You often hear about “rules” for when and how to say “I love you” in romantic relationships, but how do you say that to a friend? Moreover, how do you make sure your friend knows you love them in a strictly platonic way? Especially if you and your friend don’t talk about feelings a lot, it might feel awkward to jump in there and say “I love you” (though if that’s your style, do it!). In either case, I have got you covered in this particular article with great tips to let them know how much you love them while keeping things genuine and comfortable.
Add the word "friend" into the conversation. Avoid misunderstanding by clarifying how you see them. Just saying “I love you” can feel a little intense, and you might be worried about it sounding romantic. To keep things platonic and set a boundary, pair your heartfelt statement with a nice comment about what their friendship means to you. “I love you, Kendra! Your friendship means so much to me. I wouldn’t have gotten through Ms. Mack’s algebra class without you.” “You are such a good friend, Danny. I love you!” “I’m so glad we became friends. I love you.”
Just say “I love you.” It’s okay to directly let them know you love them without caveats! If you’re concerned about keeping things platonic, just pick a neutral moment to say it. For instance, if you’re worried about coming off too romantically, you might want to avoid saying it while staring deeply into their eyes under the stars, while slow dancing, or while watching the sunset on the beach. Here are some examples of platonic situations where saying “I love you” is definitely appropriate: Your friend is leaving for a trip or a long drive. Your friend is sharing a major life milestone or achievement with you (ex. graduation, becoming a parent, getting a job). You haven’t seen your friend in a while. You’re thanking your friend for doing something for you (ex. bringing you a snack, giving you a ride, picking you up from the airport).
Let them know they’re like family to you. Does your close friend feel like a sibling to you? Include them in your “fam” by expressing that you love them and letting them know they're a part of your chosen family. Talk about your shared history together and the ways they’ve supported you over time. Use familial language to set boundaries, too, and clarify that your relationship is platonic. “I love you, fam. You’ve really been there for me in some tough moments.” “You’re like family to me, I love you.”
Explain why you admire them. Tell your friend why they’re a role model for you. Which of their qualities do you aspire to have? What have you seen them do that’s inspired, moved, or transformed you? “Micah, I hear about the way that you care for your patients, and your selflessness inspires me to try and help others.” “I really admire how you’ve worked your way up to floor manager. You’ve got a killer work ethic.” “One day, I hope I’ll be as good of a surfer as you. You’re my inspiration.”
Perform small acts of kindness. Help them out with a task to show love. Surprise your friend by offering them a ride, bringing them a meal, or doing a task they don’t like doing. Either do the task by yourself, or help them tackle it so that it becomes a team event. Giving your time and energy can be one of the best ways to say “I love you"–especially if you're not super comfortable expressing that verbally.
Support them through the good and bad. Let them know you believe in them and why. Even if they’re not currently struggling, it’s okay to show them you love them by telling them what a rockstar they are! Describe how they've succeeded in the past and the qualities that you know will make them successful. "I really believe in you and I know you're going to crush this event because you're so fast." "I'm here for you, and I know you'll get through this. You're so tough!"
Give thoughtful compliments. Praise their accomplishments, personality, and whatever else makes them special! Add “I love you” if it feels right, or just let your little statements of appreciation express how much you love them. Worried about coming on too strong? Chances are, your friend will appreciate whatever nice thing you say. But if you’re still worried, just avoid compliments about their appearance to dodge the romantic atmosphere. “You’re always the life of the party.” “I love your outfit today. But I also love you.” “You’re an incredible singer.”
Clarify what you mean if they take it the wrong way. Keep the conversation casual and kindly correct your friend. If your friend misinterprets your platonic "I love you" as romantic, it can be a little awkward. They might feel uncomfortable, or they might actually have feelings for you and get their hopes up. If they're just uncomfortable with the sentiment, let them know your feelings are platonic and move the conversation along. If your friend has feelings for you, be gentle and kind as you explain that you don't feel the same way. "Hey, I meant that in a friendly way." "I really care about you, but I meant what I said in a platonic way." "I think you're amazing. I only see you as a friend, though."
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