The other day, a friend of mine texted me and asked if I was still awake. It was 9:45, a time I’m usually getting ready for bed, but that evening I was out having drinks with my friend, Mary. “That’s ok,” he texted back. “I just had a relationship question for you, but I can call you tomorrow.” The next day he called me and said that, when I wasn’t available to talk, he decided to Google his question: “Who should say ‘I love you’ first in a relationship?” and the first link that came up was an article I was quoted in. That’s because back in 2008 I wrote an essay that went viral about how, in straight relationships anyway, women should wait for men to say the “l” word first. I got lots of flack for that piece of advice, but you know what? I stand by it. Does that mean your relationship is doomed if you’re a woman and you tell your guy you love him first? Of course not. And it doesn’t mean you should hold in your expression of love until you explode, either. If you’re dying to say it, say it. But generally speaking, I think there are numerous benefits to waiting for the guy to say “I love you” first.
But what about if you’re in a same-sex relationship, like my friend who asked for advice? I told him what I’d tell someone in a straight relationship who’s afraid a declaration of love might backfire: if it’s what you’re truly feeling, there’s something really beautiful about having a verbal record of those feelings even (or especially) if it’s just between you and the person you love. You may get your heart broken. The feelings may not be returned — now or ever — but there’s something kind of powerful in pointing to a time in history that you shared with someone and being able to say, “I loved you then” and knowing it was out there, it was between you, and the words recorded it for posterity.
If my advice sounds kind of wishy-washy (“Don’t say it first!” “Sure, say it if you really feel it!”), I guess that’s because, unless you’re dropping the “l-word” super early, if it scares someone off, that person probably wasn’t going to be around forever anyway. For women in relationships with men, I do think there’s a bit of currency or power that is sacrificed when they say it first that may throw off the balance of the relationship a little more than if a guy says it first and sacrifices a little of his power. (That’s because, I think, a man’s power is more quickly returned by a woman because we tend to be a little more emotionally generous; big generalizations here, I realize, but these are just theories I have). The potential imbalance of power is not, like, disastrous or anything. I said “I love you” first in a relationship once because I was feeling it and that relationship actually lasted a lot longer than another one where the guy said it first. But my best and longest-lasting relationship of all is one where I waited (and waited!) for the guy (aka Drew) to say it. So, if anecdotal evidence counts for anything, there you go.
How about you? Have you said “I love you” first in a relationship? How did things work out? What do you think about “power balance” in a relationship (gay and/or straight ones)? And what does “power” in a relationship even me to you (if anything)?