In a recent scientific poll that I completely made up, “I love you” has been overtaken as the most frequently used three-word phrase in America by another three-word phrase — “Where’s my phone?”

Actually, according to a recent Washington Post article we shouldn’t be surprised that “I love you” has been toppled from the top spot. Author, Lisa Bonos, writes in “How Three Little Words Became Such a Big Deal” that “there’s more anxiety around when to say ‘I love you’ and what it means than ever before.”

That makes sense. I can see how you wouldn’t want to have an itchy trigger finger on your declaration of love. Saying I love you too soon can be really awkward, such as

during a first date or in an encounter with a stranger.

Say What?

Then there’s the question of what “I love you” means. What does the announcer mean by the words? What does the hearer think the announcer means? What does the announcer think that the hearer thinks that the announcer means? See what I mean? It gets complicated. Maybe it’s just better not to risk the misunderstanding.

Many have found it safer to reserve the expressions of love for things such as food, music, sports, clothing, cars, and Apple products. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable

to say to someone you’ve been dating exclusively for two years, “Be quiet and turn the sound up; I love this song!”

It’s About Time!

However, finally confessing one’s suppressed or disguised feelings of true love is a theme, almost a requirement, in most romantic comedies. (When Harry Met Sally,

Jerry Maguire, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Groundhog Day, to name just a few). Who can forget the Cue Card Confession in Love Actually when Mark arrives at

Juliet’s front door and silently delivers his long-repressed feelings via hand-drawn cue cards?

For decades television writers have been fond of teasing us with couples on the verge of discovering and proclaiming what we, the viewers, have known for many episodes— that this man and woman who are destined to be together somehow keep dodging cupid’s arrow. We know they love each other and are perfect for one another. We chastise them for not recognizing the obvious while also trying to chase away other suitors for their affections.

Fess up; how many of you have shouted any of these comments at a TV screen:

  • * “NO, not HIM! Get away from him.”
  • “Dude, are you blind??!! She loves you.”
  • “Say something! Do something! Now, stupid!”
  • “No, no, no! Don’t let her get in that cab.”
  • “Kiss her, you fool! If you don’t, I will!” (Just me on that one? OK, never mind.)

Playing matchmaker to TV couples

Below is just a partial list of TV characters with chemistry and sexual tension that we kept cheering for to take the next step and express their love for one another.

  • Jim & Pam (The Office)
  • Sam & Diane (Cheers)
  • Chandler & Monica, Ross & Rachel (Friends) Wait, why not Joey & Phoebe? Because that’s called “the blind leading the blind.”
  • Larry Hagman & Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie)
  • Too many co-workers in medical dramas to name.
  • Bruce Willis & Cybil Shepherd (Moonlighting) The first of many TV detective partners we wanted to see couple up.
  • Mulder & Scully (The X-Files)
  • Sheriff Andy & Ellie the pharmacist (The Andy Griffith Show) Personally, I was cheering for Ellie over Miss Crump, the school teacher.
  • The Professor & Mary Ann (Gilligan’s Island) No, not Ginger! And no, Gilligan had no chance with Mary Ann…who was actually a former Miss Nevada, by the way.
  • Fred & Daphne (Scooby-Doo)
  • Oscar & Felix (The Odd Couple) OK, maybe not them.

Free advice

My point is that unspoken love must eventually find its voice. It must find some dramatic way to express itself even at the risk of it being unreciprocated, it being dismissed or rejected, or worse it getting you beat up by the girl’s boyfriend (see The Dead Poet’s Society, The Karate Kid)

My closing piece of advice is this: If you’re in a long-term relationship with someone who cannot or will not say “I love you” then check to see if you are dating a mime.

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at

ramonpresson@gmail.com. To read Presson’s previous columns go to www.franklinhomepage.com/?s=ramon+presson

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