my boss keeps telling me he loves me

A reader writes:

I have a strong working relationship with my boss, the owner of the company I work at. We clicked instantly in my initial interview, get along well, and he is consistently impressed by my work. Most importantly, I think he values me because I’m not afraid of difficult conversations, and I’m the only person in company leadership willing to tell him when I disagree with him or when I think he’s making a mistake.

As one of the few women in leadership in a very male-dominated industry, I’m used to weirdness in my relationships with male bosses. Typically, they will take credit for my work, or publicly treat me like a secretary or assistant while privately relying on me to do the majority of their role. My current boss has never done anything like this, although he often seeks my advice. It’s probably one of the healthier and more functional working relationships I’ve ever had with a manager.

But I do have one odd problem. Sometimes I will initiate a conversation with my boss that is difficult or fraught — stuff like one of the other senior managers interfering in a project and refusing to let go, or explaining that my boss made a decision that has negatively impacted the company and needs a different resolution. These conversations usually go well, although he is always saddened to hear he’s done something that people found frustrating or hurtful, and he definitely does not enjoy giving his senior leadership negative feedback. And if any of these situations affect me, it impacts him even more because of how much he values me. I’m good at keeping these conversations productive and professional, but at the end of really difficult ones he has a habit of telling me he loves me as part of saying goodbye (we all work remotely, and these meetings are virtual).

I am not someone who uses the “L-Word” liberally! I say it to my close family members and two or three close friends. I do not think my boss is attracted to me or means it in even a slightly romantic way when he tells me he loves me. Instead, I think he feels emotionally vulnerable: I get the sense I might be the only person in his whole career who’s been comfortable giving him direct and constructive critical feedback, and he’s seeking validation that our relationship is still strong in spite of the difficult conversation. As such, if I were to say “That’s weird” or “Please stop telling me you love me” in the moment, I’m concerned it would negatively impact our relationship and cause him to feel even more vulnerable and sad. But if I bring it up out of the blue, it feels like making a weirdly big deal out of something that could conceivably be a slip of the tongue (three or four times now).

Should I just let this weird quirk go? What do I say in return? He’s never pressed the issue. So far he’s always said something like “Have a great afternoon! Love you!” and I’ve just ignored the second part and gone with a cheerful but awkward-feeling “You too!”

It’s definitely strange, right?

– I don’t love you

Yes, it’s strange! (Although not unheard of.)

Some people are more free with the L-word, even in a business context. It sounds like he trusts you to take it in the spirit he intends it in — not as “I like you romantically” or “at any moment I may make a pass at you” or “you are dearer to me than my wife” but as “you are very important to me professionally and as a fellow human and I appreciate and value you.”

But it’s unusual for a work context … and ideally he would have noticed your discomfort the first time and not repeated it.

As for what to do: If you’re not terribly bothered by it, it’s fine to just let it go. You can convert it in your head to “I appreciate and value you” and shrug it off as a weird, even amusing quirk from someone you have a strong relationship with.

But if it does bother you, it’s okay to say something! I hear you on not wanting to make him feel bad, but the next time he says it, you could take that as an opening to say, “I know you mean that in a completely professional sense, but I don’t toss that word around much and it makes me feel a little awkward. Maybe just say you appreciate me!” That way you’re not calling him weird or saying he’s out of line or that he can never express that he values you, but you’re conveying, “Here’s where my boundaries are and here’s what would make me comfortable.”

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. Properlike*

    Has he watched TED LASSO. A great aspirational boss who says, “I appreciate you.” Better yet, his relationship with his boss, while close, is caring and professional, but platonic.

    I like it as a model for vulnerability being okay, and being able to discuss how actions impact others with your colleagues, even when it’s hurtful.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Actually, this might work as a good response in the moment.

      Boss: “I love you!”
      Employee: “Aw, I appreciate you too!”

      1. Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana*

        I’ve successfully retrained multiple people who say “I love you” that I don’t want to say it back to switch to “I appreciate you” or “You’re important to me”.

        The key is to match the enthusiasm and tone of the person saying “I love you” and add a “too”.

        Them: “I love you!”
        Me: “You’re important to me too!”

        Them: “Okay! Love you! Bye!”
        Me: “Appreciate you! Bye!”

    2. PittsburghGirl23*

      Is that where I appreciate you comes from?? It is an unusual phrasing and I wondered why I was hearing it so much! lol

      1. HQetc*

        It’s not only from the show, though I think the show probably popularized it quite a bit! It’s a regionalism that I understand is fairly common in the US South (where I’ve not spent much time, so southerners please correct me if I am off base), though I also encounter it occasionally where I am in the Southwest. I like it in much the same way as I like “y’all,” as a regionalism that’s growing in popularity because it fills a bit of a language gap!

        1. Crooked Bird*

          I’ve lived in the South and Midwest and it never occurred to me that “I appreciate you” was the lest bit odd! I’m not sure where I picked it up exactly.

          I so agree about “y’all.” English needed a plural “you” and there it is!

  2. WantonSeedStitch*

    Yeah, as close as I am with my team–my reports and my management alike–I can’t imagine saying “I love you” to any of them. “You rock,” “you’re the best,” a joking “WE’RE NOT WORTHY!” Sure, all of those are fine. But I feel like “love” is really best reserved for personal relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial), not business ones.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      yeah I agree. I have said “I love you” to people just because they’re nice to me, give me chocolate or whatever, but only in a personal setting. It doesn’t wash in a professional setting!

      1. Pixx*

        In my former job, our team was very close-knit, and it wasn’t unusual to joke around or say things like, “Oh, my god, Jenna, I love you so much; you’re so funny” or “Yes, exactly what I needed; you’re a lifesaver and I love you” etc. It was also common for people to address each other as “lovely”, i.e. “Thanks lovely, have a great day!”

        But these were more casual I think? “I love you” in the same way you’d say “oh wow I love that dress” or “I freaking love these cookies” or whatever. Not sure if I’m explaining it well, but it was pretty clear it was being used in a more colloquial sense, not an actual “I love you, this is me saying I love you to you” sense. It certainly still would’ve been very odd and probably uncomfortable if someone signed off a call by saying, “Thanks, love you”, as described here.

        1. Pixx*

          Like an example might be:

          Boss, laughing: “I love you, Pixx; you’re as obsessed with semicolons as I am.” – Common, fine, wouldn’t be seen as weird

          Boss: See you next Thursday, Pixx, love you.” – Strange, odd, wouldn’t actually happen.

    2. NotBatman*

      I once accidentally told my boss “thank you, I love you, bye!” because that’s how I end conversations with family. Mortified, I left without saying anything else, and he never brought it up. With any luck, maybe LW’s boss is repeatedly making the same error?

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        I’ve never done it, but one of the senior engineers at my current job says “buh-bye” at the end of a call in the EXACT same way my dad does, and for a solid year or more when I started this job, I was absolutely terrified that I was going to autopilot respond, “Love you, bye!”

  3. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I’m also someone who doesn’t use the L word liberally and finds it a bit weird when people use it the way you’ve demonstrated here. Something that has helped me is to find a way to parse it differently in my head: “love you” is leaps and bounds different to me than “I love you” because it feels more like a parting greeting than it does a personal declaration. The “I” makes a difference to me; when people use it, it feels like they’re owning the feeling, but absent the “I” it just feels like “You’re great, thanks!” or similar.

    That doesn’t make it okay, but it’s something I can live with since “love you!” seems oddly prevalent and I’m not surprised that it might show up at work without people thinking much about it.

    1. ferrina*

      Weirdly, I can say it in third person but not to someone’s face. I can say I love their work or their thought process, but the phrase “I love you” is really fraught.

      So if I were talking to you about Alison: “I love Alison! Her communication skills are amazing, and she is a constant source of wisdom. If you have any questions about HR, go talk to Alison.”

      If I were talking to Alison, I’d say: “You are such an amazing person. I am constantly impressed by how you are able to break down complex problems. I love how you approach problems.”

      But I wouldn’t say “I love you”

    2. Hrodvitnir*

      I agree with “I love you” vs “love you.” It’s almost like swearing vs swearing at.

      I wish English had more words around different kinds of love and appreciation! “I appreciate you” can feel incredibly awkward, and there aren’t really a lot of other words that convey “I love [that I have you here to help me]” in a fairly throwaway way.

      Familial love, platonic love, romantic love, sexual attraction, deep appreciation for coworkers… they are wildly different things, but we don’t have an easy norm for expressing the latter.

      I think if he really appreciates her he’d be fine with her just having a very open conversation about it. No need to “return the awkward to sender” so to speak. I know we see far more jerks hiding behind possible explanations than genuine, awkward, inadvisable choices reading advice columns, but I’m hopeful this is one!

    3. allathian*

      I don’t even say “I love you” to my *husband,* whom I do indeed love very much, so hearing it from a manager would really throw me off. The best I can do with my husband is “You’re very dear to me.” Maybe I’m just weird, but the only person I’ve ever been able to say “I love you” to sincerely was my son when he was a baby.

  4. Anna Badger*

    I think it might be relevant that I’m English here, but counting back over my 4 jobs in 2 industries I’ve come up with a total of 13 colleagues who sometimes ended calls to me with something along the lines of “love you byeeeee!”, and I feel like I’ve forgotten some. and while I’m a solid colleague to have I don’t think I’m particularly more loveable than the average.

    I am however reminded of the letter here from an American LW who (along with the majority of the commentariat) disliked being called pet by a Geordie colleague, so this may well be a British thing.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I remember thinking British friends were exceptionally affectionate every time they called me “love” before realizing that’s just A Thing over there, and not necessarily meant to mean they are super extra fond of me.

      1. Cordelia*

        oh yes, we say love (in certain regions, not everywhere) although I would be unlikely to say it at work – I wouldn’t find it so odd though. Saying “I love you” feels very different

    2. Cordelia*

      hmm – I’m British and have never ever had anyone say that to me at work, I would find it very odd! Perhaps I am less loveable than the average though…

      1. TechWorker*

        I’ve also not had anyone say it but do know people who would say it as a friendly goodbye in person too (‘love ya, bye!’ Or ‘gotta love you and leave you’ which sounds even less ‘actual love’ to my ears).

        I will accept being called pet/love/dear depending on the age and accent of the caller, but still don’t think I’d want to be called any of them at work! Especially by a man, which may be a tad sexist, but is how I feel ;)

        My mum is an accountant and mutters ‘I’m not your dear’ as she gets off the phone regularly…

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Yeah, it may be sexist, but there are absolutely endearments that I would also accept from a close-ish female coworker that would have my hackles hitting the ceiling from most close-ish male coworkers.

    3. M. Magpie*

      American married to a Geordie here. I’m “pet” at home, “flower” in Sainsbury’s, “Wor Lass” when talked about by spouse, and any variation of same to the greater population here in Toon. But, before retirement, I had two instances like the LW, one my boss, and one a direct report. I don’t throw it around myself, but it was clear they meant it collegially so I let it go. Thinking back, I feel both would have been open to scaling back had I brought it up.

      1. Bruce*

        There is a British police series “Vera” where DCI Vera Stanhope calls everyone “Luv” or “Pet” even when she is teeing up to the big reveal that forces them to confess to murder… the actress makes it very natural, but I wonder if there really is a British DCI somewhere who talks that way? (PS, my wife loves the series, for her birthday we had a costume party with the theme of “Mystery”… she came as Vera, and I grew out my mustache, waxed it, curled it and came as Poirot!)

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I adore Vera, not least because of the massively positive working class accent representation. Also, give me a female TV police detective who chooses woolens and sensible shoes over slim fit suits and curling irons any day of the week.

          1. Zelda*

            Also came here to mention Vera. Quintessential line: “What am I doin’? Eh, pet, I’m seizin’ your property as evidence, *that’s* what I’m doin’.”

            There are surely scholarly papers to be written comparing Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect to Vera Stanhope– both authoritative women, but so different in region, class, and approach.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            I wanted to like Vera so much. For the reasons you mentioned as well as the actress who plays her is great. But I just found her so annoying with the way she treated others, she seemed so condescending (at least I think that was it.) I watched about 3 or 4 episodes because I wanted to give it a real try but I just didn’t like the character. I still can’t figure it out because on paper – I should love the character.

        2. Non-profit drone*

          The tv series is being true to the books! Ann Cleeves’ Vera does indeed call everyone “pet” which I find amusing, especially when she is talking to criminals.

        1. londonedit*

          In parts of northern England it’s common to refer to family members as ‘our kid’ or ‘our lass’ etc – ‘our kid’ might be your brother (cf. Liam and Noel Gallagher) and as M. Magpie says, ‘our lass’ can be your female partner or wife. In a Geordie accent, ‘our’ is pronounced ‘wor’, hence ‘wor lass’.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            My ex’s family had Our Bobby and Our Michael. Now it also may be because every branch of the family had a Bobby and a Michael. But they are English so there is that as well.

    4. An American(ish) Werewolf in London(ish)*

      I think a relevant question here (as someone who has lived and worked in the UK all her adult life, brought up though in the US) is the tone of voice. If it’s like ‘Oh wow – brilliant idea – love you!’ that is very different from ‘thank you OP, I love you.’

      I think also it sounds WAY different if there’s an ‘I’ in there. ‘Love you!!’ sounds a lot different, I think (or it can) from ‘I love you.’

      Is the tone of voice relief/appreciation? If that’s so, I’d raise an eyebrow (if I were able to raise just one) but just attribute it to a personal quirk and deep relief. I might feel more uncomfortable if it were ‘Werewolf, I truly love you.’ But then, I don’t know for sure!

      1. Ticotac*

        Yeah, I think there’s a difference between the jokey “oh my god I love you” after someone fixes something for you or they bring you donuts, and the quiet “thank you so much for telling me about these issues. I love you” that OP seems to be talking about. The latter seems more charged, if you get what I mean? It doesn’t feel like hyperbole, it feels like a sincere term of praise.

        Which isn’t to say I think the boss is in love with OP, it’s probably just short-hand for “I value you a lot as a person and care deeply about your presence here in this moment,” but it’s a very weird use of the term that I feel warrants a “wait hold up” moment. To use a silly example, if my job involves a lot of giving people bad news, I’m going to laugh at a friend saying “yeah Ticotac is the office strix,” but if a boss comes to me and shakes my hand while sincerely thanking me for being such a great office strix, my answer is gonna be “thank you sir but, uhhh, just to be clear, you do know that’s not my actual job title, right?”

      2. OP here*

        He is definitely British, English is his first language. I am not British. It’s not really like “Love ya!!” Although I think it was the first time. Now it’s more of a firm “Love you. Bye!” Still no “I” in front.

        I’ve worked in three other British companies with lots of British people and no one else has ever told me they loved me at work. Maybe I just haven’t been lovable until now…

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Is he southern? There’s a definite tendency to go loveyoubye to all and sundry with some estuary accents. It’s said very much in a rush like one big word. Us northerners breathe out our affection by calling everyone “love” as in “Be a love and put the kettle on”.

          1. OP here*

            Not sure what part of England he’s from, but his accent sounds pretty posh, certainly in comparison to our colleagues. Also it’s important to note he doesn’t call anyone “love” or “luv,” and I’ve never heard him say it to anyone else. And it’s not all the time, just at the end of particularly heavy one on one meetings.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              Yeah, where I have noticed the tendency to say loveyoubye, it’s from people who don’t really have the right accent to call people “luv” and this is their replacement version for an equivalent sense of warmth. (They wouldn’t really have the accent to pull off an American style “love ya” either, so if it helps, you can assume he would pronounce it that way if he could). This is something that could be his social habit, and is actually more appropriate for social use than business; if I was advising him, I’d probably tell him to drop it with a subordinate, especially in America. On your side, if I was receiving this, I’d probably read it as a signal of “warm work-friendship”. That is, if I had a really good relationship with my boss and if a work-based friendship of sorts was appropriate for the role/industry, it’s something I’d be okay with. With a grand boss, or someone I didn’t work closely with, it would land a bit more strangely.

        2. Smithy*

          This definitely brought to mind the difference between “love you” and “love ya” (why am I thinking this is a Friends episode….) – however, I think this may more so fall into the larger category of telling someone you don’t want care for a colloquialism. It’s for a completely valid reason, but I think it falls into the bucket of whether or not you’d want to tell a supervisor you’d rather not have them call you sir or ma’am.

          It’s not that the request or boundary is wrong to set, but it’s more to do with your comfort levels and desire to make that request.

          1. Hedgehog in a ball*

            There’s a Frasier episode! Martin can tell his friends and his dog “Love ya!” but can’t say I love you to his sons. Ice fishing and alcohol are involved.

        3. Anna Badger*

          I am only one data point and we might well be in wildly different industries with different norms, but I do think it’s notable that on reading the post I was right in guessing that he was British and you weren’t. and for clarity I’m talking about “love you” rather than the more casual “love ya.”

          I think a good rule of thumb for non-Brits talking to Brits is to subtract one level of sincerity from any endearment and add one level of sincerity to any insult, unless the insult is itself being used as an endearment.

          that said, you get to set your own comfort levels, and if you don’t like it you’re totally reasonable in asking him to reign it in.

        4. Ellis Bell*

          I’m also British and while I don’t say “love you bye” myself (although, honestly, I might have. We throw the word around quite a lot) … I wouldn’t really find it remarkable if the relationship was also collegial and close. I would find it odd if the relationship was new, formal or otherwise strict or cool and if the word “love” was fronted with the word “I” or said with intensity and seriousness. If it’s being said like a throwaway phrase, there’s really no requirement for you to say anything back, or to pay it any notice. If it’s still too odd for you, I think you can say something without it being a big deal too; he’s likely to be aware that American English is different and there will be sticking points. I’d go with something conversational and curious like: “Is ‘love you bye’ something that gets said a lot in England, because you say it like an expression.. but it sounds a little strange to my ear?”

        5. Mostly Managing*

          Oh! It’s a British thing.
          It’s right up there with my gran calling everyone Duck.
          I mean everyone.
          Cashiers. Delivery Men. Bus Drivers. Me. My parents. Her neighbours. The Plumber. Police Officers. EVERYONE!!

          I’m guessing he’s on autopilot. It might be a kindness to point it out sometime when he’s not just said it. It’s really not a big deal, unless/until he says it to the wrong person and then it’s a potential BIG deal.

        6. Nebula*

          It’s definitely not something that would be exactly normal in a workplace – I’d find it a bit weird too (I’m British, have worked in different parts of the country). But if it was someone I had a friendly relationship with, it would strike me as a bit of a quirk, but nothing major. If it’s ‘Love you, bye!’ that just sounds like a standard leave-taking thing.

          Side note: I always find it funny how there’s the stereotype that Americans are more effusive than Brits, yet we’re the ones who use pet names, and put kisses on the end of texts, and do other things that come off as overly familiar to Americans. For the record, I currently live in Glasgow where everyone is ‘pal’ and women (or if you’re perceived as a woman) are often ‘hen’.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Don’t forget that we also do more cheek kissing, with the bonus fun of it not being a hard and fast rule; cue much awkwardness if one person goes for a kiss with someone not expecting it. This is at least a social conundrum and not a business one.

    5. November Juliet*

      Upvoting this.
      This is not even exclusive to British English. Is there a chance that OP’s boss is not native speaker? Or his parents/SO/best friend are non-native speakers and he picked up the habit of throwing this word around from them. E.g. in my first language, the word “love” is used more freely, there is no definition between “love” and “like”.
      That being said, I agree with Alison’s advice that if it makes OP really uncomfortable, it is OK to bring that up. Especially since the boss is apparently quite open to critical feedback.

    6. Seashell*

      My husband is an American with some British colleagues, and I laugh when he says, “Cheers” (presumably in response to the colleagues saying “cheers”) when hanging up the phone with them. Although it seems a bit odd to my American ears, I’d rather someone say “cheers” to me than “Love you.” I can imagine the latter happening by accident (like if you usually say “love you” when saying goodbye to a spouse or family member), but it strikes me as very odd to deliberately say to a co-worker.

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Your last supposition is where my brain landed first. I so rarely talk to people on the phone who aren’t hubby or immediate family that it honestly feels WEIRD not to end a conversation with “Love you!” or “Love you! Talk to you soon!” or some variation. :)

        I’m American through and through, although I’ve lived in lots of different regions

    7. rhymeswithmonet*

      How do you do fellow Englishers..
      Yeah, saying “I love you!” in an appreciative way isn’t unheard of here. It has a connotation of “Thanks, you’ve saved my bacon!” or “You’re a superstar!” or “Thank you SO MUCH for this!”

      I think it’d be fine to gently tell your boss that in the USA, that expression isn’t really used in the way he’s meaning it, but that saying “I really appreciate you!” or something similar would be good.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, ‘Oh my god I love you’ is a pretty usual thing to say if someone’s saved your bacon or done something really helpful (or if they’ve brought you a nice cup of tea!)

        Scott Mills on Radio 2 has a thing where he ends every conversation with ‘love you byeeeee!’ and whenever there’s a listener on the phone they’ll say ‘love you byeeeee’ back to him at the end of the conversation. I probably wouldn’t do that at work, but I can totally see a close-knit and friendly work team doing something like a ‘love you byeeeee!’ as a ‘thing’ between them all.

      2. Ganymede*

        Yep. Cf Hugh Grant characters in any Richard Curtis film.

        It’s definitely a more “creative industries” kind of thing though. Not sure a lot of scientists or accountants talk like this.

        I have had interesting reactions from people when I’ve told them hard truths though, too. A couple of friend-of-friend/neighbour sort of people have been really affectionate to me since I had fairly frank convos with them about racism and gay marriage respectively. I think they appreciated that I took the time to really share views and be serious with them. Still on great terms with them! And I treasure the expression on the older chap’s face when he said (about marriage equality) “do you know, you’re absolutely right – you’ve completely changed my mind!”, which I think he found a rather joyful experience.

  5. MsClaw*

    Another option, especially if he’s doing this in front of others, would be to bring it up in terms of how it might look to others.

    “I know you mean it in a professional sense, but I am a little worried that others in the office might misunderstand when you say that you say that’

  6. Sandi*

    I wonder if there might be an element here where it could be taken out of context if someone were to overhear it. If a male boss were to say “I love you” only to me, and it was rare, then I would worry that it could be misinterpreted that we had a personal relationship outside the professional. I would prefer to live in a world where this wouldn’t be a consideration but in male-dominated workplaces it can’t be forgotten and I am mindful about how relationships can be perceived.

  7. Ticotac*

    This is reminding me of a scene from a TV show.

    Character A, sharing the Christmas cheer with his friend: “I love you, B!”
    Character B: “I like you too, A!”

    You know your boss, so I trust you when you say that this is perfectly innocent. Because I trust your judgement, I will not linger on the possibility that this is him pushing boundaries for something else etc etc. Let’s focus instead on the awkwardness.

    It’s totally fair for you to feel awkward, and you would be right to bring it up! Even without the romantic aspect, a completely platonic “I love you” implies a relationship that goes beyond “this is a person I like to have around and generally respect.” I have plenty of acquaintances I generally like. I’d make sympathetic noises if I heard that something bad happened to them, and go “oh that’s nice, congrats!” if I heard that something good happened to them. I don’t love them, however. I care for them in the way we all care for our fellow humans, but I’m not gonna cancel my plans to talk to them because they’re feeling lonely, for example.

    So it’s totally fair to say something when an acquaintance says, “I love you,” ’cause you don’t want them to have the impression that you are anything more than acquaintances. I’m not gonna go on a weekend trip with you. I’m not looking after your dog for free. We are not going to meet up just to catch up. I won’t try to keep in contact if I move away. We’re acquaintances. I like you. That’s it.

    It’s especially fair when the acquaintance who says “I love you” is your boss. Sure, you can be friends with your boss, but you actually have to be *friends*. The friendship can’t be one-sided. Your boss can’t think that you’d be willing to go to a doctor appointment with him just to hold his hand when he gets a shot (for example), because he’s gonna feel very betrayed when he finds out that you wouldn’t, actually. And if he feels betrayed, that is absolutely gonna impact your relationship in some way.

    I don’t know how to bring it up tactfully, however. If he does think you’re friends when you actually consider him just a nice person you’re happy talking to at work, there’s just no way to say “we’re not friends” that isn’t gonna hurt him some way. But I also think it should be brought up, ’cause it’s better to clarify things at a neutral time where everybody can just feel awkward and then move on, than have to clarify things when an emergency happens and you have to deal with hurt feelings on top of everything else falling apart.

    1. Ticotac*

      And of course, he may just be saying “love you” without really thinking about it as a show of strong attachment, but in that case you’re not really losing anything by clarifying that you just don’t feel personally close enough to him to say “love you” back. I mean, maybe don’t say it exactly like that, but still, if I were the kind of person who says “love you bye” as a normal greeting and someone told me “I feel a bit awkward about the use of the term ‘love’ there,” my answer would be “oh yeah, makes sense, sorry didn’t mean to, I’ll cut that down with you.”

  8. t-vex*

    A bunch of the the coaches at my gym say “Love you, mean it!” to everyone at the end of class. It weird but kind of charming too. I try not to think about it too deeply.

    1. Random Dice*

      I just saw that on a mug at Target and thought it a weird sentiment that was missing important words.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I follow a YouTuber who ends her videos that way! I didn’t realize it was a thing beyond this one person but it doesn’t surprise me. There’s something about duality of sincerity / insincerity of it that is kinda funny.

  9. Throwaway Account*

    I want to say to the OP that she is already so great at tough convos, that I think she will rock addressing this with the boss.

    I am taking this letter as a reminder that even when we are as awesome as the OP sounds about how to handle tough professional conversations (all the ways she is able to be honest with the boss), some things are still hard and that is OK! We are all human!

    1. Wes*

      Yeah I also picked up on the irony that he says this to her because she’s so great at being frank – and this is the one thing she can’t be frank about. Good luck, OP!

  10. Goldenrod*

    I don’t love this, but in the OP’s place, I would let it go. OP’s boss sounds so amazing *other* than this quirk, that I think I would just accept it as a quirk and let it go for now.

    If anything *else* similarly odd happened, then I think I’d need to say something. But for now, I would just let it lie.

    1. Kat*

      Same. People are weird sometimes. I wouldn’t risk souring a great relationship. I’d just ignore it, or reply ‘appreciate you’ if it felt odd not to return the sentiment.

  11. LHOI*

    Say it with me: I am not responsible for my boss’s feelings.

    Have the conversation like you’d have any other slightly tricky conversation about interpersonal work issues. But you do not need to worry about him being sad about it, those are his feelings to manage.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “But you do not need to worry about him being sad about it, those are his feelings to manage.”

      Yes, I had this thought too. I think this is a great point.

  12. Mostly Managing*

    It’s weird in a professional context.

    Other than immediate family, the last person to say (ok, text) that they love me is a friend who has 4 sick kids and a broken washing machine. I picked up her laundry, ran a few loads, and returned the clean clothes to her house (contact free – clearly whatever they have is contagious!).
    For her to text that she loves me? Fine.

    From a boss? That would be weird. Even the bosses I’ve had who were amazing people and who I genuinely enjoyed as human beings it would be weird.

    But, I would lean to the “not worth saying anything about” as long as the rest of his behaviour is impeccable and not in any way border crossing or creepy. I’d write it off as a quirk.

  13. Unkempt Flatware*

    I once had a coworker (a fellow teacher at the time) tell me she loved me in a sort of quick, “oh my god I love you” sort of way because I fixed something for her. I took that opportunity to say, “oh…..[squirmy pause]…..I’m never going to say that back!” and we laughed and she never said it again. I don’t know if this could work here.

    1. TechWorker*

      Tbh I think I’d think nothing of this in that precise situation (like you’ve had a huge problem you couldn’t solve & someone comes up and helps you fix it quickly..). It’s a bit like ‘omg you’re the best!’ Or ‘omg you’re amazing!’ Both of you high would be weirdly effusive in other contexts.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Yeah, that one’s just a turn of phrase, I hear people even say it to store clerks if they resolve a sticky situation or something. Don’t take it literally or it might be weird.

  14. Erin*

    Omg I accidentally say “love you” all the time when I’m hanging up on a meeting. It’s totally an accident, and really just a reflex since I’ve always told friends/family “love you” before hanging up.

    1. a raging ball of distinction*

      Yep! the first thing that came to mind was a middle school sleepover where my friend’s mom said good night and without even looking up I autopilot replied “G’night, love you.” XD

    2. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Same here. Try saying “love you” signing off from making an appointment or a to-go order for bonus awkward.

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I’ve accidentally done that on the phone with a vendor, “Thanks for your help, love you, have a good afternoon.” GAH!

      Where I’m continually tripped up at work are sending GIFs in Teams that suddenly and inexplicably drop “I love you” in the last frame and I don’t see them until after I hit send. “Happy Birthday! …I love you” NOOOOOOO! “Have a good weekend! … I love you!” WHY? Luckily, I have a pretty short list of who I send GIFs to, but my coworker and supervisor have been accidentally love-bombed many times.

  15. Lyn*

    I work in academia, and one of the instructors I work with has many times ended our conversations with “love ya big!” She and I are both females which makes a difference, though, I guess. We have been work friends for many years.

  16. Harper*

    OP, I had a boss who told me he loved me all the time. He also crossed all kinds of other boundaries with me and patients (it was a medical practice). I made all kinds of excuses for him too, like you do in your letter. Eventually the realization that he really did have inappropriate feelings for me came crashing in on me all at once, and I literally fled the job and ended up unemployed for a period of time. There’s a whole lot more to the story, but the moral is this: this is not normal workplace behavior. Don’t dismiss it or make excuses. Find a time when things are calm and bring it up to him gently. If he’s respectful, he’ll stop. If he’s not, then his intentions towards you are not as innocent as you think.

    1. Looper*

      Thank you for your comment because I also feel like there are a lot of red flags here. The “if something hinders my work it upsets him even more because of how much he values me” really raised my eyebrows, as well as expressing sadness to her when work decisions don’t work out the way he planned. I’m not really clear where her position is on the org chart, but if he is venting to her about management of senior leadership who are above her in the chain that is also weird. I would also like to know why no one else on the company feels comfortable pushing back on him because it seems unlikely that she is just such a magical person that all of a sudden his ears and eyes are open to reality. In general seems like there is an inappropriate emotional intimacy and sense of favoritism being shown LW.

      1. Harper*

        Yes, my inappropriate boss told me the same things – I was the only one who truly understood and embraced the company’s mission, others had let him down, he didn’t know what he’d do without me, etc. The thing is, people like this know how to spot victims (yes, victims) who have good hearts and who are hungry for approval and acceptance. I’m betting this whole situation is meeting some kind of need for OP to feel appreciated, and that’s why it’s hard to stand up to him. I know that was the case in my situation.

        1. Looper*

          I don’t want to make any assumptions about the LW, but if she’s struggled finding a foothold in a male-dominated industry for a long time, this could at first seem like exactly like the mentorship and recognition she’s been wanting professionally. And were this guy to be interacting with the rest of his staff the same way, this would not concern me. But the read I’m getting is that this man does not know how to see female workers as equals in skill to their male counterparts and instead has made her his emotional help mate, which is absolutely not what she’s there to do. She expressed concern that previous male bosses have morphed her roll into unwanted assistant positions, and what he is doing is turning her into his emotional support person.

  17. Judge Judy and Executioner*

    I once penned a quick message on a post-it for my male boss at the time, this was before the days of instant messaging in the office. He was a decent boss, he was kind of a jerk, but was a jerk to everyone equally, so you knew where you stood. Having rarely left written notes at work, I signed it “Love, Judy”. When I realized what I had done, my coworkers thought it was so funny they insisted I leave it that way, and boss got a big chuckle.

    I think that’s the first and only time I expressed my love to a colleague at work, and I think I would be uncomfortable hearing “I love you” or “Love you” from my boss. Because your boss is open to feedback and it bothers you, I think it’s worth mentioning.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Eh, that seems different somehow. I’ve seen a lot of coworkers use “Love, Name” when signing a greeting card – birthday, congrats, sympathy, etc. Saying it in person is weirder.

  18. "That Personality"*

    I’m a church-going guy and our priest has been for years strongly advocating that we tell the people we love that we love them.
    I get that it makes you uncomfortable, and that’s unfortunate; but who doesn’t want to feel loved, to BE loved?
    You, by your description, are a forthright and reliable support person for him, a strong colleague, an advocate. Of course he loves you. I don’t know, maybe in response try saying something like “I never take for granted how strong our working relationship is. Thank you for that.” It affirms your gratitude for what he means to you professionally and frames how you perceive the relationship.
    Again, I’m sorry it feels weird; but as you describe it, it feels like a really good thing!

    1. ldub*

      This is a nice message from your priest, but it absolutely does not apply in this kind of work context. She doesn’t want to BE loved by her boss, end of story.

    2. Kella*

      “but who doesn’t want to feel loved, to BE loved?”

      I would be VERY careful with how and when you use this logic. There are lots of people who I absolutely would not want to express love to me, or whom it would be highly inappropriate for them to do so, or for whom I have already communicated to them that I do not want to connect with them in that way. Expressing love can be and regularly *is* used as a tool for manipulation, and boundary-pushing, and can be done in a way that is deeply selfish.

      The fact that receiving love from someone you share a mutual connection and respect with is generally positive does not negate one’s right to boundaries and how and when that love is expressed, or boundaries on *who* gets to have that kind of interaction with you.

      1. MEH Squared*

        I was trying to find a way to say this, and you expressed it perfectly. Love that is forced upon you (general you) is not love at all. The recipient should have agency in whether or not they want that love, especially at work.

    3. Silver Robin*

      yeah, dude, that feels very time and place.

      work is not the place because we do not go to work for love. we go for money, appreciation, and achievement. Anything along those lines is great: you’re amazing, well done, you’re skills with ____ are incredible, rockstar, thank you, I value your input…etc.

      maybe, “I love having you on my team” is fine, because it is about contribution and skill, but not “I love you”.

    4. Cordelia*

      No. Sometimes you have to keep your feelings to yourself. Having someone tell you you love them is not an automatically positive thing. I want to be loved by people I love. That doesn’t include my boss.

    5. What's love got to do with it?*

      I don’t want to be loved by my boss. I don’t want to feel loved by my boss. It’s not OK to make people feel uncomfortable so you can earn brownie points for your faith – that’s gross, unkind and unfair!

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Yes! And if someone at work told me the reason they were making me uncomfortable with overly familiar and intimate language was because their religion/church/minister told them to, I’d be doubly put-off. I’d avoid said person like the ‘rona.

    6. Sally Rhubarb*

      Eeesh. I say this with all due respect but you need to recalibrate. I don’t really want anyone at work to love me. Like & respect me? Absolutely. Love, nooooope.

    7. House On The Rock*

      I actually don’t want to be or feel loved by any number of people! Appreciated, respected, valued, admired? Sure…but not loved. I’d also be very careful about applying things heard in a religious setting to a secular, work setting. I suspect you mean well, but that’s super fraught.

    8. BubbleTea*

      I don’t want my boss to love me (well, I’m self employed so I guess I do). I want my boss to respect my boundaries.

    9. Cyndi*

      I get that it makes you uncomfortable, and that’s important, but

      Very few thoughts that start here are going anywhere good.

      People are saying this is a fine sentiment outside of work but not acceptable at work, but personally, I don’t think “you must graciously accept affection from everyone, whether you want it or not!” is a great rule of thumb in any context.

    10. NopeNopeNope*

      Please don’t tell the OP to ignore her very legitimate feelings. Besides that (yikes), she does not need to express gratitude, or any emotional connection to her boss. This is a work context, not a retreat with her closest friends.

      This is all wrong.

    11. DramaQ*

      I do not want to be loved in any fashion by my boss. Respected, appreciated, yes. Loved no. There is a professional boundary there and power dynamics that need to be respected. Especially in a male boss/female underling scenario where sexism is in play. Co-workers could start gossiping about the letter writer “sleeping” her way to the top if they hear him say “Love you” and don’t understand the context. I want to be loved by my husband, kids, family and certain friends. That it. My professional relationship with my boss is a transaction that ends as soon as the paycheck ends. I think you are greatly misinterpreting what your minister was talking about. Going around telling all my coworkers I love them is a great way for me to end up in front of HR for sexual harassment. The letter writer needs to tell her boss politely that while she appreciates his openness “Love you” is not an acceptable phrase in the workplace and she’s rightly concerned about optics for both of them. If he’s as open and receptive to feedback as she says he will take it in stride and stop. If not then maybe the “love yous” weren’t so innocent after all.

    12. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Men expressing love to women is not always the innocent thing you think it is. It can be VERY creepy and manipulative.
      Yes, people want to be loved. By friends and family.
      Women do NOT want coworkers, bosses, store clerk, gym instructors, clients or random people we are not close to to express love for us.
      And church preaching? Also inappropriate for work.
      This advise is WILDLY off base.

    13. Martin Blackwood*

      I think thre might be a difference in definition here. In my experience, in the context of sermons and homilies “love thy neighbor” means be friendly and helpful despite personality differences etc. Good things!
      But like…in wedding vows love means something different. Many years of devotion and intimacy that you dont show to just anyone. You show your love for your spouse different from your children different from your cousins different from your priest different from your boss. If someone has strong feeling about the symbolism of saying I love you, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to draw the line somewhere! Lots of people accept different kinds of love from different kinds of people (sex, pet names, saying I love you, to name some more on the wedding vow side of things)

      “Sorry beloved wife, only my mom gets to call me honey buns,” is reasonable, and so is asking your boss to not say that he loves you.

      1. metadata minion*

        Agree. I feel an individual instance of love for humanity for my boss, and also appreciate her as a good boss and a cool person, but I don’t love her in the same way that I love family and close friends. That would be weird and interfere with our working relationship.

    14. Burger Bob*

      The thing is, even if, in theory, this was happening to me with a boss that I genuinely cared about as a person and had a long, good relationship and we knew each other well and stuff…..even then, I would want time at work to have a certain level of boundaries, you know? Because that’s your boss. You’re their employee. At some point, they have to manage you. When you blur the lines like that too much, it can get really messy and uncomfortable. The boss can wind up showing you favoritism without even realizing they’re doing it, which ultimately does you no favors as an employee. Expressing appreciation is great, but there’s a time and place for “love.” At work, between people on different steps of the hierarchy? It’s best to not.

    15. Clare*

      The English language is a trap. Ancient Greek is needed here. Your priest is talking about ‘agápe’, and presumably that’s what you’re referring to as well. The replies to your comments are talking about ‘éros’, hence the disgust. The boss in the question is talking about ‘philia’ – or at least we all hope it’s that and not ‘éros’!

      English is sorely lacking in words to describe different types of love. You don’t feel the same way about coffee, your spouse, and your Grandmother, why are we stuck with one word for all three? Merriam-Webster, are you listening? We need some new love words, asap!

      1. Cyndi*

        I know exactly what “That Personality” meant, and I meant what I said in response to it. All these kinds of love can be, and are, used against people, and there is no form of love that it’s okay to pressure someone into accepting if they’re uncomfortable.

  19. Pricilla Queen of WFT*

    I have don’t this to a close college before, not usually in a good bye, but think a situation where someone has eased a burden or caught a mistake before I’m the impact landed. I have said it before in the same kind of relieved tone one would say “you’re the BEST”

    Co-manager brings me a coffee on a day where I have a 6:30 meeting: “ugh, I love you.” My internal translation is you’re invaluable, and you know me so well, thank you.

    It should definitely only be used in specific contexts though, if at all. Depending on the relationships. I do think that in a goodbye sense it’s weird. I think I’m other contexts the “I appreciate you” is an acceptable connotation if I love you.

    1. Pricilla Queen of WFT*

      Sorry apparently I can’t type today. Can you spot all 10 mistakes? Highlight them for a fun prize!!

  20. Governmint Condition*

    I once had the head of another agency (female) say that to me (male). It was entirely in the context of this thing I did that their agency had been trying to get done for years. Even with that understanding, it felt weird hearing it. The fact that I still remember this nearly two decades later is probably a signal of how it can sometimes make people uncomfortable, even in context.

  21. Aggretsuko*

    Hah, I’ve actually been told ILU by a coworker….a female one who was retiring. We weren’t that close but always got along, so that was a surprise!

  22. a raging ball of distinction*

    Based on your comments about your relationship being unusually close, and the fact that the “love you!”s are tacked on to a wrap-up farewell, I wonder if your boss fully realizes he’s saying them. Maybe your conversations access an emotional side of him he only otherwise taps into when he’s talking to people he truly loves. If I were in your shoes, I’d do an experiment to see if totally changing the tenor of the conversation so you end on a positive, bonded note changes how he signs off. You know that your boss trusts your observations, listens to you, and takes them to heart. I don’t think wrapping up with a totally unrelated, brief positive anecdote would weaken or obfuscate your main message. So if you usually wrap up right after Serious Conversation about A, maybe do a quick swerve to “I was surprised Q brought up [thing you both enthusiastically agree is a bad idea] at the meeting today” and have a nice chuckle. Whatever you do, please let us know how this turns out!

  23. ReallyBadPerson*

    Maybe I’m just extra uptight, but I’d feel so uncomfortable even acknowledging an “I love you” from a co-worker or boss that I couldn’t even have a conversation about not wanting to hear it! I might just reply, “Hey, I respect you, too,” and leave it at that. Or I’d put on my best resting bitch face and say in a toneless voice, “Happy to help.”

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      I have to say, I think “I respect you too” would be a fantastic response. You’re obviously uncomfortable, and you are telling them how you see them/what you are comfortable with. It’s a pretty clear indication of how you’d like them to communicate with you.

      Sure, some people wouldn’t get it, but I’d think most people who aren’t actually trying to push boundaries would.

  24. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I’m a leader, and my two team members tell me: “Jack Straw, I love you (in a completely work appropriate and professional way).” It’s happened so often that it’s been said we should get the parenthetical bit put on a shirt. They’ve both said I “really see them” and understand them w/o holding that against them, work with their personality and strengths, help them develop/worked on growth, amplified their ideas vs. taking them, challenge them & give actual feedback vs. pats on the head, etc. —which is where “love” comes from.

    It all sounds like what you’re doing for your boss… maybe add the last bit in your head when it’s said.

    FTR, I don’t mind it, but I would without the last bit. The first person who said they loved me added it and it stuck. I was very happy they did.

  25. Area Woman*

    I empathize with this guy. I have a very close connection to a colleague and in my head, my brain wants to say that sometime when I think about something really extra he’s done for me at work, or ways he’s been extra supportive in tough situations. It’s more like a love of a family member, like my brother? I am not sure. I have never said it though! And I don’t think I would do it accidentally, even.

    1. Clare*

      If you ever do by accident, you can fix it by quickly following up with “In a philia kind of way, not an éros kind of way!’. Nothing covers an awkward moment like a sudden-but-somehow-relevant segue into Ancient Greek philosophy.

      1. TechWorker*

        This is definitely only helpful if they know wtf you’re talking about – and not everyone would!

  26. Gust of wind*

    Maybe if he says it again, LW could answer with “I really appreciate you too!”
    In the spirit of returning the sentiment, as she interprets it and also kind of hinting at her preferred phrasing.
    Depending on the more specific sentiment LW wants to show, she could fine tune it with either a warmer or a more polite-friendly smile.

  27. Not A Manager*

    Remember in The Giver, where Jonas asks his parents if they love him, and they respond, “I like you, I value you, I appreciate you,” etc.? I would just mirror back to him whatever you think his “I love you” actually means, using more precision of language.

    “Thanks, Dave, I appreciate you too!” “Thanks, Dave, I also value our working relationship.”

  28. Anita Brake*

    Hmm. To add to Alison’s great advice, could one respond to the boss saying “I love you” with “I really enjoy working with you, too!”

  29. Not A Girl Boss*

    I was a rockstar in a previous position and it became almost like a running joke with the two male managers (I’m a female). They’d say “here comes NAGB, we just love her to pieces.” “have I mentioned today that I love you?” “This is perfect, we LOVE you” “When you called I was just telling OtherManager about how much I love you.”

    To me it never gave me any kind of ick. I think there’s two key differences:
    1) It was never a request for reciprocation – no pause and wait for me to say “aw i love you too”
    2) The delivery – there was always an over-the-top emphasis on the word LOVE that made it clear that they were using it a hyperbole of ‘we think youre extra fantastic’ instead of ‘we have romantic feelings for you’

  30. Need People, Not Superheroes*

    I have a different kind of relationship with my employees, because their workplace is my house. They support my physical needs, as I need care for my disability. They witness everything and my professional life and my personal life. It can be hard to compartmentalize as they are on shift the entire time I’m awake. I hire and train my own people, so some of them I know as friends previously. This was especially important to my parents when I was a minor and they were running the company. They literally are trusted with my body and all aspects of my life. It is important to me that we have a close relationship. Love you gets tossed around, sometimes, especially because in our state, they’re not allowed to get paid a living wage even though I am the boss. I want everyone to know they’re appreciated. And it’s often mutual. However. As time goes on, I’ve noticed a pattern. The people who’ve known me before sometimes use our love you relationship as an excuse to just do the easier parts of the job and hang out. This has gotten harder as I’ve become more of a professional adult and gained more health issues. The job isn’t as “fun“ anymore and people just want to be my friends. With the people I didn’t know before and tend to get people who don’t disclose that they can’t do the job because of their own disability or limitations, and then use the fact that I was gotten close to them to make excuses to limit my expectations instead of owning up to the fact that this isn’t the right fit. Either way, I think it’s impossible to do the job without developing a close relationship if you’re doing it correctly. And culturally it’s really hard not to say The L word when you are literally putting someone in bed after an entire day with them.

  31. Need More Sunshine*

    It doesn’t sound like this is the case with this boss based on the rest of the letter, but my bosses also often tell us that they love us (they’re a married couple). Since it’s also paired with lack of communication, little follow through, conflicting goals and feedback, seemingly little care for the feedback we pass up, and general disorganization, it feels very manipulative.

    I agree that it really doesn’t have any place in a work setting – for OP, it’s uncomfortable at best, or in a less healthy org, damaging at worst.

  32. Inkognyto*

    I can only think of princess bride..

    “Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us togethah today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam wifin a dream!”

    “We would not be here today without wuv. Wuv, twoo wuv between these two. Twoo wuv will follow you forevah, so tweasure your wuv”

  33. Jellyfish Catcher*

    Sit with this for a minute: your boss is supportive, respectful, gives you credit, lets you run with good ideas, respects you and it’s one of the healthier and functional working relationships you’ve ever had.
    Except that he has This One Quirk.
    We all have (at least) One Quirk that is annoying, weird, repetitious, etc. Thank the gods that your boss has what appears to be a harmless one, although I understand your discomfort.
    BUT: as my mother used to say – don’t borrow trouble, enough will find you on it’s own.
    Your boss is sensitive to criticism and a bit insecure. He clearly is not “in love” with you. By discussing this with him, it will hurt his feelings out of proportion, make things awkward or even disrupt your trust and open communication.
    FWIW, I’m female, had a successful Very Male dominated (at the time) career. It is difficult to decide whether or not to tackle some borderline issues – but this is not one of them.
    My call: count your blessings, accept his quirk as a quirk, and Carry On.

    1. NopeNopeNope*

      “By discussing this with him, it will hurt his feelings out of proportion, make things awkward or even disrupt your trust and open communication.”

      No. Just no. OP is NOT responsible for her boss’s feelings, and she clearly is bothered enough by these unprofessional professions of feelings that she’s written in — so her trust is already shaken. She has a right to heed her feelings, and it’s bothersome to see commenters here frame the issue entirely around the boss’s feelings and “aw but he doesn’t meeeeeaaaaan it” (you know this how?) rather than OP’s discomfort.

      OP: you are not hired to manage a man’s ego. If it bothers you, tell him. He can take it, and you owe it to yourself to be true to what you need.

      1. Courageous cat*

        Ok, this is all nice and true in theory, like if you’re friends with the guy. But he’s her boss, so this isn’t happening in a vacuum, and she stands to benefit greatly from disregarding it.

    2. metadata minion*

      I think that’s a reasonable call to make, but I think it’s also reasonable to decide that if someone is that awesome about everything else, they should be able to cope with the fact that their One Quirk drives someone up the wall.

  34. D*

    i work in the service ondustry and we throw out the ‘I love you’ like popcorn at a movie theater. When we’re finally out of a rush or finished a particularly difficult day saying ‘i love you’ is much shoet way of sayimg ‘thanks for taking table 86 the 47th side of ranch so I could greet my new table because I was ready to grab the gallon of ranch from the walk in and set on the table with a straw’

    its a little odd in an office job, but if her boss worked anywhere like my job, I can see why he throes it out there. i appreciate you would be better, but probably doesn’t hit everything he wants to convey

    1. Malarkey01*

      I work in a fairly conservative office and we use this a lot. It’s more like “you got the whole presentation done already? This is why I love you!” It’s more casual and flippant and used interchangeably with “you’re the best” and one co director who often shouts “you are a god” when someone does a huge task.

  35. Talk is Cheap. Please have exact change.*

    I get why you might want to just leave it alone… but I also very much understand why you might want it to stop.

    I wonder if you could approach it in the male/female work context… I assume from your letter that he would not want to de-value you in the eyes of others… but it’s possible that someone might think less of you if they overheard him use ‘love’ with you liberally… thinking, perhaps, that you are in your position due to some inappropriate relationship, etc., rather than your general awesomeness. Perhaps he doesn’t use that word when others are around, but you could even address it in the context of what people might think if they overheard.

    Good luck, LW!

  36. Samwise*

    Disagree with Alison here. Doesn’t matter if OP feels ok with it or is willing to take it in the spirit she thinks it is offered in.

    She is the only / one of a few women
    Betcha dollars to donuts he is not saying it to his male reports or colleagues
    Anyone who overhears it could very reasonably mistake it as more than “I appreciate you”. Or could willfully make it into more than “I appreciate you”

    It’s just inappropriate.

    It needs to stop, and it does not matter how sad or uncomfortable it might make him. OP can be kind, but she needs to say something the very next time it happens.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, I don’t think she needs to take on the burden of potentially causing weirdness in the relationship with her boss if she doesn’t feel strongly about it. If he were writing in I’d tell him he needs to stop, but the onus isn’t on her to make that happen if she doesn’t care that much.

      1. NopeNopeNope*

        But she does care, because she’s written in. She’s asking for a gut check. It’s icky behavior, and it’s fine to point that out.

        As for the UK part: OP, I’ve worked for UK companies, including for touchy-feely managers. This has never happened. It is wildly unprofessional.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course it’s fine to point it out! I’m responding to the person above you who said that she *must* say something even if she doesn’t care (“doesn’t matter if OP feels ok with it”) and I don’t agree with insisting that women *must* take on the burden of righting this stuff even when it could come with a cost to themselves.

      2. Samwise*

        If she doesn’t want to have the burden, of course she doesn’t have to.

        But that doesn’t make what he’s doing right or appropriate.

        Im astonished at how many commenters are explaining away and excusing what he’s doing. How many are warning the OP, don’t mess up an otherwise good thing. How many are worried, like the OP, that he’ll feel bad.

        Nice Guys can behave inappropriately. It’s not just Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustaches and leering at Nell. If they’re truly Nice Guys, they’ll apologize and change their behavior when it’s pointed out.

        I’ve been working since the late 1970s, so this isn’t as bad as some of the crap behavior we had to put up with (and that many many still put up with). But it’s sure discouraging that so many men still don’t think about gender politics and power structures in the workplace. It’s discouraging that it apparently has not occurred to OP’s boss that it’s not appropriate or that an employee could feel uncomfortable, that an employee could find it hard to say something. I feel tired that employees like th OP have to do all this emotional work because of it.

  37. SB*

    I work with a guy like this, but he tells EVERYONE he loves them, men, women, people junior to him, people senior to him, the CEO, the CEO’s dog…everyone gets a “love you” at the end of conversations with him. I would definitely feel uneasy about it if it was only the women he said it to or if he was only saying it to one person, but as it is literally everyone it feels fine. In LWs case, it feels less fine & it makes me feel a little weird in the tummy that he is singling out women (or just one) for this.

  38. Esprit de l'escalier*

    This is surely an outgrowth of the automatic “Love you!” that has almost universally become how people end phone calls with family and close friends. If Boss values LW in a way that is emotionally parallel to Boss’s feelings for actual family members, this would just slip out almost without Boss noticing or giving it extra meaning. I would reply with a warm “I appreciate you too!” and let it go.

  39. Colorado*

    We hit a very important milestone at work a couple weeks ago and my previous boss (now my colleague) called to congratulate me. In a moment of pure excitement for this accomplishment, I said “thanks for calling, love ya Name”. My daughter was in the car and gave me this look of horror. I was embarrassed for a few minutes then shrugged it off as being excited and proud. This is the guy that did hire me after all.
    I am a lovely person though, I tell people I love them for a variety of reasons, all innocent. Now I’m hoping I don’t make people uncomfortable.

    But OP – my advice is that if it really doesn’t bother you too much and you know it’s from a place of innocence and praise, I’d let it go.

    1. Colorado*

      ha – I meant to say love-y. Though I would hope to gain the compliment of lovely sometimes ;-)

  40. Willow Pillow*

    I had a boss who did that… her professional boundaries were horrible. She was also quite manipulative – guilt tripping, passive aggressive, isolating. After I finally had enough and spoke up about feeling unsupported (which she had explicitly requested that I do if I felt that way), she told me that hurt, hung up on me, removed me from the department, and never spoke to me again.

    Tread very carefully, LW.

    1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

      Your boss was hella messed-up and you did nothing wrong. She deserved consequences for her shit, still.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, the difference being that the LW’s boss doesn’t seem at all like your ex-boss. They can talk about difficult things without him leaving in a huff nursing his hurt feelings.

  41. Coyote River*

    I tend to use a lot of terms-of-endearment when talking to my employees (lad, love, etc), but actually saying “I love you” feels strange. So much so, that I wonder if LW’s boss may not be a native English speaker.

    For what it’s worth, if he really is as good a boss as LW says, I’m sure he’ll be open to feedback about his communication style, it likely won’t be a big deal.

  42. Fearbiter*

    It is my personal nightmare that I might one day accidentally say “I love you” to any of my colleagues, so I can not believe that there is someone out there doing it with intention and not immediately throwing themselves away.

  43. That wasn't me. . .*

    Wait, do you work for your Dad? Cause if he’s not your Dad, Grandad, brother or best friend – from before you started working together – this is too much! It gets into the whole ” we’re family!” dynamic that Allison normally hates so much (why not this time, I wonder?) You could ask him to not say it again by pointing out that while you “esteem him as a friend and mentor” you are an employee and AREN’T family and he must keep that in mind, because “if the day should come that I need to go work elsewhere” he should not feel “betrayed” or abandoned.

  44. Hcm*

    If you don’t feel like turning it into another criticism especially if it’s following a critical conversation, I feel like you could say something like, “Um thank you? Sorry, I never know what to say to that in professional settings. But I appreciate you too.” So make it more about your discomfort in a casual, homey way but also model a different option.

  45. A Love Bug*

    I endeavor to love all beings everywhere. I love my husband. I love my family. I love my neighbors, my housekeeper, my postman, and the beggar I drive past—I even send loving kindness to the person who cuts me off in traffic and the person taking a billion years to check out at the grocery store.

    It may make you a bit queasy to read it, but I love you, too!

    May I recommend that if it does make you queasy, have a think about it. Imagine what the world could be if we all actively loved one another.

    1. allathian*

      Nope, nope, nope. Just no.

      If you claim to love everyone, even people you’ve never met, it just means that you actually don’t love anyone at all.

      I’d be more than happy if everyone could just agree to respect the human rights of every human being regardless of age, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, brain chemistry, mental health status, disability, body shape, and every other characteristic that can be used to discriminate against another person.

  46. Turtle3808*

    My boss does this too. It always weirds me out but I just roll with it. She knows me well enough to not expect me to reciprocate. I generally go the Star Wars route and respond with “I know.” She is a very emotional person in general and open about that in the workplace, but recognizes that I am very not and have my boundaries. It sometimes is a little much for me but I know it is coming from a good place at least? The rest of the job is worth it so ‍♀️

  47. Midnight*

    I think about this now and then, because in my employment it’s not common but also not unheard of to express caring and for one another. We are working in a different culture though, with it’s own worldviews and language.

    I think a lot about whiteness and professionalism in general. Sometimes professional norms are tethered to whiteness, ableism, and patriarchal norms.

  48. Simone Files*

    My male boss always signs text messages with kisses, which personally as a woman is something I would only do with my female friends or with my partner. But he does this in group messages too and isn’t remotely inappropriate in his language or behaviour, so I dismiss it as a quirk and just … don’t use it back and he doesn’t seem to notice or care

    1. Esprit de l'escalier*

      Is it possible he thinks they’re big smiles or something, rather than kiss emojis?

  49. archangelsgirl*

    Admittedly we teach 9-10 year olds. But I have a colleague who says to kids who are very challenging, things like, “You know I love you more than anything but…” Or, “I love you to death, you know I’d do anything for you, but you have to go outside right now.” In other words it’s just… something she says. I promise you she does not love the 120 kids in our pod to death, some days not even an ounce. Since we’re talking about cultural background, she’s Dutch. I’m Dutch by coincidence, not design. In my anecdotal experience, Dutch Canadians are some of the most antisocial people on the planet (Finns have us beat, and my kids’ dad is a Finn, haha, what a team). We barely love our spouses and kids. Can’t look people in the eye. Sometimes I wonder if I’m neurodivergent but then I realize I’m just… Dutch. I think my colleague does I love you as a defense mechanism against the fact that she’s actually painfully shy and standoffish, but when you’re a teacher, you adapt strategies so the kids don’t figure that out. All that to say, OF COURSE you have the right to ask him to stop, but based on the posts and my own experience, it SOUNDS like he MIGHT not mean it. But you’re the expert, and only you can assess tone, etc. Good look

    1. allathian*

      I hear you. I’m a Finn, and many of us are actually quite affectionate with people we trust and know well. You need a lot of patience to get to know a Finn well, but once you do, we tend to be loyal to our friends. But I don’t think I’ve ever said “I love you” to my husband, and I’ve only heard those words once from him, when our newborn son, yet to be cleaned and still attached to his umbilical cord was lying all gooey and bloody on my chest. I’m still not sure if those words were meant for me or him! But I love him, and I have no reason to doubt his love for me. “You’re very dear to me” is our most tender endearment, though.

  50. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Here’s a reminder that there are different types of love besides family/friends and the sexual attraction type of love.
    It sounds like the boss is one that uses love to mean I appreciate you in my life, you are a good person, etc.
    The only thing I could think of that I don’t think was mentioned, is that what if another employee overhears the boss say this and thinks badly of OP. I can see someone undermining the OP by starting rumors that she is only in her position because the boss is in love with her/ having an affair.

  51. Naw*

    Depends on work culture. We have a close-knit team of people who have worked together on very difficult projects, so we will get the occasional “I love you guys” or “that’s why we love you!” I do think saying 1:1 “Love you!” as a sign-off is a little strange an overly intimate. “Appreciate you!” would be much more work-appropriate.

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