  16. October 17, 2010 9:03 pm

    I think “I heart you” is cute.

    And everyone loves Oreo ice cream. Everyone.

  17. October 17, 2010 9:38 pm

    I thought the same thing as Axx when I read your post. He mentioned the Eskimos having a crazy number of words for “snow,” and we have a hundred different terms for like and love. Heart, smitten, fond of, falling for, adore…

    Remember in Bambi, they had “twitterpated”?

    Been following your blog, and I’m excited to see you and Chef “hearting” each other. So cute! And I appreciate someone else who loves Oreos as I do. I’m eating them right now, actually!

    • October 18, 2010 10:37 am

      I don’t remember “twitterpated” from Bambi, actually I hardly remember that movie at all (I think I was too traumatized when his mom died). Maybe it’s time to watch it again 🙂
      Hmmm…. now I really want some Oreos. Double Stuf. And I love ice cream – why hasn’t any invented Double Stuf Oreo ice cream? That would be amazing 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  18. October 18, 2010 6:47 am

    Yes, agree with you, very very difficult to say “I love you”,in fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve never actually said these words to a guy. The most I said was “I care about you”…

    • October 18, 2010 10:34 am

      Wow, you haven’t said “I love you” to a guy before? Guess that just will make it that much more special when you do!

  19. October 18, 2010 12:02 pm

    I agree that there are different levels of love. I also think there are different kinds of love within those levels. I’ve loved two men in my life, but the relationships were very different, and I think the love was too.


    • October 18, 2010 2:01 pm

      That’s a good point, different kinds of love. I can say that the love I’ve felt for different people has also felt pretty different. It’s interesting, because when you go into a new relationship, you expect those same old feelings of love to start developing – but something different entirely does. Not bad different, just different.

  20. October 21, 2010 1:21 pm

    It’s weird. I’ve really never put this much thought into the word. I guess that’s one more example of how we’re all so different though, haha.

    For me, the first time I was really in love with someone, I knew right away because it hurt so much. This had a lot to do with the fact that he was with someone else. Ouch.

    Second time, I knew I loved him and wasn’t afraid to say it at the moment where I knew I couldn’t NOT be with him. I didn’t want to even think of not being with him. And it was only about a month into the relationship that I had that realization.

    *Shrug* Everyone takes things differently. You’re not weird! And I love to say “I Heart You”!!

    • October 21, 2010 1:53 pm

      I do think it’s interesting how some people (maybe most?) don’t think these things through nearly as much as me. Not sure what my deal is, but I’m like this about EVERYTHING! 🙂 What you just said really struck me “The first time I was really in love with someone, I knew right away because it hurt so much.” Wow, that’s intense, and sad. Sorry you had to go through that.

  21. BeneathTheSpinLight permalink
    November 1, 2010 1:55 am

    “’Cookies and cream ice cream. I. Love. You.’ I state to my Breyer’s Oreo ice cream as I’m eating it directly out of the carton.”
    I do that too. Twins!
    Also, I think we have the same stages of love. I have no problem telling everyone around me (“Roomie, can you bring me a glass of water? I’ll love you forever!”) that I love them but I’ve never said it to a romantic partner. Except in high school, but that doesn’t count because he was a cheater cheater pumpkin eater and I decided to nothing him after I found out.

    • November 1, 2010 3:58 am

      Haha! Love that you are like me (makes me feel better about myself, LOL). Sorry to hear about your CCPE. Jerk. I nothing him too. 🙂


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