When you hear the words “I love you” for the first time, it’s almost like when the “check engine” light goes off in your car: You got the signal but have no idea what it means.

The words “I love you” can cause excitement in relationships, putting some of us in a rocket ship to outer space—but it also causes confusion in everyday life (e.g. that one coworker who shouts, “Love you!” as you get off the elevator). That’s because the saying means different things to different people based on their perception, past experiences, culture, how they socialize and how they process their emotions. Oftentimes, relationships will make or break depending on when those words are said, how it was said and if it was reciprocated—certainly a lot of weight to put on colloquialism. This is why LivingHealthy expert Ramani Durvasula advises us: Before taking the message at face value, first seriously consider the meaning behind these three (sometimes life-changing) words.

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