I'm not sure if anyone has written about the phenomenon of the "accidental 'I love you'" before. I'm sure someone has, because someone has written about everything. And I haven't researched this phenomenon, although it's always intrigued me. Saying "I love you" to the wrong person over the phone is the adult version of accidentally calling your teacher "mom" at school. I routinely end conversations with close family and friends with "I love you," or "Love you!," because of that whole carpe diem principle of say what you feel, life is short, you might never see or speak to them again because someone might get hit by a bus in five minutes, and so on. But none of this applies to a person you don't actually love and to whom such an expression of affection is totally inappropriate. I've had situations with colleagues, clients, phone solicitors, professional contacts, and other arms-length individuals in transactions where I perhaps lost my footing or attention for a moment, and at the close of the conversation, blurted out the accidental "I love you."
At that moment, a feeling of profound mortification sets in and you don't know what to do. You can't very well call the person back and say, "I don't actually love you," because they already know that, and you just draw unwanted attention to the faux pas. All you can hope is that they didn't hear it, but you know they did. Therefore, letting the accidental "I love you" just hang out there twisting in the wind seems equally unpalatable. What if they actually think you really meant it, when it was clearly totally inappropriate to say? There is no good answer. A take-back compounds embarrassment, yet silence--the only immediate alternative--seems only marginally better. The only solution is to stop saying "I love you" entirely, to everyone, but yet that seems drastic. It's nice to tell the people you love in your life that you love them, even if it's in a mundane context. It seems a shame to abandon doing so on the ground that you might say "I love you" to the completely wrong person sometimes. In any event, I have no intention of stopping this practice. If the car rental agent or a municipal utility company wants to feel loved, even if my love is a lie, well, I guess I don't really have a problem with that.