Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“He Said ‘I Love You’ After a Month, But I’m Not Ready to Say it Back Yet”

I lost my boyfriend of ten years about two years ago. I went to the store, and when I came home ten minutes later, I found him in the bathroom not breathing. He was 45 years old, and my whole world was shattered. He was my best friend and my soulmate. I recently met a new guy – “Roger” – who is really nice. He is nothing at all like my late boyfriend, and because it’s only been about a month or so, it seems like things are moving too fast. He wants to take things to the next level, and I am so scared. I don’t want to hurt him at all, but at the same time I don’t know if I’m ready. I have told him this and he says that he understands, but I’m not sure that he does. When Roger kisses me, I feel like I want to tell him that I love him, but I hold back and stop myself. He says that he loves me, but, again, I’m not sure. Is it because I’m afraid to put myself out there again, or do you think that it’s because I’m just not ready? I am so confused. Please help me! — Still Broken

First, I’m so sorry for the loss of your boyfriend two years ago. I can only imagine the grief you’ve felt, and I hope you’ve had a strong support system to help you through.

It’s wonderful that you’ve met a man you like and enjoy and who inspires feelings of love when he kisses you. It doesn’t sound to me at all like you’re “afraid to put yourself out there.” Isn’t this new relationship, in fact, the effect of putting yourself out there? I mean, you’re doing it! You’re out there dating, opening your heart, and willing to see where this might lead you. Moving to the next level, as Roger wants to do, is not a measure of putting yourself out there. It’s not a measure of having healed or being strong or even being ready for a relationship. You can be ready for a relationship in the abstract and not be ready to progress to the next level of a relationship with someone you’ve been dating for one month.

The thing is, it’s not unusual or some symptom of being damaged to want to take one’s time in a new relationship. On the contrary – it’s quite normal and healthy to move a little more slowly than that. Saying “I love you” after less than a month of dating would be fast for anyone, regardless of his or her relationship history. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that it’s an indication of a red flag, but not being ready to return the affection certainly doesn’t mean you’re afraid either. Even people who haven’t experienced the tragic loss of a soulmate take more than a few weeks to feel love for someone new, let alone feel moved to verbally express it. All of this is ok! It’s ok and perfectly normal and healthy that you don’t feel ready to return Roger’s words of affection, and it’s ok if he felt moved to express his feelings early on. What would not be ok is if he is pressuring you in any way to move faster than you feel ready to move for whatever reason (including simply not feeling the same way he feels yet!).

What you need to think about right now is what YOU want, what pace feels right to you, and how you feel about Roger. I understand the desire to protect his feelings – this is especially common for women who have been socialized to prioritize others over ourselves – but Roger’s a grown-up and he’s chosen to “put himself out there,” so he can deal with hurt feelings if they happen just like all the rest of us can. The worst thing you can do is try to analyze your own feelings through the lens of what’s best for Roger. Instead, let Roger know you like him and are enjoying getting to know him but that you want to take your time and not rush things. If he can’t respect that – if he pressures you to move things faster and sooner than you want or are ready for, Roger is not that guy for you. The right guy will be patient! If Roger shows any signs of impatience, move on, because while declaring love for someone after a few weeks isn’t necessarily a red flag, pressuring someone to match this speed is.

I am a divorced, 34-year-old mother of three and have been with my partner, “Greg,” for the past 18 months. He is almost four years younger than I am, and he owns his home. He works remotely, and although he works hard, he does have a pleasant lifestyle which has allowed him to be “selfish,” caring only for himself really until 18 months ago. Since we’ve met, I have blended my family and friend life into our relationship, but he has failed to do the same. I have met his people less than a handful of times, and he physically shows signs of discomfort when I ask him to include my three kids and me into his life. Yet he says he wants to be married and have a family with me. He is always around and available—but I don’t get to live in his life. What is his problem, and do I need to do anything or should I read the writing on the wall and leave? — Wanting More From Him

 
There are a few possible reasons he wouldn’t want you and your kids to be a part of his life. Have you asked him what his reasons might be? Maybe he doesn’t feel close with anyone else. Maybe he doesn’t have a great family life. Maybe he’s outgrown his friends or doesn’t feel very close with them. If he’s “always around and available” to you and your kids and your life, this sounds feasible. But he also may be keeping you at bay, less interested than he says he is in having a family life together. He might be hiding something. He might want to protect the single, child-free lifestyle he’s enjoyed thus far and not want to compromise that independence by introducing you and your children to more of his life.

You need to talk with Greg about your desire to be a bigger part of his life and to get to the bottom of why he’s been resistant to let you in. If you can’t, or if you learn that he’s not ready for what you offer, what you want, and what he says he wants, then, yes, it’s time to read the writing on the wall and leave. Eighteen months is enough time to see whether someone is up for actually incorporating you and your three children into his life. Especially when kids are involved, you want someone who feels enthusiastic about moving forward when the time is right because the kids’ hearts are on the line as much as yours is. If Greg is resistant to your being part of his life, then talks of building a life together need to be put on hold at least, if not buried.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

9 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Passing by August 24, 2020, 1:54 pm

    What’s “the next level” supposed to mean anyway?

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    Betty August 24, 2020, 2:28 pm

    LW1: WWS, but I need more information about what the “next level” is … moving in together? Sex? Saying “I love you”? Butt stuff?

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  • avatar

    Fyodor August 24, 2020, 3:12 pm

    I think that they haven’t done the front-side stuff yet and that’s what she means.

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  • avatar

    brise August 24, 2020, 3:26 pm

    LW1: So take your time. Let him court you.
    LW2: I am not sure that he has a “problem”. He is just fine with his life the way it is. He doesn’t want the disruption of 3 kids and family life. He likes you, but on homeopathic doses regarding your folks. You seem to be a bit jealous of his easy life. I think that you should just be more independent with him. Don’t impose your children to him. Treat him like your date, your lover, not more. He isn’t anything more. Enjoy it but don’t expect more. Meanwhile, enjoy your kids on your own.

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    • avatar

      000 August 24, 2020, 9:15 pm

      He does have a problem: his words don’t match his actions. He says he wants to marry her and have a family together, not date casually and keep her kids at arm’s length.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor August 24, 2020, 3:35 pm

    I’d like to know more about the stuff that LW2 isn’t getting invited to. Are we talking about family BBQs and so on where people would normally bring their partners?

    It sounds a little like he has kept up , I dunno, guys nights and whatnot and she doesn’t like that he has his own social life without her.

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  • avatar

    Hazel August 24, 2020, 3:45 pm

    LW2- If he won’t accept the three kids you have I don’t understand what he means by wanting to have a family with you. Does he mean he wants you to have more children, with him- why? You have three children already, if he can’t see them as family this will not be ideal.

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  • avatar

    allathian August 25, 2020, 2:51 am

    When, or even whether, you say “I love you” to someone or not, is so very individual. My husband has said it to me exactly once, when he was holding our newborn son for the first time. But he looked me in the eye when he said it. I suppose I responded in kind, but I’m not sure, the moment was overwhelming emotionally. I say “I love you” to my son all the time, but with my husband, the closest we come to it is “you’re very dear to me”. Maybe it’s odd, but it is what it is. We have what I consider a very strong marriage and he’s my soulmate and a true partner to me, but saying the words doesn’t seem to be important to either of us. I love him and I have no reason to suspect his feelings for me.

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