my boss and coworkers all say “I love you” to each other

A reader writes:

Several of my coworkers and my boss regularly say “I love you!” to each other. This makes me deeply uncomfortable. As you may have guessed, there are some underlying issues with professional boundaries which impede our effectiveness as an organization (there are lots of friendships between “levels” in the company), but I understand that the only behavior I can control is my own.

One example of this behavior just occurred during our office gift exchange. We were asked to give a small Secret Santa present ($15) to a randomly chosen coworker, and when we were exchanging our presents we were asked to say something nice about the recipient. All of my coworkers ended their compliment by saying “I love you.” I just couldn’t do it. I ended up saying “I appreciate you,” which I thought was a true and appropriate thing to say. This was met with some raised eyebrows and sidelong glances. When presenting our communal gift to our boss, our team lead told our manager that we love her. This is becoming commonplace, and I just don’t think it belongs in a professional setting.

I am seen as less of a team player because I choose to remain friendly but professional instead of playing along. This problem is made worse because I have a straightforward and logical approach which sometimes makes me come off as aloof, especially since I’m a young woman. Do you have any advice on how to navigate the waters when my bosses and coworkers expect me to join in? Any help is greatly appreciated!

Yeah, that’s odd, and it’s not something you typically see at work.

It’s one thing if they want to do this among themselves — weird, but whatever — but it’s pretty bad that they’re treating you differently because you decline to declare your love. Like, do they not recognize that what they’re doing is highly unusual and not everyone will want to play along?

In any case, sometimes in a situation like this, you can poke fun at yourself for being different and gin up some good feelings that way. For example, I worked with an organization where my dislike of team-building stuff was well-known, and I just turned it into an ongoing joke about my curmudgeonly nature to explain why I wasn’t going to be at karaoke or whatever. In an office like yours, I might try to make my discomfort with “I love you” funny — pointedly saying “I like you” in a tone of great import, and joking about my emotional frigidity or so forth. (But then I am weird, and also very comfortable with self-deprecation.)

I am also a big fan of just naming the awkward thing and getting it out in the open, which in this case could mean saying something like, “Hey, for the record, I barely say ‘I love you’ to my family, so don’t take it personally that I’m not saying it here.”

Also, though, I wonder about the overall culture match between you and this employer. This might be way too much of a leap, but sometimes things like this are symptoms that you’re working somewhere that’s just not your scene in a bunch of ways. If it’s truly just confined to the I-love-you’s, then I’d roll your eyes at it and try to let it go, but it’s worth checking in with yourself about the broader fit too.

{ 286 comments… read them below }

  1. AMT*

    For some reason, touchy-feeliness from coworkers gets under my skin in a way that other minor annoyances don’t. I would rather my coworkers blasted the radio, microwaved fish, and clipped their toenails than hear them tell me that they “loved” me or be subjected to an unwanted hug. Brrrrrrrr. No thank you.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Yes. I once had a senior manager touch my shoulder and call me “darlin” and that was less than welcome. She never did it again after she got my death glare. OPs workplace would not be a good fit for me (or a lot of people, I suspect).

    2. paul*


      My (internal) reaction would be something like “Look, I don’t love me, let alone you. Eew”

      1. SarcasticFringehead*

        “I love you!”
        “Well, that makes one of us.”
        [awkward silence forever]
        Problem solved!

    3. turquoisecow*

      Same. I liked a lot of my coworkers at my last job, and came to be friends with a lot of them outside of work, but discussing the nature of that relationship is a little much for me. It was even difficult for me to have relationship chats with my husband when we first started dating. I don’t know if that’s because I grew up in a household that’s rather emotionally aloof (to put it kindly) but I don’t say “love you” to acquaintances. Ick.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I grew up in a very emotionally expressive household and this squicks me out real real bad.

        1. Michele*

          I am very emotionally expressive with people that I genuinely love–family and close friends. NOT with people I work with. Nope. Nope. Nope.

        2. Chrissy*

          I have a highly affectionate marriage and home life. We’re all always cuddling and telling each other we love each other. That said, this situation makes me want to hurl. It is wildly inappropriate for coworkers to say something this intimate to each other. Ick, ick, ick. It is a harassment issue waiting to happen. It drives me crazy to see professional boundaries being crossed.

    4. OP Here*

      This is true for me as well, AMT. I enjoy people and am affectionate in my personal life, but that’s something I don’t want to bring to work.

    5. DJ*

      I once had a coworker microwave Akee and Saltfish for her daily lunch. The office was essentially open-plan, and there were no doors separating the lunch-room from the rest of the office. I gotta keep this one in first place.

    6. ugh*

      One of my coworkers hugged me during my interview. In hindsight, that should’ve been a clue that the people I now work with are way too involved in each other’s lives.

      Like I am an emotionally expressive person and touchy-feely with family and close friends, but don’t you dare touch me or tell me you love me or anything like that if we’re not very, very close.

      1. Bartlet for President*

        I had a new coworker hug me at the end of her first day. It was super awkward, and I remember thinking “well, we aren’t going to be friends” because I am not a hugger. This last summer, I flew half way around the world with the sole purpose of attending her wedding (we live on different continents now).

        I mean, she’s kind of nutso, so the hug should have been a warning. But, apparently she was able to win me over.

    7. Zip Silver*

      There is an effective tactic I employed with a woman who would not stop cheek punching, tummy poking and calling me a teletubbie (I have a 6 pack), play tickling, asking “why dont you love me?” when I would do any sort of feedback with her. I think part of it is that I’m about her son’s age, but it annoyed me to no end.

      I fired her.

      1. Bartlet for President*

        The only person in the world that was allowed to pinch my cheeks was my grandma, rest her soul. If someone else did that to me, I’d probably cheek punch them in response.

    8. Christine*

      I would be running for the hills. I would be such a bad fit with the touchy feely stuff. Were they like that when you interviewed? Am wondering how that process went if they have such boundary issues.

  2. Kathlynn*

    ugh I have a coworker who sometimes says I love you to me, and it’s the most awkward thing ever. Like, no I don’t love you. I only say it back due to childhood training, that actually stuck, so if someone says it casually to me I usually say it back.

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      I hate when somebody catches you like that! They say I love you, and you’re standing there awkwardly like, “Uh, I love you, too?” because that’s what you’re supposed to say, but you didn’t get time to think about whether you meant it or whether you wanted to say it even if you meant it.

      I had a platonic friend who caught me with that, and I’m like, that was awkward but I guess we have been friends-no-bennys for five years and if I would say it to another female friend (I would) then it shouldn’t be different with a male friend, right? Ugh. It was different. Turns out he, you know, like-liked me and a few months later things were awkward and difficult when he wanted to “level-up” the friendship and was unpleasantly surprised that I didn’t.

      That’s part of what I hate about people saying it outside of very close relationships: I feel unsure of exactly what the person means by it. If you’re my coworker and you say you love me, do you mean that we’re the best of friends, that you feel we are like family, that you would like to sleep with me, that you think I’m just a good coworker but you’re extremely enthusiastic…where do I stand here??

    2. Jennifer Loves Some Thneeds*

      I saw a friend handle this brilliantly once. She replied with “Thank you”. It was a reply!

      I have used this when I was uncomfortable about increasing intimacy in a friendship that I wanted to deepen but just a little more slowly, please. It makes my position clear but doesn’t leave a silence dangling there awkwardly.

          1. ohyeah*

            Well we didn’t know that for sure for three years, did we. Let ’em wonder! I’d still rather say “I know” than “I love you too”. *cringes*

        1. LittleLove*

          Maybe, but Leia says “I love you” to Han just as he is being lowered into carbonite and Han replies, “I know.”

      1. blackcat*

        When I (female, mostly hetero) mistakenly texted my close (male, v. straight) friend “I love you” instead of my husband, he was super smooth “Aw, I love you too! Even better than my real sister <3"

        (his sister is kinda an ass)

        1. misplacedmidwesterner*

          I had a nice lunch time conversation with my husband. Then hung up and had a conversation with a coworker who I am reasonably work close to. Accidentally told her “love you” as I ended the call, and she was like “huh?” I laughed and explained husband was the last person I talked to. We both laugh. no awkwardness. I enjoy working with her, and we’re good. But no more declarations of love.

          1. lowercase holly*

            i make kissing noises to my parents at the end of calls, and i’m terrified i might do this to a non-parent some day. like a customer service person or whatever :-/

    3. SRB*

      You know how sometimes you respond to a situation with the wrong nicety?
      “Good morning!” > “Great!”
      “Enjoy your meal!” > “You too!” to a waiter
      One of my deathly social fears is being too close in either greeting or parting. Like “Nice to meet you!” > *hugs*. That happened on New Years’ and I hadn’t even been drinking. Or ending a conversation with “Love you!” to a coworker, friend, or stranger and NOT husband/parents because my brain is on auto-pilot and how I end 99.9% of my calls with the latter group.

      I’ve had a coworker say ‘love you’ to me *on accident* at the end of a conversation while in brain-auto-pilot early in the morning before coffee kicked in. I said nothing about it, because if it had been me that did that and been called out, I’d have been so mortified that I’d probably melt into the floor.

      I can’t imagine saying that to coworkers on purpose. Repeatedly. Eesh.

      1. Tau*

        I am so glad I’m not the only one this happens to, although in my case it mostly manifests as a chronic inability to distinguish between “hi”, “bye” and “thank you” unless I’m paying close attention.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          This reminds me of this one time I bumped into an old classmate. We weren’t very close or anything but we generally liked each other. She was saying, “I haven’t seen you in so long!” but I expected her to say “How have you been doing?” so I replied, “Good!!”

          So it sounded like I was pleased that she hasn’t seen me in a while. I’ll never forget the look of disappointment on her face. That was the last time I talked to her, too…

      2. Venus Supreme*

        Oh my goodness, I was on the phone with a coworker who is of a higher ranking than me. The best way I can describe him is that he’s a Dad. Like, a great dad. His tone of voice is very welcoming and he’s extremely charismatic. When we went to hang up from our phone call (regarding a stressful deadline he was working on with me/assuring me about), I caught myself before blurting out, “Love you.” So embarrassing. Like when I almost kissed my 8th grade math teacher goodbye before I transferred schools.

      3. dragonzflame*

        I once answered a new client’s “nice to meet you” with “love you too”. I think I’d been about to get in there first with “lovely to meet you”, got confused when she greeted first, and mixed it up with “you too”. I was never sure if she noticed or not…

      4. Julia*

        Yup. I once greeted my physical therapist with ‘good morning’ at 6 pm because it was the first time I didn’t have a morning appointment and I felt confused (even though I had just come from work…), and she just said, ‘well, it’s dark outside just the same.’

      5. Cartimandua*

        My birthday’s on NYE and every year, without fail, my brain will give up after the first few people have wished me either Happy New Year or Happy Birthday. I end up telling a lot of people that I hope they have a great birthday too.

      6. Sarah in Boston*

        OMG, you have got to read the Bloggess’ writeup of this happening to her and all the Twitter responses of what other people had said. I laughed so hard I cried. It’s linked in my name. It’s wonderfully reassuring to hear about everyone else’s misspeaking!

    4. TL -*

      Heh. My usual response is, “I feel a mild affection towards you, too,” in the driest of tones. Accompanied by an awkward bicep pat if at all possible.

      I’ve never been put in that position at work, but it works wonders with overly affectionate friends. :)

    5. Michelle*

      We had a donor that ends all her phone calls with “Love you, bye” and many of us have accidentally said “Love you” back. It just catches you so off-guard.

  3. CaliCali*

    I say “I love you” a lot to my family, occasionally to my friends, and never to my coworkers. I thought this was a pretty normal breakdown…

    1. SophieChotek*

      me too.
      the only instance where I could see it working with co-worker is (maybe) when that co-workers brings you the (expensive) coffee beverage you were dying for but never mentioned…then i can sort of see that exaggerated “I love you!” (instead of “Thank you so much!” or “You’re my new best friend”) but the way the OP describes it…no…
      I’m awkward saying “I love you” to anyone except my mom and my grandma…

      1. Lissa*

        Oh yeah I have used it this way! I think it’s usually pretty obvious it’s jokey, and I would only do it with specific people (no chance they’d think I meant it That Way)

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    At OldJob, we actually said “I love you” quite a bit but it was in the following situations.

    1. When you do a really irksome project at the demand of Big Bosses and unfortunately the lion’s share of work had to fall on one person. Or you had to ask them to do something they normally wouldn’t. Always light hearted in tone or silly.

    2. When people who we really did care for a lot were leaving, as in “I love you guys”. Genuinely said, if to a group instead of individual. Or when we would have baby/bridal showers and gift a big group gift.

    3. When we supported one another through some major life and work traumas.

    Alison is right. If they want to say it to one another, that’s fine. Ignore it if that’s something that bothers you. But they shouldn’t make you feel at all bad about not saying it. That’s screwy.

    1. Nolan*

      Yeah, the only times I’ve ever said “I love you” to a coworker was when a) they were someone I was already close to and b) they just did me a huge favor or saved my ass, etc. “Hey buddy, I was able to find that messed up charge, reverse it, get you an accessory sale, and deescalate that customer for you – without throwing you under the bus!” “Omg thank you I love you omg”

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yeah, the only time I ever said “I love you” at work was in the sort of obviously-hyperbolic-thanks way — “Oh you’re stuck behind a car accident and are running two hours late so I called your phone interviews and rescheduled!” or “Oh, that incredibly onerous task you hate that you got assigned even though you already had 20 hours of work to do in the next 8 hours? I just took care of that real quick.”

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          I’ve said it to coworkers who randomly drop cold Dr. Pepper off at my desk when I’ve got a headache. But it’s definitely and obviously facetious/hyperbolic, like when I say it to my mechanic who just saved me $500 by tightening a screw or something.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ooo, yes. I usually tell someone they’re my hero when they do this :)

        2. Lablizard*

          I have said it to co-workers I am close to in certain work situations that threatened to bleed deeply into what are normally off hours, as in, “I love you all to death, but/As much as I love you all, I am not looking forward to spending 9 hours in a car with you/hang out with you after an all day staff retreat/do work travel with you for 3 weeks/etc”. I generally know in advance, though, that none of us want to be in the situation

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’ve said it non-seriously when someone does something hilarious or faux pas but honest. In which case it means “I love your sense of humor” or “I love your approach to nonsense”—it’s pretty obvious that I’m not actually saying I *love* you.

        OP’s workplace honestly sounds off-kilter. Even by my liberal Bay Area standards, I would be creeped out if everyone at work were sincerely saying they loved one another.

    2. Orca*

      My last workplace threw around I love you a lot, but it was retail, the group was mostly early-to-mid twenties, and we all hung out outside of work frequently. EVEN THEN, it was mostly “I love you but you need to help me with this unpleasant thing” type stuff.

    3. Jadelyn*

      Yep – it’s a “you saved my ass!”-type thing at my work, and even then, super rare and only with coworkers you’re already close with. Most of the time, we stick with “You’re awesome!” or “You are the best!” or “You saved the day!” rather than “I love you!”

    4. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      We say “I love you” a lot at Wakeen’s, a lot. But it’s never smoochy swoopy, bottom lip trembling, emotional “I love you”, it’s, “[you did this awesome thing I didn’t want to do], I love you!” or “[you booked this 50k sale when the numbers were wobbly], I love you!” or “[you did this thing that saved my order and my customer], I love you!”

      I’ve been known to say, “I love you deeply and passionately from the depths of my being and I will love you to the end of all time” for a chocolate bar.

    5. IT_Guy*

      The only time at my office we use Love is “I am totally not feeling the Love” when somebody trashes somebody else.

    6. OP Here*

      I agree that using “I love you” in those situations is normal and endearing (at least in American culture). Unfortunately, this behavior doesn’t fit the bill! I certainly wish that it did.

      1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

        For sure. There is sincere affection between those of us who bandy it about, but appropriate level work affection and using the over the top “I love you!” is funny.

        I did say a sincere “I love you” to a 25 year employee going in for breast cancer surgery as we hugged each other and cried, privately. We’ll all agree that’s okay.

        Other than THAT, idk wth is going on in your place.

    7. MommaCat*

      I have a really dedicated group of students who often stay late to get things done, and I can’t leave until they’ve cleared out, so occasionally I’ll have to say something along the lines of, “I love you all. Go away.” Luckily it always gets a laugh and has the intended effect of getting them to go home.

      1. Lora*

        Ha, I do this too. When the junior engineers are peppering me with a million questions at once and there is a line next to my desk of other people asking me random stuff and I have a massively important deadline: “You are all fabulous people and I love you so much but please go away now”. One of my friends does it when her kids won’t go to bed and she wants to watch an R-rated movie: “Honey I love you so much, you’re so beautiful, now go upstairs and go to bed.”

        In response to unwanted I Love Yous, it’s “Well. Um, uhh…I think very highly of you as well.” *awkward silence*

  5. Isben Takes Tea*

    I would actually enjoy hearing “I appreciateyou” much more than “I love you,” especially since it’s said so infrequently you usually mean it when you say it.

    OP, it’s not just you. I know it’s not as weird in some communities and areas, but it’s awkward in a workplace regardless. So you’re supposed to say “I love you” to all coworkers, even if it’s to the creepy guy who’s been pouting that you won’t go out with him? Or to your boss’s boss?

    And, side note, just “I love you” is not saying something positive about someone else. Saying “I love your jubilant approach to teapot handle design” is.

    1. turquoisecow*

      Yes. I think that, in a work setting, it would more common and expected to say something about the person’s work or actions rather than something about the person themselves. A lot of coworkers might not know much about individuals (and really, if you’re working hard, there might not be time for that) but they might know that they’re the go-to person when you need something done quickly, or you have a question about how to use a particular program, or if you need honest feedback.

    2. Sadsack*

      I like your suggestion for more appropriate wording. Like, are these people actually rolling their eyes and thinking, “Geeze, Charlene doesn’t love me/us??!!” This is bizarre. I hope OP is able to use some of the suggestions here to deal with these people.

    3. CM*

      My thought was that OP’s “I appreciate you” got the side-eye because it was so pointedly not an “I love you.” But if she had left it off altogether, I wonder if people would have noticed as much.

      1. Michele*

        The whole situation of having to say something nice about your random coworker would make me uncomfortable. “I appreciate you” seems pretty darn diplomatic to me, but you could be right that if she hadn’t said anything, they might have just moved on.

      2. OP Here*

        Hi CM! I did try just dropping it the first time this occurred, and unfortunately they did notice. Saying “I appreciate you” worked out better than saying nothing. Generally I think that’s very good advice though, because it’s calling less attention to the issue.

        1. Managing editor*

          Do you all stand around in a big group and present each other with presents and I love yous? Cause that’s also kinda strange (IMHO).

  6. Important Moi*

    I don’t use the word “love” cavalierly, I think OP’s co-workers are.

    I am a longtime transplant to a region of the United States where “love” is used far too often for situations that love is NOT the right word. I too have a straightforward and logical approach which sometimes makes me come off as aloof….

    I do like Alison’s answer.

    1. Bonky*

      I was wondering where OP is, and whether there are places where saying this in a professional setting would be…not *appropriate*, but also not *batshit insane*. Where I live in the UK, it’s way towards the insane end of the scale.

      1. OP Here*

        I am in a very large city in the Southwestern United States. I, too, think that this behavior is towards the “insane” end of the spectrum. I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I also live in a large Southwestern U.S. city, and we would not do that. We might say something to a coworker about another along the lines of “Oh, I love her,” but it’s always clear in the context that it’s “I love her having her as a coworker because she’s so great,” not “I have feelings of love for her.” We would never do what your coworkers are doing.

          1. OP Here (also not in Houston)*

            I appreciate your perspective. When I first moved here, I thought it might be a cultural thing!

          2. ohyeah*

            In NYC the “I love you”s described by the OP would a) really not happen, and b) if someone did say it, the response would be a quick “WTFFFFF?”

          3. Brogrammer*

            While California has a reputation as being touchy-feely, I’m on the same page as you. When I say, “I love the new sales team,” I mean, “I appreciate that the new sales team is selling the product we have today, not the product we plan to have a year from now and then expecting me to deliver in two weeks like the old sales team.”

            1. Marisol*

              Yeah. I grew up in Southern California and have lived in Los Angeles for over a decade, am pretty liberal and do lots of touchy-feely personal growth seminars, and I can’t remember ever hearing anyone say “I love you” in that way at work and would be pretty wierded out by any workplace where it was the norm.

        2. paul*

          I mean…my family’s from NM (well, a good chunk of them) and no, that isn’t normal for any of them. This is weird and awkward. My BIL lives in AZ these days and I’ve spent time there too…not normal there…unless Nevada or Utah are really different this isn’t a southwest US thing.

  7. ZSD*

    If you could have seen the face I made when I read the post title…

    Yuck. If they’re saying this sincerely and not in a joking manner like TotesMaGoats suggests, then…yuck.

  8. Marche*

    I’ll often tell my close friends that I love them. But only my very close friends – friends I would happily donate a part of my liver to if they needed it. Definitely not coworkers.

    This sounds like a bizarre culture, and I worry that if there’s some sort of disagreement or fight the lack of professional boundaries might make the problem far worse than necessary.

    1. Brogrammer*

      You mean you’d donate a part of your liver to a very close friend, but not your boss’s brother? For shame.

  9. rubyrose*

    I’ve worked in religious organizations, which had prayers/silent reflections before routine meetings, and this would have been inappropriate even there.
    I would be seriously questioning if this was the right place for me.

    1. Tomato Frog*

      Now I want someone at OP’s workplace to start replacing “I love you”s with “God loves you”s to create extra discomfort!

      1. OP Here*

        I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that religious evangelizing occurs at my workplace. That is easier for me to ignore, however.

        I am currently taking steps to leave the company in favor of the tech industry. I’m looking forward to a workplace where one of my issues doesn’t revolve around my reluctance to show affection for colleagues.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Is your organization religious? Or just full of evangelicals? (in the evangelizing sense of the word, not the denominational sense)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Wow that’s a red flag. (you probably already knew this)

              This transforms the “I love you” problems into a much bigger issue.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Gotta be careful, in the South that can be a polite way of saying “F*** you!”

      3. rubyrose*

        Tomato Frog – your response made me cringe!

        Countess – you are correct, that is what that means in the South.

        OP – it is not surprising to me about the religious evangelizing. But be careful – the organization I mentioned above was health care, but I was in IT. We had to conform to the company standard. I do have to say, though, that the prayer/reflection thing was specifically mentioned in the interview process, so people could select themselves out if it bothered them.

        1. OP Here*

          That’s good to know. I agree that it’s different when the company is up-front about the culture. Maybe “willingness to declare sincere love and affection for coworkers” should go on this position’s job description!

  10. AndersonDarling*

    Wow, just wow. I’d keep responding, “Sorry, I’m married.” Or I’d go off the other side with “I loooooove you so much that I want to peel off your skin and walk around in you.”

    1. turquoisecow*

      I like that, too. “Sorry to break this to you, but I’m faithful to my spouse,” or alternatively, “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I snorted at “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now.” (in a good way—I’m saving it in case I’m ever in OP’s position).

      2. Lora*

        Haha, that’s PERFECT! “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now”, I need to remember this.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I dunno, with the way you’re describing it, that second one might sound pretty appealing…

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Omg. I have a husky who goes at life 90 mph. One of the things he does is sit beside a person and lean on them, HARD, as if somehow he could melt into their skin, I always joke, it’s not enough to be next to a person, the dog wants to be UNDER their skin WITH them. I think my dog would fit right in at OP’s place.

  11. AMG*

    Oof. I will sometimes say to my coworkers (a small team with whom I very good rapport) ‘You know I love you, right? We really need to pivot to focus on this because Boss needs it in the next 2 hours. I cannot proceed until you review X portion for accuracy’ or something similar. But yeah, that’s pushing it and I really only do it once every 6 month or so.

    Just dress like Spock for Halloween and make a show of telling everyone you like them.

    1. Ama*

      And even then, your example is a way of introducing a professional issue, I would totally take it as “I have a high overall opinion of your work, I just have a specific need you aren’t meeting” and not overly familiar. (I could see my own boss saying something like that to me.)

      But standing around and saying “I love you” to each other in front of everyone else as part of a team-building exercise (which is totally what the Secret Santa compliments thing is, even if they don’t call it that) would have me calling in sick the day of the party every year.

    2. OP Here*

      Thanks, AMG! My next Halloween costume is sorted.

      I agree that in a small team saying “I love you” as an appeal, or in a joking way, is appropriate. This…is not that.

  12. NW Mossy*

    When my older daughter was about 2 1/2, I told her (as I often do) that I loved her. She responded “I love Daddy instead,” and proved in a moment that you’re never too young to draw emotional boundaries. :)

    Seriously, though, saying I love you to colleagues in a manner that can at all be construed as professionally appropriate is such a small needle to thread that a blanket “yeah, no” is a perfectly sane choice. This workplace is weird.

    1. J.B.*

      Totally tangential, but my littlest has started saying “I wove you” which is so heart meltingly cute. Very very clear on her boundaries, that one. OK thanks for letting me derail a bit :)

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        My 7 year old has started saying, “I love you so much that I pee my pants,” at bedtime. Uh…..great? Thanks?

    2. Emi.*

      My sister had this conversation with her son.
      her: “I love you.”
      him: “Mama, I love…”
      [her heart leaps! he’s never said this before!]
      him: “…Chex.”

      1. Security SemiPro*

        My not snuggly tiny one once asked to be picked up, leaned her head on my shoulder and said “Cuh-do!” I responded, “Oh! Yes, Cuddle!” and I gave her a bit of a squeeze, feeling all warm and happy with this rare moment of affection.

        “No! No! Cuh-do! Cuh-do!” I followed her finger to the avocados she was excited about.

    3. AMG*

      My son and I had this exchange when he was 8:
      Me: someday I hope you have kids so you will know just how much I love you.
      Him: thanks. I’m joining the army so I’m really only going to see you on holidays and weekends.

      1. AMT*

        I like the implication that military personnel get to go home and stay with mom every weekend and holiday.

      1. OP Here*

        This is great advice, and something I’ll take into my interviews since I’m looking for a new job!

    1. Rincat*

      My VP just said this in our start of semester lunch party, gave a nice little speech about how we’re all a big family and we take care of each other. Except one half of the department hates the other and we have more drama that a Lifetime movie.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy

      2. Wendy Darling*

        At the company meeting for AwfulCorp, which I quit without anything lined up because they were awful, we spent like 90 minutes talking about some policy changes we made to increase company profits by screwing over our (misclassified) contract workforce. Then we spent the 90 minutes after that with senior leadership ACTUALLY BECOMING TEARY over what an amazing opportunity AwfulCorp offers said contract workforce and how great it is to be a member of the AwfulCorp family and what a great thing we’re doing for these people.

        I could not deal with the cognitive dissonance. I felt like I’d accidentally joined a cult.

  13. orchidsandtea*

    Alison, can we have an open thread about what sort of tone we try to strike in dealing with coworkers? The way we talk about our salaries, we could talk about our office cultures.
    I’m a warm person and I really like my team. I’d still be weirded out if they said “I love you”, except in situations like TotesMaGoats describes.

    But I’ve been overthinking my tone lately, because certain coworkers have gotten passive aggressive about minor things. It’s like the polished-brisk-efficient side of my personality collides with the awkward-overthinking side and the genuinely-likes-my-coworkers-and-wants-to-be-liked side in a tiny explosion of self-doubt and I spend two minutes rewriting an IM response to be juuuust the right balance of cheerful, casual, professional, gracious, and direct.

  14. Parenthetically*

    Whoooaaaaa. I tell my husband I love him a ridiculous number of times per day, and I sign off with my best friends and my parents and sib and even some of my in-laws with “love you!”

    This work dynamic (!!!) makes me INCREDIBLY uncomfortable. I really like and appreciate my coworkers. They are terrific, and have been so supportive over the years. But damned if I feel like saying I love you to them daily!!

  15. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’ve been told “…and that’s why I love you” in response to something I did. I’m okay with that. Otherwise, not so much.

    1. Clumsy Ninja*

      This is the way I use it with my coworkers (in those not frequent instances in which it gets used at work). And no hugs, please. Perhaps a “there there” from a safe distance if needed.

  16. Rogue*

    Oh boy. This reminds me of one of my past places of employment. Yes, many of the employees, regardless of level, were friends outside of work and would say I love you to one another. My supervisior even ended a call with me that way once. I had no response but “huh?” Looking back, I should have known better as soon as my interviewer said “We are like family here!” My actual response being something along the lines of “Oh god, I hope not. My family is really disfunctional.”

  17. Edith*

    So these coworkers and boss are all involved in a polyamorous relationship together, right? Right? And the issue is that they need to leave the PDA at home, right? Because that’s the only way any of this makes sense to me.

  18. Ive BeenThere*

    Gross! I suggest you make a plus sign with your two index and then hold it up towards them like a cross, as if to fend off the devil.
    Seriously, this is like, “Hey, you’re part of our little cult, aren’t you?” Do they also add love to emails? This might indicate a giant mismatch between you and your job. Good Luck.

    1. OP Here*

      I actually tried making the finger cross, as a joke (with the subtext that I was uncomfortable with the “love,” of course). In return I got a long monologue about how this individual is a member of Christian Organized Religion and therefore takes great offense at that sort of joke.

      Of course I apologized…and realized that this isn’t the place for me! I’m currently looking for other opportunities.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          My evil, don’t-do-this instinct would be to look at them solemnly and say “I’ll pray for Jesus to send you a sense of humor.”

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        This tidbit of information combined with the whole “I love you” thing is making me picture a very unusual workplace in which I don’t think I’d last a month. Glad to hear that you’re looking elsewhere. Best of luck!

  19. FN2187*

    The other day my boss said “love ya” to me after giving positive feedback on my performance. I froze and awkwardly said, “Aw, thanks.” I know she was just trying to convey her appreciation, which I appreciate in return. The culture in my organization is very, very loose with the love yous. The only person I regularly say I love you to is my dog.

  20. Tertia*

    I would probably say, “I appreciate you from the bottom of my black and shriveled heart.” And no one would question that.

  21. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

    I’m suddenly wondering if this was written about my old team :/ We definitely used it to show appreciation…

    “I picked up lunch for you” “Omg, I love you”
    “I saw Jeoffry headed your way and said you were out of this office” “love you!”

    But it was all very casual and we were all under 25. We, however, did not say it during secret santa or toward our boss.

  22. Catabodua*

    I’m uncomfortable just READING about this. I can’t even imagine standing there and hearing it in person. Yuck.

    1. always in email jail*

      omg i somehow missed this the first time around… this is some great reading! was there ever an update?!

  23. Master Bean Counter*

    This, to me, is creepy on so many levels.
    If this were me I’d go with the “I love the..” approach
    “I love the way you have reports to me ahead of time.”
    “I love the fact that I never have to ask you twice for something.”
    That way the coworkers get to hear the word but you don’t have to profess untrue feelings for them.

  24. Sherry*

    “I love you” isn’t so bad in some contexts. (“Would you mind grabbing that off the printer for me? Thanks, love ya!”) It’s the sincerity that bothers me in the OP’s situation.

  25. Addison*

    I get the … I guess “logic” behind them saying this – it’s obviously platonic (I hope?!) and meant to be cutesy-affectionate. A lot of my friends are internet nerds and there’s a bunch of *huggles* *SMOOCHES U* *pets* garbage that I hate but it’s just, you know, friends… being… friendlylike. But I still hate this. My skin crawled as I read it. It’s like pulling teeth getting me to say I love anything unless that thing is lamp, and even then I’m only saying I love lamp because I saw it, not because I actually love lamp. Coworkers saying this to me is the barfiest thought ever.

    I agree the joking approach is probably the best way to go though, unless they for some reason really take offense to it. A solid “sorry, I don’t really feel comfortable saying that, but you do you” should nip it in the bud if they do. I guess it makes us friend-grinchy or something, but them’s the breaks.

    1. fposte*

      With the OP’s additional information that there’s religious evangelizing there, I’m thinking this is meant to be a deep and sincere exchange of (quite likely Christian) love. If so, it’s a really bad situation: it’s going to be so upsetting to participants when somebody balks, and it’s an awful position to put anybody in.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This was my take/concern, too. It sounds like relationship boundaries are the less worrisome issue if there’s also active evangelizing occurring (and it’s not a religious workplace).

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This should have been explained to OP on the interview. I guess some people are okay with it or they would not have employees. But to think that everyone would be okay with it is weird.

  26. memyselfandi*

    I always thought the term was “jinn up” referring to the genie being able to produce something out of thin air. Alison’s use of “gin up” led me to Professor Google and a totally different explanation of the expression.

    1. KV*

      I admit I had never heard the phrase before and Googled it to confirm the meaning. Glad I’m not the only one who did a doubletake at it.

  27. NextStop*

    Sometimes people use the word “love” in an exaggerated, nonliteral context. Like saying they “love” a musician when what they really mean that they enjoy that musician’s work. The OP’s situation is still weird, though.

    1. Edith*

      Yeah. I love my boss. She’s a freaking awesome boss and I absolutely love her. But the kind of love I’m talking about and the kind of love implied by the phrase “I love you” are NOT the same thing and are assuredly not interchangeable.

      1. Marisol*

        Yeah, and it’s not weird to refer to someone in the third person that you love–I’ve heard people say that about coworkers and bosses and I’ve probably said it myself a few times to people in the office. It’s different from looking someone in the eye and saying “I love you” though. Like completely different.

  28. Zooey*

    WAIT WHAT??!?!? How is this a thing????

    Please tell me OP is the CFO of a cult or something where this would make sense!!! I actually cannot imagine a workplace where this is even borderline not-insane.

    1. Jadelyn*

      …so this is tangential a bit but now I’m picturing a corporate cult complete with executive structures and bureaucracy and just… Anyone else watch The Librarians here?

  29. help me im bored*

    My side hustle is waitressing and the restaurant biz throws around I love yous a lot. I have only reciprocated once and it was because my coworker was in on her 23rd birthday and got a bit toasty and I was trying to get her into a car to go home. I think the L word is tossed around more by nature of the work, but I generally breeze over it with responses like, “Oh stahp!” and “Shut up baby I know it”

    Snark 4 life.

    1. help me im bored*

      That said, my last office job had a joke of yelling “LOVE YOU” across the cube farm. We were all young and in the outdoor industry, so our hobbies/passions melded into our jobs and we saw a lot of each other. I went to college with a fair share of them. It was funny but I could never get myself to say it back. I spun it so I was able to make a joke out of it, so it was all fine. I would NEVER say it at my current job. The thought alone makes me shutter.

  30. Physician Assistant*

    Do you work for Hallmark? Declaring so much love at work is very odd. “I tolerate and appreciate you” is more apt.

    1. Environmental Scientist*

      “If I have to spend the majority of my working hours with people who aren’t friends and family, you at least make that tolerable and reasonably pleasant.”

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Thank you for this! I hate signing office bday cards and usually write “Get Well Soon” because I like to amuse myself. But it’s getting old so now I’m going to switch to “I tolerate you” instead.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        I tend to sign mine “Congratulations on not dying yet!” It goes over well with certain other quirky personalities….I think others merely raise an eyebrow and think, yeah, that’s Clumsy Ninja for you.

  31. always in email jail*

    I hate this. I just hate this. I’m disturbed on such a deep level.
    PS I agree with the other comments that “we’re like a family here!” will always be a red flag for me after reading horror stories on this site

  32. JM*

    I’ll admit I work in an environment where I truly do love my coworkers, and we express that to each other. There’s a lot of factors at play that make this seem more natural – we’re doing very low paying, in-the-trenches work where the main benefit is the fact that we always get to work with such great people, who all care a lot about the same issues, so the community aspect is a big part of the industry as a whole. We’ve all known each other for years and have seen each other through a lot, professionally and sometimes personally, so it feels very natural to hug and to say I love you to many of my coworkers. There’s a little bit of a “camp” mentality that’s hard to explain unless you’re in the industry, I think.

    That said, if someone ever said “oh sorry, I’m not a hugger” I would be hyper-respectful of that (and I can think of a few examples of close coworkers who just aren’t the touchy type) and I would never think twice if someone didn’t return an “I love you” – it’s a thing that comes up naturally and reciprocally for a lot of us, but I have plenty of professional friendships with folks that I don’t say that too, as well.

    Just offering some opposing anecdotal experience – OP, sorry you’re feeling ostracized for not being on the same emotional wavelength! I think I recognize that my work situation is abnormal; feeling punished for acting totally normal and professional when your coworkers are really the exceptions to the rule is a bummer.

    1. LoiraSafada*

      Just reading this made it sound pretty cliquey and awkward. I don’t think people that engage in this kind of behavior at work realize just how alienating it can be.

    2. OP Here*

      I’m glad that you have such strong support in your office. I think that writing this question made me realize that I’m just not comfortable in that kind of environment, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t have an issue with it if other people want to have that sort of crossover between professional and personal…but it just doesn’t jive with my personality. All that being said, I’m looking for new opportunities in a different industry.

      1. JM*

        Yeah, the more I think about it the more I definitely think that the hugging/love is a byproduct of the kind of work we’re all doing together in our industry that bonds us and requires a lot of self-care and support. If this vibe made you uncomfortable in our office, chances are the work culture as a whole wouldn’t be the right fit (NOT that that’s an excuse to alienate people over such a thing!)

        ALSO: There are plenty of people I DON’T say I love you to or hug (especially people that are my seniors, both in the office hierarchy and in age) and we’re not all running around telling each other we love each other constantly….but I do find myself saying it to co-workers what I would imagine other people think is an above-average amount.

        Loira: thanks for the reminder that you’re right, I might not always realize how alienating this behavior could be and it’s something I should examine, especially with new coworkers/environments.

    3. GirlwithaPearl*

      I was just going to write insomething very similar so I am glad I’m not alone

      I do have coworkers I sincerely love. Sometimes we say it in the office to each other. I’m okay with that. If others aren’t that’s on them. I would certainly enever say it to anyone I didn’t know felt the same back though!

      1. JM*

        Agreed! I think another thing at play is that I say I love you to a lot of coworkers, but not all of them by any means. And there are plenty of coworkers who don’t interact that way with each other. So it doesn’t feel exclusionary because it’s not EVERYBODY but a few folks engaging in the behavior.

  33. Cassandra*

    Getting such a King Lear / Cordelia vibe off this! “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless…” coworker? Nah, doesn’t scan.

    Anyway, OP, you’re not being thankless, you’re just being Not Weird. I hope your local Regan and Goneril learn to back off.

  34. OP Here*

    Thank you for your answer, Alison! I think your point about the culture being generally a bad fit for me is on point- and in fact, I’m looking to break into the tech sphere.

  35. Environmental Scientist*

    Is this more common in Southern workplaces? Because in the West, this level of emotional engagement would be reaalllll weird. Even when it’s friendly and convivial, I think this part of the country tends to be hard-bitten enough that telling a coworker “I love you” in any but a highly sarcastic way would be like an armpit fart in church.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s super weird, even for the southwest (granted, I’m only familiar with AZ/NV—there’s a world in which I imagine this could happen in NM).

      But yeah, even in the touchy-feely West this would be weird unless you were a bunch of teenagers working at summer camp (or outdoor education specialists working for REI).

  36. LoiraSafada*

    I worked at a small company like this, and like the OP, didn’t feel like I was in the ‘inner circle’ because I wasn’t willing to engage in childish, unprofessional behavior. It was incredibly toxic, and I am so glad to no longer work there.

  37. LQ*

    I think the culture thing is a really good point, if everyone is doing it so seriously then it might be a rough fit.

    To bridge the gap while you look for other things or if everything else is really amazing then I’d consider compliments a bit more. Not just “I appreciate you.” but layer it on a bit more to keep them from eyebrow raising (which I know is horrible, but still, if you need a job I’m trying to offer something here). Try “I really appreciate the way you are supportive and helpful when we are at crunch time.” or “I very much value the way you always bring something innovative to the table.”

    If anyone asks you can say “Oh I love you is cheap and easy and says nothing, I want to show you how much you really mean to me.”

    1. Cassandra*

      I was thinking along these lines also. “I think you’re the greatest!” or similar hyperbole.

    2. OP Here*

      I’m definitely going to use this…while looking for another job! Thank your for the suggestion.

  38. Erin*

    It’s weird to say I love you to a coworker, unless you work in a family business and it’s your mom.
    The only time I think it’s appropriate is when you’re telling a co-worker I love that specific thing you did or I love that specific characteristic about you. For example: “I love that I don’t have to tell you to take out the trash, you just take the initiate and empty it without instruction.”

    1. copy run start*

      I have some openings in the facilities maintenance department at My Apartment Inc… I would love to speak with this model employee!

  39. copy run start*

    I worked in a very huggy/touchy place where “I love you” could be heard. Usually it was between co-workers who were very close outside of the office or if you really helped someone out. It was odd at first, but we were a strong team and it was a safe place I felt. No one was ever judged for not saying it back.

    It was never heard between management and staff though. That would’ve been creepy, not in the least because management wasn’t popular.

  40. EmmaLou*

    This is like an accidental thing that happens and then you wish the ground would swallow you. It seems like this should have been something like that and then because everyone wanted to make the embarrassed person feel better they ALL did it. And it got stuck and became the Weird Norm. Like that poor kid in elementary school who called the teacher “mom” or when my husband told my best friend on the phone “Would you please tell my wife I’ll be by to pick her up at 5. Thanks. Love you, bye! Oh! OH!!! I didn’t mean that! I mean… Oh! Good-bye.” The Blogess had that lovely post on things we’ve all done. Link to follow. This feels like that kind of thing.

      1. Jen G*

        I’m about to make myself sick from laughing so hard. I’m so glad I’m at home with a snow day and not at work.

  41. Camellia*

    I like to respond to over-the-top compliments, excessive gushing, etc. with the phrase, “Oh, you are too kind!” spoken in a firm but warm voice, followed by a quick change of subject. I think that would work well in this situation – the second time. The first time, I would probably be standing there with my eyebrows bouncing off my hairline and/or mouth gaping like a fish.

  42. Kyrielle*

    I kinda want to just drop a Nopetopus gif here.

    I would be running. I would so be running.

    (Nopetopus GIF linked in website. Bets on how many comments I post with it before I remember to clear it, confusing people horribly in other contexts?)

    1. MommaTRex*

      I’m just wondering if anyone is hearing Christopher Cross singing “Ride Like the Wind” in their heads like I am.

  43. Imaginary Number*

    I have this problem with hugging in my workplace. I’m in a leadership program that’s fairly tight-knit and they’re very into hugging as a greeting. It makes me feel kind of uncomfortable, but I’m also don’t want to set myself apart as “Oh, be careful, that one doesn’t like to be hugged.” It’s also kind of frustrating because the “hugging” norm really only applies to the women. The women hug the other women and the men hug the other women but there are no men hugging men as a greeting.

    1. Ilovemyjob....Truly!!!*

      Years ago I read a quote that went along the lines of “One whisper when added to a thousand others turns into a roar hard to ignore.” What always struck me with that quote is that someone had to start the whispering.

      What if the next time someone tried to hug you, you offered a handshake for a greeting? Still physical contact, professional, and totally appropriate. Smile, thrust hand, wait for the stunned look before they take your hand (because they will!) and shake. If they ask, then offer something along the lines of “I’m really not comfortable hugging” and then move on. I think you might be surprised at how many people, especially women, will follow the example you’re setting. If you do this consistently, even if all of your co-workers continue to hug, they will follow and always shake your hand.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I usually do that, go in for the handshake before they can move in for the hug. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Or even better, great them with an East/South Asian bow (I do this sometimes by accident, but it’s a great hug deterrent).

    2. Blue Anne*

      I have had someone say “I’m a hugger!” as they went in for the hug. Which does this weird thing of acknowledging that it’s weird and also making you look like a jerk if you don’t let them hug you. I am also totally a hugger outside of work, but in the moment I just wanted to say “And I’m a puncher! Get away from me!”

      Some things are just not okay in a professional context.

      1. bluesboy*

        I don’t normally believe in stereotypes, but I like to use mine here.
        “I’m a hugger!”
        “Yeeess…well I’m English.”

        At which point the hugs stop. Like forever. Because apparently we’re all cold unfriendly people who only hug our partners while drunk if the lights are off.

  44. Ilovemyjob....Truly!!!*

    WOW! What a timely letter. Today I was standing at the fax machine sending out a document when one of my co-workers received an email that apparently said something complimentary. She said as much out loud, followed by “I like it when people are nice to one another.” This sounds harmless but I am known as the “mean” person in the office. Why? I am not willing to share my personal life with them. I don’t offer much more than “My weekend was good, and yours?” I don’t run to the break room to gossip. I don’t give hugs and don’t like getting them. I eat my lunch at my desk while reading a book. I’m not rude – at least I don’t think I am. I engage in conversation: I’ll talk about pop-culture and current events til the cows come home, but I’m not interested in divulging my relationship with my parents to my co-workers (and yes, I’ve been asked!). It’s weird.
    I think I will use some of AAM advice here. I know the company culture is not like this…just this location. I’ll just keep my head down and remind myself that I don’t really care what they think of me. If being “mean” is code for me having boundaries that they respect (but don’t understand) then so be it! I’m mean.

  45. Rachel Green*

    Is there anyone else in the office you suspect might also be feeling uncomfortable? I would be surprised if you’re the first one to be irked by this. If you can find some allies that also want to push back a little, it will make it seem less like you’re the ONLY one not saying “I love you.”

    1. OP Here*

      This is a good suggestion. Unfortunately, there is no indication that anyone else feels the way that I do about this issue, and it would be a risk to ask someone in this group because, as you might imagine, word travels fast around this office.

      I’ve chosen to pursue other opportunities and smooth things over in the meantime. However, if there is an exit interview of any kind, I’ll certainly let them know that this may make a new employee uncomfortable.

  46. Colorado*

    I’m a pretty touchy-feely, loving person and this would make me very uncomfortable. I am definitely from the camp of boundaries at work. It reminds me of something that happened a couple weeks ago I was going to put on Open Thread because I was mortified. My boss, who is amazing, came to me and apologized profusely for something she said that was incorrect. No big deal. But for some reason I said “Don’t worry Boss, you’re great and I love you”. Then a very awkward pause. It just came out, never intended to say that. Just thinking about it still makes me feel weird.

  47. Blue Anne*

    I think once or twice, when someone I work with who I have a really good relationship and know isn’t a super formal person with has really saved my butt, or otherwise done something super awesome, I have said “Oh my god, I love you so much right now.”

    In the same situation I might say “You are my new best friend” or “You’re an absolute star” or “You have totally saved my life, thank you so much.”

    That seems like pretty much the only time it’s okay to even use the L word in reference to a co-worker. But it’s a weird issue, because I know that for some people, even that would be way over the top – and then apparently OP’s office is at the other extreme. Yuck.

  48. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    I’ve been known to cross a few boundaries in my day, but I only use “love” in the other direction. Like, “coworker Shazam, you saved my bacon with the CEO, kept that irate customer from killing me, AND closed the register and took out the trash? See, I always KNEW you loved me!” I’d be running from your workplace OP.

    1. OP Here*

      I am, indeed, choosing to run. I think the necessity of leaving came clear to me especially after seeing everyone’s reactions to this issue. Thanks for your perspective!

  49. ohyeah*

    I just could not deal with this insanity at work. I’d have no trouble looking anyone in the eye (at work) and saying “I don’t love you”. Not in a hostile way, but I shouldn’t be loving anyone at work, ICK.

    I run away fast, OP.

  50. Chomps*

    Wow. This seems so inappropriate. I pretty much only say I love you to my immediate family. That’s it. Not to coworkers.

  51. Nyt*

    So… at my office some of us will use ‘i love you’ but in the sense that someone-just-did-an-amazing-thing or I-have-to-tell-you-something-you-are-reallly-not-going-to-like. I fall in the latter category and people will respond in various ‘oh dear lord what now?’. It’s a bit of fun that everyone understands but not all participate and everyone tends to get along.

    Most of the people I work with have been there since the company opened. The extended family that is not related happens. That isn’t to say we aren’t cynical and jaded at times. For us it is definitely a situational thing.

    Never romantic.

  52. Lolli*

    Years ago, I worked at a help desk with a walk in counter. I was on the phone helping my husband troubleshoot a computer problem. At the end of the call, he said, “I love you”. I automatically said, “I love you too”. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I was mortified to see a customer standing at the counter. He just smiled and said, I heard this was a very friendly help desk but I didn’t realize it was that friendly. I blushed and then stood up to help him.
    Back on topic – I say I love you to friends and family. But I don’t say I love you to coworkers (even though I do love a few – I have worked with some for 15 years).

  53. Saucy Minx*

    I keep thinking of Elinor Dashwood deflecting her romantic younger sister’s inquiries into Elinor’s feelings for the bashful Edward, who has not declared his intentions.

    Elinor Dashwood: “I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him, that I … greatly esteem him … I like him.”

    She was not allowing herself to declare more than she felt, even to her sister.

  54. Anon Accountant*

    Personally I like to hear “you’re the best” and then I joke “finally someone else agrees with me”. But yeah the I love you is weird.

  55. Crazy Canuck*

    I’m guessing that replying in a terrible chinese accent “Me love you long time” is probably not the best response, but that’s probably where I’d go.

  56. FD*

    You work with loons, but all I can think of is the Studio C sketch, “Baskin Robbins Love Confession”. (Studio C is sort of like a Mormon SNL.)

    Link in the next post.

  57. Not So NewReader*

    I am wondering where this “I love you” thing started at your workplace. Usually someone explains inside stories and inside jokes to the newbie so the newbie can being to settle in. I find it odd that no one has explained this.

    If I felt I had nothing left to lose, I might ask where this habit came from. Not saying it’s right or justified but curiosity would get me.
    It’s a really odd thing to leave out of an interview since it seems to be “mandatory”, in that if you do not do it you get the hairy eyeball. Not everyone can throw “I love yous” around like salt on food. And they should not have to, either.

    You know, I have worked with some very caring people. Their actions showed it and they did not have to say they cared or loved each other. It was all in the thoughtfulness of how they treated each other.

    You know. I have to say this: If they truly love you then there would not be any bad looks or remarks when you did not answer. Just my opinion, if they were practicing real brotherly, sisterly love they would just overlook your response or the lack there of. They would be able to shrug it off and decide, “Okay that’s not OP’s way” and just let it go.

  58. Jessica*

    Did this thread remind anyone else of this scene from The Giver (Lois Lowry)?

    “And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language. You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes,'” his mother said.

    “Or,” his father suggested, “‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly ‘Yes.'”

    “Do you understand why it’s inappropriate to use a word like ‘love’?” Mother asked.

  59. Buffy*

    Is this a cult or job? What a strange convention your workplace has. I would be deeply uncomfortable if my workplace made me feel like the odd man out for not declaring my love to my coworkers. Allison’s suggestion to name the awkward thing and getting out in the open is a good one. My own variation of this would be to state “Hey for the record I only feel comfortable saying I love you to my family and (spouse/partner if you have one)”.

  60. Chocolate Teapot*

    I might go for the Blackadder approach:

    “If you’ll just excuse me, I have some important business to attend to. There’s a bucket outside into which I need to be sick.”

  61. Turtle Candle*

    I am a little late to this, but I wanted to add that I’ve seen the joking response work beautifully. My team tends to be very chatty, and we do (totally optional) evening outings together a few times a year. One of us, though, is not like that. He’s friendly and funny, but he doesn’t like talking about his personal life with coworkers, and he isn’t interested in joining us for dinner or bowling or whatever. Which is totally cool; none of us pressure him.

    But one of the ways he responded to it was that after it became clear that “No thanks” would be a pattern with him, he switched to frequently saying some variation on, “I can’t, it would interfere with being the office Man of Mystery,” which cracked us up. It morphed into a running joke that this job was cover for his true career as a secret agent on a long-term deep cover assignment (a joke in which he enthusiastically played along), and one year for the “silly inexpensive item” gift exchange the person who pulled his name made him a Man of Mystery Kit, with Cool Sunglasses, a matchbox Aston Martin, a used copy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, like that.

    Anyway, obviously he didn’t have to do that. LW, if it’s not part of your personality, you definitely don’t need to do it. And in our case, I’m comfortable saying that we would have had a perfectly fine working relationship if he’d just said ‘no thanks,’ and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have gotten any pressure or pushback or funny looks. But it was a really pretty brilliant way of signaling, “I like you all fine, I just am a private person.”

    1. OP Here*

      Using appropriate humor to diffuse a situation is definitely something that works with my personality! Maybe if I give my more withdrawn nature a name and a story I’ll get a more positive reaction. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

  62. chocoholic*

    I often say “love you” to my husband when we hang up from talking to each other on the phone, and I live in kind of a constant fear of saying that when I’m hanging up from a phone interview or other business call.

  63. Mae*

    Gross and unprofessional on many levels. Do they preface performance reviews with undying declarations of love?

  64. CanCan*

    How about tweaking this a bit:
    – I love working with you
    – I love having you as a coworker
    … which is probably what these people mean by “I love you” in the first place.

    Or a more general “It’s a pleasure working with you.”

  65. Claire*

    A client said “love you” after a phone conversation. I don’t want to say it back. How can I respond without hurting her feelings?

  66. Platnum Mom*

    I am in this same situation myself. Been with a finance team for over 4 years and at first I thought I’d was sweet and endearing because the whole team had been together for 15-20 years. My senior managing director is very needy and it’s gotten to the point where I’m tiredness I’d being polite and saying ,” oh, I love you too!” Just to be polite. Because now he will say “Do you love me?” “Do you miss me?” It’s absolutely nothing other than a mother\ child relationship, however my “child” is 20 years older than me.
    I’m tired of lying to my boss. But I don’t know how to get out of it without hurting his feelings.

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