50 Ways to say “I Love You”

A case could be made that many, many books and movies are about one thing and one thing only: getting Person X to say to Person Y, “I love you.”

Paul Newman and Robert Redford saying it in subtext in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Paul Newman and Robert Redford saying it in subtext in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

The trick is our characters can never use those blatant, overt words. That wouldn’t be cool.

It wouldn’t ring true to life.

And it wouldn’t possess the power and the impact we want.

In fiction, “I love you” has to come in subtext, not text.

Here’s one of the ways William Goldman did it in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s the final scene. The outlaws are shot up and bleeding in a cramped hideout in a town square somewhere in Bolivia. Surrounding them, outside, are hundreds of uniformed, rifle-toting Federales. The instant our two “bandidos yanquis” step out through the door … well, we all know what’s coming.


I got a great idea where we should go next.


Well I don’t wanna hear it.


You’ll change your mind once I tell you.


It was your great ideas that got us here in the first place. I never wanna hear another one of your great ideas.


Australia. I figured secretly you wanted to know so I told you: Australia.


What’s so great about Australia?


They speak English there.


They do?

BUTCH tells Sundance about the banks, the beaches, and the women Down Under.


It’s a long way, though, isn’t it?


Aw, everythings’s always gotta be perfect with you.


I just don’t wanna get there and find out it stinks, that’s all.

In Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, junior exec Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has been in love with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) for the whole movie. But Shirley is blind to Jack’s infatuation. Instead she’s in a doomed affair with married exec Mr. Sheldrake (Fred McMurray). When Shirley tries to poison herself after Sheldrake dumps her, Jack saves her life by getting her stomach pumped and sitting up all night with her playing cards. Next day he stands up to Sheldrake (who’s his boss), quits his job, etc., all the while believing Shirley still has no romantic interest in him.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment"

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment”

In the final scene Shirley sees the light, races to Jack’s apartment just in time to catch him before he packs up and leaves town.


What’d you do with the cards?


In there.

Shirley gets the deck. sits beside Jack on the couch.


What about Mr. Shelkdrake?


We’ll send him a fruitbcake every Christmas. Cut.

He cuts a deuce, she cuts a ten.


I love you, Miss Kubilek


You got a two, I got a ten. I win.


Did you hear what I said, I absolutely adore you.


Shut up and deal.

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot"

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot”

Billy Wilder topped this of course with the last line of Some Like It Hot, when Jerry (Jack Lemmon), hiding out from the mob in drag with a girl band, explains to his zillionaire suitor Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) that he can’t marry him.


You don’t understand, Osgood. I’m a man!


Well, nobody’s perfect.

Subtext beats text every time.

That’s love.


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  1. Mary Doyle on January 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

    Terrific post! “Subtext beats text every time.” I cannot imagine three better examples to illustrate this – thanks so much.

  2. Michael Beverly on January 18, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I’ve heard there are also 50 ways to leave your lover…

    Which would lead me to believe there are 50 ways to say, “I hate you,” in the sub-text as well.

    Maybe sometimes, “I love you,” is subtext for “I hate you,” and vise versa.

    Learning to write things without directly saying what you’re trying to say is quite challenging.

  3. gwen abitz on January 18, 2017 at 10:29 am

    After reading this; I Couldn’t help but think how many times a day I unconsciously say: Love It!!! – if a Post on Facebook really resonates I click on the LOVE not just the Like. Just yesterday I said to myself LOVE how the Universe works with timing when I felt all bummed out I was going to have to give up on painting Crater Lake; when I learned almost simultaneously of a class at the Art Club right here where I live with the title “Paint the painting you have always wanted to paint” saying to myself OMG – LOVE IT, there is a class with an instructor that wants to help me paint what I want to paint and not have to paint the picture the instructor has chosen to teach me. I don’t know does “this” have anything to do with “Subtext beats text every time?” Too, how many more times “love it” is used more than “love you” during the day.

  4. Madeleine D'Este on January 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I prefer the ‘on the nose’ dialogue. Come to Australia, Steve!

  5. Lee Poteet on January 23, 2017 at 8:32 am

    So frequently in life if not in fiction we or our characters say “I love you” up front or in the beginning long before they have any real idea what love is or it’s true costs. Many a young man has said it because he wants an immediate and physical reward but only learns the true meaning of the words at or near the end of a life filled with conflicts as well as joys.

  6. David Kadavy on January 25, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Funny, I haven’t seen The Apartment, but when I read the script on here, I thought that Mr. Baxter should have won the hand. I figured I’d watch the ending on YouTube to see how it felt on screen.

    Turns out – at least in this version (are there multiple?) – Miss Kubelik draws a 3, and Mr. Baxter a Queen. She makes no mention of who wins. Mr. Baxter is oblivious. But, he’s won the hand.

    I like that ending better.

  7. Nancey M. Stephen on August 7, 2021 at 5:33 am

    It would be great to have a helper like this to get all of your things done in a minute. I will get essayontime online to complete my work. Once I tried to hire this type of woman but she did not agree to work in my home.

  8. James Jordan on August 1, 2023 at 2:58 am

    I agree that subtext of beats text every time. It makes the reader or viewer work a little harder, but also feel more rewarded when they get it.
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