Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Did I Drop the L-Bomb Too Soon?”

Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I got back from a wonderful week-long trip to Europe. We’ve been dating for five months long distance (we’re on opposite coasts) and met a year and a half ago. At the airport after landing in the States and before heading to our respective connections, he gave me a hug and said, “I love you.” I didn’t say anything at the time, but felt like I wanted to share with him my feelings. So I told him last night. The problem? His response was, “Are we there yet?”

I was very flustered and embarrassed, and he at first didn’t recall saying it. He said things like, “If I said it, I meant it,” and realizing that I was becoming very concerned, he said “Don’t over think this,” and “It’s OK.” I know those sound like reassuring things, but I feel very conflicted and also upset. I know timing is important for saying it (something I haven’t said in a relationship for the past five years), so I’m concerned: did I say it too soon? And do I just pretend it didn’t happen when we talk again? — Anxious About Love

It’s been a while since we had a L-word related question, so I decided the time was ripe to answer this one. At its core, your question isn’t really about the timing of you dropping the L-Bomb, or that you feel embarrassed that you didn’t get the reaction you expected; it’s about your boyfriend’s response: “Are we there yet?” That’s what little kids say on boring road trips, not what grown-ups say when someone has just professed feelings of love.

Whether he’s there yet or not — and we’ll get to that in a minute — obviously, you are, so at least half of the “we” in question is, in fact, there. What does “there” mean? Well, that seems to be the real issue here and the one you need to address with him. Obviously, there’s a destination he feels the L-Word implies your relationship has arrived at. Where do you feel like your relationship is now? Where do you think it’s headed? Once you can answer those questions for yourself, you need to find out how your boyfriend answers them. In short, you have to find out if you’re on the same page.

What would think that him having already said, “I love you” would imply that you are on the same page, but apparently there’s some confusion about whether he actually said those three little words and whether he meant what you think he meant. You may never know if you were simply “hearing things” when you thought you heard him drop the L-bomb, or if he “forgot” he said it, or if he simply said it in the heat of the moment — after an intense amount of quality time together — and later regretted saying it. But by focusing on what your relationship goals are, rather than on a single word or phrase, you’re much more likely to get the answers you want. The L-word isn’t the best way to measure where you stand with someone. Having a relationship check-in is.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

57 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Theenemyofmyenemyisagrilledcheesesandwich September 15, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Agreed. “Are we there yet?” is such an awkward thing to say to someone after you tell them you love them. Maybe that’s why my boyfriend hung up on me right after he said it the first time. 🙂
    It would be difficult to make a judgment call on whether or not anyone should be feeling love, or in love after five months, because those feelings develop at different rates for everyone. However, you can certainly know where you would like a relationship to go, what potential you think the relationship has. You, the LW, can check in with him on where you both see this relationship going. Just as Wendy said.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      6napkinburger September 15, 2011, 2:39 pm

      I remember this awesome episode of Friends, where Ross is dating Mona and she wants them to get christmas cards together, and he kind of freaks out about what it means about their relationship. Meanwhile, Chandler’s boss is getting a divorce and Monica can’t stand the boss, so Chandler pretends he’s getting a divorce too, to avoid making Monica hang out with the boss. The boss takes Chandler out on the town, to a strip club, etc., and Chandler comes home the next day exhausted and disgusted, leading to the following exchange:

      Chandler: Please promise me you’ll never leave me, that we’ll grow old together and be with each other for the rest of our lives.
      Monica : I promise. Hey, speaking of together, how about we send out a holiday card this year?
      Chandler : Ooo I don’t know if we’re there yet.

      This made me think of this.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        amber September 15, 2011, 3:04 pm

        oh i love a good friends reference 🙂

        Link
      • avatar

        honeybeenicki September 15, 2011, 4:15 pm

        Am I the only person who has only ever seen maybe 1 or 2 episodes of Friends?

        Link
      • avatar

        6napkinburger September 15, 2011, 4:26 pm

        yes.

        Link
      • avatar

        melikeycheesecake September 15, 2011, 4:26 pm

        I own all the Seasons and have watched the entire 10 seasons at least 4 times… so needless to say I love a good friends reference too.

        Link
      • avatar

        amber September 15, 2011, 4:29 pm

        haha yes! 😉

        Link
      • avatar

        honeybeenicki September 15, 2011, 4:49 pm

        So apparently I should borrow the DVDs from one of my friends and watch it? See, I’m a closet Gilmore Girls junkie so I have all of those even though most people haven’t seen more than a few episodes.

        Link
      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow September 15, 2011, 5:30 pm

        Friends was good back in the day, but I’m not sure if it would be worth it to watch them all for the first time now.

        Gilmore Girls is WAYYY better than Friends 🙂 (Although I also would consider myself a “closet junkie” or refer to it as a “guilty pleasure”)

        Link
      • avatar

        amber September 15, 2011, 5:43 pm

        i think it would be worth it to watch it from the beginning!

        and i to am a closet gilmore girls fan. whenever i go home for holidays my sister and i watch the dvds together. it’s like we’re in high school again, haha.

        Link
      • bagge72

        bagge72 September 16, 2011, 9:58 am

        Definitely watch them! They are all still relevant! It is the second best show ever behind Seinfeld!

        Link
      • avatar

        LSS86 September 15, 2011, 4:33 pm

        No, I haven’t seen very many. Mostly because I have brothers who would have teased me for watching it. And by the time I got to college, it wasn’t the type of thing girls gathered around to watch anymore.

        Link
      • avatar

        MissDre September 15, 2011, 4:55 pm

        I never liked Friends so you’re not alone LoL. I’m sure a lot of people here now don’t like me =P

        Link
      • avatar

        haggith September 15, 2011, 5:25 pm

        we’re two now 😀 … never liked it

        Link
      • avatar

        Christy September 15, 2011, 7:23 pm

        No!

        Link
      • avatar

        kali September 16, 2011, 3:51 pm

        HoneyBee – I haven’t seen any of them. And I plan to keep it that way.

        Link
      • avatar

        Over It September 17, 2011, 12:39 am

        No. I wasn’t a fan myself.

        Link
      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow September 15, 2011, 5:47 pm

        Or when Ross said “I love you” to Emily and she said “Thank you”? That’s the first one I thought of.

        Link
      • avatar

        TheOtherMe September 15, 2011, 5:51 pm

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfx7izBNHeI

        this one was my all time fav.

        Link
      • avatar

        don September 16, 2011, 4:24 am

        Seinfeld should get some kind of comedy nobel prize or something.

        Greatest comedy show in TV history, in spite of Jerry Seinfeld’s poor acting.

        Link
      • avatar

        TheOtherMe September 16, 2011, 9:07 am

        I agree !
        I think it’s the TV show that has influenced the way we talk the most.

        All 3 Costanzas’ were my favorite 🙂

        Link
      • bagge72

        bagge72 September 16, 2011, 12:18 pm

        Still cant go to bed at night with out watch Seinfeld! By far the best show ever!

        Link
  • avatar

    MissDre September 15, 2011, 2:54 pm

    “The L-word isn’t the best way to measure where you stand with someone. Having a relationship check-in is.”

    Thanks for saying this Wendy. That really resonates with me. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 15 months and he still hasn’t said it. I actually outright asked him if he did love me, because he’s never said it. And he told me that he really really cares for me and he’s happy together but love is just something that takes more time for him.

    At first I was upset, but then I thought about the way he treats me, the other milestones we’ve reached, and the fact that’s we’re able to openly discuss what we want for our future… and even though I’d like to hear it, I realize it doesn’t really matter right now. We have an amazing relationship and I’m happy. Being happy is what matters.

    Thanks for publishing this Wendy.

    Reply Link
    • katie

      katie September 15, 2011, 9:12 pm

      “Being happy is what matters.”

      this.

      that article a couple days ago about the timing of average couples milestones really bothered me, for this reason…. it doesnt matter how long it takes you do or say anything to anyone. it doesnt matter in your career, it doesnt matter in your love life, it just doesnt matter.

      being happy is what matters.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Mary September 15, 2011, 3:05 pm

    LW, I don’t want to linger on the did-he-or-didn’t-he aspect of this letter. I don’t think it’ll help much for you to focus on that point. I mean, maybe he DID say it and genuinely has forgotten. Stranger things have happened. But thinking about the maybes and what-ifs is just going to drive you nuts.

    I’d rather focus on his response of, “Are we there yet?”. How does he define “there” in this context? Basically, I think you need to discuss what this milestone means for each of you. “Love” means different things to different people. Some people genuinely think that once Love enters the conversation, major actions need to be taken. For some people, saying the L word means they want to get married. For others it means they want to move in together – something that would require a hell of a lot of sacrifice for both of you. Others say it to show their commitment to the relationship, but require nothing else … other than a reply of, “I love you, too”, of course. Do any of these ring true for you? Do any of them ring true for HIM? Talk about it together and find out.

    Reply Link
    • cmary

      CMF September 15, 2011, 3:22 pm

      That’s a really great point, Mary. I totally agree that love means different things to different people and that it’s good to know where you both stand on the issue. Some people toss it around very lightly, very quickly, and others take much longer. The boyfriend “forgetting” he said it could maybe just be his way of slowing things down if he felt HE’D said it too soon the first time around. Maybe.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    HBomb September 15, 2011, 3:36 pm

    People don’t usually forget saying I love you. Especially if is it the first, or first few times. What a lame response on his part.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      TheOtherMe September 15, 2011, 3:58 pm

      That’s why it’s safer to say ” I think I might be falling for you ” that way it’s out there but it’s still tentative.

      Sorry LW that wasn’t very helpful, maybe you can have a talk with him & ask, “If we’re not “there” yet, then “where” are we ” ?

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        silver_dragon_girl September 15, 2011, 4:29 pm

        OMG I hate “I think I might be falling for you.” It’s such a cop-out!!! It’s the most passive-aggressive declaration of feeling EVER. Seriously, not one, not two, but THREE qualifiers indicating “maybe.” I think, I might, and falling instead of love. GRR.

        /rant

        Sorry, TOM, not directed at you 😉

        Link
      • avatar

        TheOtherMe September 15, 2011, 4:34 pm

        HAHAH It’s ok, I’m the girl who still won’t move in after 6 years … What ? you want to leave a toothbrush at my house ? type of girl !

        But when I love, I LOVE. no words needed, not a shadow of a doubt.

        Link
      • avatar

        TheOtherMe September 15, 2011, 4:35 pm

        ps. ” i think” — ” I might” : 2 layers 😉

        Link
      • bagge72

        bagge72 September 16, 2011, 12:24 pm

        Yeah, I get crazy eyes from people when they ask me I’m moving in with my fiance and I tell them once we get married!

        Link
      • avatar

        EB September 15, 2011, 5:49 pm

        AGREED! A boyfriend said this to me and my response was:
        “Ok. Well feel free to get back to me when you actually figure that out.”

        Link
    • avatar

      Bellz September 15, 2011, 4:27 pm

      The first time my boyfriend said it to me, it was in the middle of the night. We were both sleeping, he woke me up and said “I love you”. I kissed him and we both went back to sleep. When I asked him about it the next day, he was thrown WAY off. He didn’t remember it at all.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      lk September 15, 2011, 4:35 pm

      The last guy I dated told me he loved me (2x!)……then when I said it *months* later, he was shocked & had no recollection of ever saying it to me….Strange, but true.

      Reply Link
  • Budj

    Budjer September 15, 2011, 2:36 pm

    It has been almost 6 years since my last relationship so I’m not too experienced in this one…but…for him to say it and then say “are we there yet?” might be because he thought you sand bagged him the first time and were only saying it because he said it (even though he took it back by “not remembering”).

    I would either call him out on hanging you out to dry or drop it and let him say it first. The next time he says it don’t balk….but regardless I don’t think this is a big deal. If he sees a future with you then this isn’t a deal breaker…it’s not like you are a FWB situation dropping an L-bomb.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    MiMi September 15, 2011, 4:07 pm

    Some phrases just roll off the tongue automatically. When I hang up the phone after talking to my sisters or my kids, I say, “love you, bye”. Sometimes I say “love you, bye” inappropriately when getting off the phone with someone else. In my brain, “love you, bye” and hanging up the phone are associated.
    Perhaps your boyfriend’s “*hug*- I love you – separate – at – the – airport” was an automatic phrase for him when parting from someone close at an airport, which is why he didn’t remember saying it? In your mind, it was a clash of cymbals and a fanfare I LOVE YOU, and to him it could have been totally unconscious. Consider that possibility.

    What leaves a lot to be desired, though, is his behavior since then with the snarky remark and subsequent floundering around for what to say. I suggest you pay close attention, because these are not the actions of someone who cares deeply or who is thoughtful of your feelings, this is the way a guy behaves when he’s stuck his foot in it and is trying to get himself out of a jam.

    If kicking him to the curb is not an immediate option, how about dialing the whole thing back, resetting to somewhere before the airport and taking it slow? Your relationship is quite new, it’s long distance and if I were you, I’d want to observe his behavior for a bit to see if his actions are those of someone who truly cares, who is growing more committed to the relationship as time goes on, etc. If this is a good match in the end, there will be no dearth of I love you’s, freely given and received on both sides.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      honeybeenicki September 15, 2011, 4:15 pm

      Excellent point of reflex phrases. Many times we just say/do something related to an action just out of habit (such as “love you, bye” on the phone) and don’t do it consciously. Similar to the phone ending phrase, I’ve found if I work at a job where I answer the phone a lot and in the same way, sometimes I accidentally answer my personal phone that way. (For about a week after leaving an insurance company, I answered my phone “Welcome to *anonymous insurance company that leaves you in good hands*, my name is Nicki…”
      I could definitely see this as being a possibility at the airport.

      Reply Link
    • Budj

      Budjer September 15, 2011, 4:18 pm

      Plausible theory, but I would say most dudes don’t throw around I love you after hugging most people and if he did he would be the type to have already said I love you meaningfully.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        Painted_lady September 16, 2011, 12:14 am

        I have a good guy friend who occasionally lets “love you” fall out of his mouth when we end a phone call, and it’s really obvious it’s a reflexive thing. It’s hilarious because he used to let it lie there without saying anything, and now he just yells, “Aww, dammit!” and we both crack up. There’s definitely a family-ish vibe to our friendship, and we have the kind of shorthand way of speaking that only people who have spent a lot of long hours together have, so I’m guessing that’s why.

        Link
      • Budj

        Budjer September 16, 2011, 8:23 am

        Yea – I do say that to family members so I see how that could happen in that case.

        Link
    • avatar

      LSS86 September 15, 2011, 4:29 pm

      Usually at the end of a business exchange where I’m the customer, the other person will say “have a nice day,” and I reply “thanks, you too.” Last week I went to the movies, and the woman who sold me my refreshments said “enjoy the movie” and I came so close to saying “thanks, you too.” I caught myself just in time. 🙂

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        thyme September 15, 2011, 4:58 pm

        I have a history of doing that with “Happy Birthday.”

        Good thing it’s only an issue one day a year.

        Link
    • avatar

      Shadowflash1522 September 16, 2011, 11:36 am

      Haha my mom was distracted one time when the she answered the phone and said “Hello please!”

      Sometimes our reflexes get the better of us 🙂

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Lee September 15, 2011, 4:18 pm

    I have one worse…
    I was talking with my bf of 3 months, when he asked me if I loved him. I balked at answering because in my mind, it was way too soon to be dropping the L bomb. He kept pestering me and asking me until I finally just said “Yes! I love you!” I figured he wanted me to say it first because he was to shy. His response?
    “Oh really? Because I don’t love you.”
    When I dissolved into tears and had random crying fits for the next day or two, then he realized what he had said was stupid.

    What was really stupid is that I dated him for 19 MONTHS. Yeah, never making that mistake again.

    Reply Link
    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow September 15, 2011, 5:34 pm

      Yeesh.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    LSS86 September 15, 2011, 4:27 pm

    After like a week of dating, my boyfriend said something to me that sure sounded like “I love you.” Which, you know, since we just met a week ago, seemed a little fast. I just kind of looked at him, shocked and asked him what he said. Apparently he said “hi beautiful” (how does that sound anything like “I love you?”). I didn’t tell him what I thought he said, but he somehow knew exactly what was going through my head. Except in his memory, I actually asked him “did you just say ‘I love you?'” Now we laugh about it and playfully argue about whether or not I asked him specifically if he said “I love you” (which I totally didn’t, I was too afraid to even voice the l-word a week after meeting him). But the fact is, I probably misheard him because, even though I wouldn’t vocalize it, I was already thinking about the possibility of love.

    I don’t know what the point of my story is for the LW though. 🙂

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    spanishdoll September 15, 2011, 5:12 pm

    Your boyfriend’s response makes him sound like a character out of Arrested Development.

    “Her? Really?”

    Hilarious inside my brain, but it’s kind of a jerky response in real life.

    Reply Link
    • caitie_didnt

      caitie_didn't September 15, 2011, 9:50 pm

      ….is she funny or something?

      Reply Link
      • Budj

        Budjer September 16, 2011, 8:23 am

        They call her “the wall”

        Link
  • CatsMeow

    CatsMeow September 15, 2011, 5:46 pm

    LW, you responded to either something he said, or something you thought he said. You didn’t reciprocate at first, right? You took your time to think about it, and THEN told him you loved him. You might not have said it at all if you hadn’t heard it from him first.

    Now that he’s heard it from you, let him process it and he’ll probably say it back. Based on his reactions, I don’t think he’s going to freak out and start backing away or anything douchey like that. ORRR he’ll clarify that he’s “falling for you” (I personally dont’ have a problem with that one!) or cares about you a whole heck of a lot or something else along those lines which is BASICALLY the same thing because obvz people have different definitions of “love” and different guidelines for when they know it’s LOVE-love and not really really really really really like.

    But for now – I wouldn’t say it again to him until he says it to you. That’s just me.

    Don’t beat yourself up. You were telling the truth when you said it, right? Therefore, it wasn’t “too soon”.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Lindsay September 15, 2011, 10:26 pm

    Normally, I try to be super logical when I comment and imagine what I’d say if I were an advice columnist. But I found this letter kind of weird. Well, not the letter itself (or the LW), but the situation, and it just makes me too perplexed to give any real advice.

    I think we can all agree that “Are we there yet?” is kind of a dumb response. And like Wendy said, “we” don’t have to be anywhere. You said it, so you meant it, which really does not presume any “we” about it.

    The fact that he doesn’t remember saying it is weird, too. I dated a guy who had actual memory problems and would forget that he hadn’t told me he was going out of town or what day he was moving away, and it really irritated me. Anyway, if a guy forgot that he said “I love you” and then nonchalantly said stuff like “if I said it …” and then tried to reassure me, It would drive me crazy.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    GTR September 15, 2011, 11:54 pm

    Sheesh, some people and their set-in-concrete relationship milestones. “You bought me pink roses? You’re supposed to bring me red roses! You’re supposed to say “I love you”, not “I think you’re amazing”! What the hell is this emerald engagement ring? It’s supposed to be a diamond! I don’t care if you think emeralds look better on me, IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE A DIAMOND!!!” And so on.

    Whether or not your boyfriend says “I love you” is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the way he treats you, the signs of respect for you, and the acts of caring for you. Don’t get hung up on what he does or doesn’t say: actions speak louder than words.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    rob ottapocalypse September 16, 2011, 1:13 am

    .

    Reply Link
  • fast eddie

    fast eddie September 16, 2011, 6:18 pm

    “I love you” can mean so many things. I love my home, my cat, car and good coffee. When it spoken to someone we have a romantic interest in it takes on a monumental meaning. I over used it a lot when what all I really wanted was sex. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear someone say to us, especially if they mean it.

    Anxious, I think you should just let it lay. You’ve broken the ice, now be patient and see what, if anything, he does with it.

    A friend of mine paid a bill that was an obvious over charge. As he was leaving the young woman at the counter said “I love you”. He did a double take and she said that she always liked to hear that when she got screwed. He left the office laughing.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    SpyGlassez September 16, 2011, 11:30 pm

    My first BF, in high school, told me he loved me after we’d been dating a couple of weeks (though we had been friends for a few months before). I most decidedly did NOT love him – in fact, when he told me, I was trying to figure out how to break up with him because of anger issues he had. When he said it, I looked at him and said, “ok.” I didn’t break up with him (I was 16, and I didn’t know how to do that without being mean) and a week or so later when he was leaving my house from watching a movie, he gave me a hug and whispered, “I love you.” Reflexively, I said, “you, too.” I certainly didn’t mean to.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Nick September 17, 2011, 12:32 pm

    I can’t remember a single such first time decoration of Love (though there have been several over the years) either from my lips or theirs. But holy smokes do I remember the look that a person who loves you gives you.

    Best to not make “I love you” a test you give to sound out someone’s level of intent, but something said naturally and without hesitation, the way a cat purrs.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment