Is the couple where one of the partners is reluctant to say “I love you.”
This cliché has been around for a while (it was used on Mary Tyler Moore at least once), though I think it only got really big during my lifetime. But while I’ve never liked it, I’ve pretty much grown to hate it lately, and last night’s episode of Chuck finally pushed me over the edge. I’m one of those people who tends to think that the decision to move in with a guy is a bigger decision for a character than whether to say one phrase that can mean a lot of things anyway, and is much easier to take back.
I don’t really get treating the words “I love you” as the most portentous magic words on earth, that can change a relationship forever. But I accept that in some relationships, it is a big deal and that some people prefer not to say it until they’re absolutely sure that it’s really love. The problem is that most shows seem to treat these three little words that way. It should say something pretty interesting about a character that he or she has trouble saying “I love you,” but instead it comes down to a simple duality: you say the words if you’re truly, truly sure it’s true love (usually the guy, like Leonard or Chuck) and you don’t say it if you’re not sure (usually the girl). What about all the other things you can do with the phrase, and what it means to have a character say it: like someone who says it casually, reinforcing how meaningless it can be? Or what about all the other signs, perhaps more significant ones, that a relationship is serious? It sometimes seems like “I Love You” has become a crutch, a quick and easy way to show how serious someone is.
I almost think the “I Love You” question makes more sense in the context of a long-term relationship, like that of a married couple. It worked on Everybody Loves Raymond because the point of that episode was not that Ray had never said it, but that he never said it anymore — which is something that is recognizable and plausible in a marriage. A lot more plausible, really, than in a couple that has just started getting serious.