“How long is too long to wait for ‘I love you’?”

My current boyfriend and I met a year and a half ago. After only seeing each other a handful of times, we started dating a couple months later. I am 22 and my boyfriend is 32. The relationship has been wonderful; we get along very well. I was very insecure and jealous in the beginning of our relationship, but as our relationship has progressed, that is no longer the case. I trust him completely, we get along very well, we enjoy spending time together, and most importantly we are both very happy.

However, there’s one problem. After a year and a half of dating, my boyfriend still does not love me. After ten to eleven months of dating, I expressed to him that I love him, so he is aware that I feel that way. We have spoken about it on multiple occasions and he has stated that he really cares about me, loves being with me, and has strong feelings for me. He does not love me yet but thinks that it’ll happen soon. He says he is slow when it comes to feeling love and thinks it hasn’t happened because we don’t see each other often. (We both live in NYC, but a one-hour subway ride apart. We’ll see each other on the weekends and sometimes after work — if he gets off work early — because I also work in Manhattan. We usually see each other one-two times a week, but we would like to see each other more often. He has a very demanding job and works long hours, and he’s also always on call.).

I know without a doubt that he cares about me and enjoys being with me because I see it in his actions, but I worry that, if it hasn’t happened by now, it never will happen. I am tired of waiting, but I’m not sure if I’m just making it a bigger deal than it is. Other than that one aspect, our relationship is great. And even though we don’t get to see each other a lot, we do talk every day by text, or sometimes we’ll talk on the phone or FaceTime before bed.

We are planning a vacation together in May, and we are planning to buy our tickets within the next week. I feel like his wanting to plan this vacation with me is a good sign that he sees us being together at least in the near future, but I’m just worried that he will never love me.

I know every relationship is different, but I don’t know whether I should keep waiting or call it quits. How long is too long to wait for “I love you”? — Still Waiting

If you’re wondering if there’s a magic formula for truly and definitively calculating how long is too long to wait for an “I love you,” there’s not. But I would say that generally after seeing each other once or twice a week and talking to each other nearly every day for a year and a half, if the feelings of love aren’t there yet, it’s likely they won’t ever be. That’s not to say that your boyfriend doesn’t care for you and enjoy spending time with you. I wouldn’t say he wants to break up with you any time soon.

You’re probably a pretty convenient girlfriend for a guy who’s 32 and at the beginning of a demanding career that requires long hours and being on call a lot. A 22-year-old woman generally puts far less pressure on a partner than someone who’s a decade older and ready for marriage and starting a family soon. You aren’t even putting pressure on him to say the “L” word after a year and a half of dating. The biggest drama he has to deal with is jealousy and insecurity typical of a college-aged young woman, and you say you’re outgrowing that even.

But, yeah, he probably doesn’t see this relationship as a forever thing. Through May? Sure. Maybe even for the next year or so. But two things are likely to break you up soon after that: 1) You’re eventually going to want more than he’s willing to give (like a genuine “I love you”); 2) He’s going to want more in a relationship than he feels he can have with you. Dating someone who’s 22 when you’re 32 is a pretty easy way to put off getting more serious than you’re ready to get (especially when you’re super busy building a career).

I’d bet dollars to donuts that when you start putting some pressure on him to make this relationship more serious than it is (like pushing for verbal expressions of love), he’s going to hightail it outta there. The appeal of your relationship is likely how easy you’ve made it for him to not have to be super engaged. A few texts and calls and a weekend hangout — maybe an after work meetup if he’s out of work early — is pretty low commitment, especially for a year and a half. He’s throwing you a little bone with the May vacation, but I wouldn’t read too much into that or expect too much out of it. It confirms what you suspect: he enjoys your company and cares about you; it does not mean he loves you. I think you would know by now if he does or if “it will happen soon,” as he says. He’s stalling you, and I think you probably know that, don’t you?


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Northern Star says:

    If a man doesn’t love you when you’re ready to think about your future together, just cut your losses and move on. Because he doesn’t see a future with you—he is hedging his bets in case something better comes along.

    Don’t put yourself through the nagging hurt of feeling like you’re not good enough.

  2. Wendy is spot on, but I’ll also add that when a 30-year-old man is dating a 20-year-old woman, that’s fairly red flag-y in my book. I’ve said it before on this site, but a 10-year age gap is huge when you’re at such different life stages. Odds are stacked high against you that this relationship will work out long-term.

    1. I agree with this. It’s not that it *can’t* work out, but the odds are not in your favor. If a dude makes it to his 30s without settling down its usually because he doesn’t want to settle down.
      When I was 23 and just out of my first long term relationship, I was fixed up with a friend of a friend. We had really good chemistry, really liked each other. I was looking for a serious long term relationship with the possibility of heading toward marriage, which I told him pretty bluntly on the second date. He was “just having fun.”
      That’s ok, I figured, we’re still young ,there’s time to have fun and settle down later. And that’s when I found out he was 32.
      It’s 9 years later. He is still a friend of a friend so I run into him occasionally. I’m married with a kid; he is still single. He wasn’t getting the wild oats out of his system, that’s just how he was.

      1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Ooh, I don’t agree with this at all, sorry! Maybe in some parts of the country it’s true that a guy who “makes it to his 30s without settling down” doesn’t want to settle down, but that just isn’t true in many places, especially major metroplitan areas. In fact, living in big cities my entire adult life, I’ve found it rare for people — especially men — to settle down before 30. Drew was 36 when I met him and very much interested in finding a good partner and settling down. Not sure that would have been as true had I met him five years earlier…

      2. Yeah, I agree with Wendy. I don’t know ANY men who have settled down before 30… more like 35+ seems to be the norm.

      3. Same. I do think it varies on location though. In my hometown of 40,000, I’d say the settling down before 30 thing holds. In my current city, I know SO MANY people who married in their mid to late 30s. Most of them are first marriages. A very few are second marriages.

      4. Yeah I don’t think I phrased this right…
        I meant more if a dude makes it to his 30s and is still seeking out 20somethings to date, he’s not looking to settle down.

      5. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Is anyone watching the current season of The Bachelor? He’s like 36 and one of the gals he’s shown early interest in just told him she’s only 22. I don’t see how he can say he’s serious about looking for a wife and continue pursuing her. Then again, I don’t understand going on a reality tv show to seriously look for a spouse…

      6. Northern Star says:

        I agree with SpaceySteph. If a man is in his 30s and “just wants to have fun” with college students, why in the world would you expect him to suddenly change his mind and decide he wants to settle down? Men (and women) that age either know themselves or are immature. Either way—you’re foolish to expect a commitment.

      7. I disagree–I think there are plenty of people (men and women) whose priorities shift dramatically as they get older.

        In his 20s, my husband wanted to sow his wild oats, move around without being beholden to a relationship, work unstable jobs in pursuit of his dreams, etc. We wouldn’t have been compatible, nor would he have been available for commitment in the way I want from a partner. But by his 30s, when I met him, he had gotten it out of his system, and was ready to prioritize emotional and financial stability.

        The important thing, though, is that in both phases of his life he was self-aware and clear-minded enough to realize what he wanted and to respect the commitments he made (or just not make them), so he didn’t jerk anyone around.

      8. It’s a mixed bag where I live, I think. I’m in my early 30s in a large city in the Midwest. I know plenty of people in my general age range who are married (or seriously coupled up), but it’s not unusual to meet people who stayed single into their 30s.

        The only real point to my comment is that by 30, you’re (hopefully) a full-fledged adult: you’ve been on your own for awhile, you’re financially independent, your career is underway, you’re finished with school. Meanwhile, a 20-year-old is legally an adult, but many live in prolonged states of adolescence (in school, still financially supported by parents, have limited experience in the world). That’s not to say these generalizations are truths for everyone, or that these relationships can’t or won’t work out, but there’s so little common ground that it should make people raise an eyebrow. (I do have one friend who, when we were 22, started dating her boyfriend, who was 33. We were all like, “um, okay, weird, what’s with the old guy?” She didn’t think it was weird. They’re still together eight years later, the age difference no longer seems weird — I really like him! — but she can now, in hindsight, finally understand all the side-eye.)

      9. Also, I don’t watch The Bachelor but caught an episode a couple weeks ago and watched. I was surprised that the bachelor is “old” — I feel like the past few years, I’ve been older than just about everyone on the show. I started paying attention to the ages of the women on the show when I noticed his age, and although I didn’t notice there was a 22-year-old, did feel glad that many of the women seem to be in their 30s as well. And then I watched him make out with just about every single contestant all over the mega-mansion during the span of a single evening, and thought, “ok, this is kinda gross,” but at the same time knew I’d watch another episode should I happen to catch it on again.

      10. dinoceros says:

        I watch The Bachelor! At first I felt bad for her, but I think the fact that she can’t really grasp WHY she may not be able to give him what he’s looking for is a sign that the age difference is too much. And then when here reasons were that everyone in her family and friends gets married young, I was like, oh no. But to be honest, I was a little surprised that he cared because he seems kind of smarmy to me.

        Anyway, obviously not every single person who is older and finds someone in their early 20s is immature or whatever. But I think the fact that a lot of people in their 30s cannot imagine dating someone in their 20s and can list many rational reasons why — and the fact that this other person in their 30s apparently does not care about any of those things, does mean something about them and what they’re looking for.

      11. The average age of first marriage for men is 29. So that’s a significant percentage of men who somehow marry despite the fact that they don’t want to settle down.

      12. Still Waiting says:

        Hello Steph,
        I am ‘still waiting’ or LW as I think it is referred to on this site. Sorry I’m new here. I just wanted to say thank you for your comment, I do appreciate hearing your point of view. However, my 32 year old boyfriend wasn’t actively seeking out a 22 year old. I am actuallly the youngest person he has ever dated. And it was something we both discussed when we first met because we were both a little worried about the age difference. I am the youngest person he has been with and he is the oldest that I have been with.

        He does want to settle down and I know this because we have discussed it multiple times. We also also discussed having a baby together and moving in (a topic he brought up, but not something I want at this stage in the relationship).

        I am not concerned with our age difference, nor his intentions. I am just worried about whether or not the love will happen.

      13. Still Waiting says:

        I tried to write a response, but I’m new at this and it ended up on someone else’s post! Lol

    2. Agreed. He’s using her as a toy. She’s merely a plaything to him. This is predatory.

  3. dinoceros says:

    I’m having a little trouble wrapping my mind around what he means when he says he doesn’t love you now, but thinks he will soon. How does he know he will soon? What does “soon” mean to him? If he says it’s because he doesn’t see you enough, then does he mean that he won’t love you until more time passes or he won’t love you until you see each other more often? I don’t know him, so I can’t speak for him in particular, but I would say that if a person doesn’t love you after a year and a half, they aren’t going to. The way that he estimates he will love you “soon” and the way that he tries to pinpoint exactly why he doesn’t love you make it sound like he understands what’s going on, but I don’t think that’s true. Love isn’t a box on a checklist. You can’t predict when it’s going to happen, and you can’t complete certain tasks to make it happen. It has as much to do with luck as it does with whether you see that person for X number of hours per week.

    Personally, I think that he either lacks self-awareness or he knows he doesn’t want a future, but doesn’t want to lose you yet. (And with the age difference, maybe he prefers a younger woman because he assumes he doesn’t have to be ready to commit to a future.) I’m not sure I could stay with someone in this situation because I would just think it was fairly unlikely he was going to love me in the future. Even if you decide to stick around for a while, give yourself an internal deadline to when you expect him to love you and if he doesn’t meet it, move on. I wouldn’t tell him the deadline because you may end up with someone pretending to love you in order to not lose you.

    Also, I assume someone is going to say “you’re 22, why do you need commitment now, ” and my response to that is that even if you don’t need to settle down yet, you still want to know that you and your partner feel the same way about each other. It’s not fun loving someone who doesn’t love you.

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      The “I don’t love you yet but I think it will happen soon” thing is the boyfriend just stalling. I think the May vacation is stalling, too — buying a few more months of this enjoyable, easy relationship that allows him the companionship and intimacy he wants without any pressure for commitment. LW, as soon as you start putting the pressure on, I anticipate this guy will MOA pretty quickly. Part of the beauty of being 32 and dating a 22-year-old (which I also agree is a red flag) is thinking you won’t be pressured as quickly as you would be with someone your own age to make moves toward some sort of commitment (including saying “I love you.”).

      1. Adelaide M says:

        Wendy, I’ve generally found your advice quite good and even considered asking a question myself once, but you’ve lost a lot of my respect on this one.

        WHY do you keep talking about LW ‘putting the pressure on’ her boyfriend to say he loves her, as if that’s something she’s inevitably going to do (and should do, you seem to think)?

        Everyone has their own definition of love. I think it’s great that LW’s boyfriend has the integrity to not say ‘I love you’ unless he means it. And probably what he would mean by it is something quite strong, that he genuinely hasn’t had time to get to yet. And will be really worth having if he does.

        My first boyfriend said ‘I love you’ maybe 3 weeks after I met him. I kind of felt like I should say it back, so after maybe a couple more weeks I did. I didn’t love him; there’s no way I could start loving someone that quickly! And of course he didn’t love me either.

        My second boyfriend said ‘I love you’ as a way of letting me know e had romantic feelings for me, after we’d been friends for some months. But he’s Japanese, so I let it pass as a different cultural norm maybe. I didn’t say it back, then or ever, and he didn’t say it again. I do love him. Not romantically anymore (this was a looong time ago, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever see him again), but I do.

        I don’t remember when my third boyfriend (now husband of 15 years) first accidentally let ‘I love you’ slip out, instead of one of the elaborate declarations of liking we usually used. But I think we had been together more than a year, and we knew each other for about a year before we were together, and we saw each other a LOT, like at least 5 days a week and often at least one whole day, because we were at university together so it was easy to spend time together.

        I can’t easily define what I personally mean by “I love you”, but I know it’s a lot stronger than what many people mean by it. It’s not just a feeling, it’s also a decision about the importance that that person’s good has for me, in a practical way. And one thing I decided, between my first and second boyfriends, is that for me love is forever. So I don’t say “I love you” unless I’ve decided to love someone forever.
        That’s not something it would make ANY sense to pressure someone into expressing, in my book.

  4. findingtheearth says:

    I think after a year and a half, if he doesn’t love you, he won’t.

    And LW needs to decide if she is okay with the way things are or if she wants to build a relationship that is leaning towards a family.

    If LW is okay with what she has now, this might be good for her while she grows and gets places in her life. However, if she wants more, then she should get out now.

  5. WWS. Also, as with any variation of “on again, off again” as a relationship descriptor, I tend to think that referring to someone as the “current” significant other means that the relationship ultimately will not last.

  6. One aspect of this letter that seems strange is the sense of loving someone as a milestone, like getting married. I always felt that if someone loves you, you can FEEL their love, that you don’t HAVE to ask them or wonder. Of course people can be jerks and not ACT loving. Also, many people SAY they love other but don’t. Talk is cheap, so even though I think it would be best to leave, I don’t think that hearing those three little words is the proof needed that things will be OK.

    1. dinoceros says:

      I think all of those things are true. But most people are not going to build a long-term future with someone who they do not love or who does not love them. If a partner knows that they DON’T love you, then it puts into question whether they are interested in a future with you or not.

      Acting loving and being in love are two separate things. Obviously a person can love or not love someone and their actions not match their words, but in order to actually have a commitment to someone, you need to both see in their words AND actions if they feel that way about you.

  7. Hi-I agree with Wendy and the others. This guy is not serious,just stringing you along because it is easy/convenient for him.
    Even the one hr. subway ride-big deal-that should not be an obstacle-some people do that everyday just to go to work. My boyfriend lives a 90 minute drive away,it is winter and the roads are crappy,gas guzzling and he has some physical issues,that make it hard sometimes to get around,climb stairs etc. and I live up 30 of them. My point is a guy that is “invested” in you and loves you-will make it obvious and not have real or imagined obstacles keep him from moving the relationship forward.
    I have been with my guy for nearly a year an am moving to his city/in with him soon. He said the “I love you” about 3 months in. Men usually fall in love very quickly,if they are going to… Sorry,but I think you should tell him that you want and need more than he seems willing or able to give and break it off.. You could waste years otherwise without a good outcome.

  8. ishkabibble says:

    When I read this letter, I instantly began to wonder how much of that insecurity and jealousy you had at the beginning was because you could tell that you cared about him more than he cared about you? And you felt insecure and unloved in the relationship because it IS insecure and you ARE unloved? And now he’s probably trained you to accept that as normal and not ask for anything extra.

    He doesn’t love you. The relationship is entirely on his terms. I worry about you, LW, because I had a relationship like this–where it felt like one long audition where I was trying out for the part of “woman he loved” and. . .it really did a number on me. By the time I got out of that relationship, I had lost sight of my needs and desires. I have never felt so ugly in my life because no matter what I did–no matter how hard I contorted myself to try and fit into his “perfect girlfriend slot” he was never going to love me. And he was a really wonderful guy; to his credit, he broke up with me at around the one year mark when he realized he was never going to love me. But despite us both being kind, smart people, it was an unhealthy relationship because one person having all the power (because they’re the one who’s not in love) is a really messed up dynamic.

    So he’s a great guy, and you’re a great girl, and you love him, and he. . .doesn’t. That’s one of life’s great tragedies. It is also relatively common in dating; I’ve been the person in love and I’ve been the person who just doesn’t love. And the best thing for you both is to move on and find someone else, however difficult it is. At least there’s a chance with someone new that you will find mutual love!

  9. The LW should MOA now. The BF’s not ready to commit to this relationship. But this is because of his actions or lack of them, rather than any words. People can say “I love you” while not showing it in their actions.

    The reverse is also true. When we first stated dating, my husband lived a 5-hour drive away. He would drive down pretty much every weekend to see me. Granted, his parents lived in the same city as I do, but after a few dates he spent most of his weekends with me. We had been dating for about two months, spending the weekends together after the second date, when he introduced me to his mother (his parents divorced 25 years ago so it took a bit longer for me to meet his father). After three years of spending weekends and vacations together, he got a transfer to the office of his company in my city and we moved in together. We had lived together for about four months when we decided to try for a baby. I was lucky and got pregnant almost immediately, something I wasn’t really expecting as I was 36 at the time (he’s five years younger). We got married in a civil ceremony when I was eight months gone, with only our closest family members present. A relief to both of us as neither of us wanted a big wedding.
    Long story short, the only time my husband’s said “I love you” was when I held our newborn son in my arms, and even then I’m not sure if he meant me or the baby or both! But he shows his love every day, as do I.

  10. LW, I think you should move on. I think he would have felt love by now and my opinion is you are his back up plan because you are there, you are invested in him, and it’s easy. I think you deserve a guy who is head over heels in love with you, and you should go find that guy.

  11. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

    From the LW:

    I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer and I value your very honest response. However, I have been putting pressure on him about saying I love you. As I stated before we have spoken about it many times. I bring it up often because it hurts me that he doesn’t feel that way.

    The only inaccuracy about the post is that part. I have been putting pressure on him about the I love you since September, when it has really become a big issue for me.

    You have given me a lot to think about, especially in regards to whether or not he wants something long term with me. I do value your opinion, it’s very difficult to know whether or not you’re making the right choice when you are in the situation.

    1. He definitely doesn’t love you at the moment. Will he develop that loving feeling? As more time passes, it becomes less likely. I don’t think he’s intentionally stringing you along, although that’s the real-world impact of his “not yet, maybe sometime soon’ responses, which suggests that he wants to fall in love with you (but probably is not going to be able to — the ting

      1. Still Waiting says:

        Thank you Ron. I do agree with you. Many people here are missing the point. I am not questioning his intentions. Our age difference doesn’t mean he isn’t ready to settle down, or he’s stringing me a long. I know he isn’t based on his actions. If I were someone he was just passing the time with he wouldn’t ask me to move in with him, or meet his parents (he’s only ever introduced his parents to two women he was dating).

        However, my concern is the aspect of ‘love’ and whether or not it will happen for him. Most couples seem to fall in love sonner, so I am concerned that if it hasn’t happened now, will it ever?

      2. Adelaide M says:

        This is actually a reply to LW’s reply:
        Do you feel loved by your boyfriend? Does the way he treats you come across as loving?
        If not, what is missing? And do you see any reason to believe it could change?

        My husband and I took quite a long time to say “I love you”, because for us both it was a very serious thing to say. But we acted lovingly towards each other for a long time before we said it.

  12. the tingly honeymoon of an in-love relationship isn’t going to come in a relationship which seemingly takes forever for one partner to fall in love. It can transition to a settled love. Who knows). If he wanted to string you along, he’d just tell you he loves you, it costs him less than putting a cigar ring on your finger)/

  13. for_cutie says:

    LW – do you want him to say “I love you” because you pressured him to? I think not. I think you want genuine love. If this continues and he does finally say it you should rightfully wonder if it is authentic or he’s just saying what you want to hear.
    The easy thing is for him to say “I love you” to placate you. He hasn’t yet so he is really not feeling it.
    At 22 you should be looking for someone who is head over heals for you. Heck, you should want someone you are head over heals into also. Hint: it is not this guy and it never will be.

  14. for_cutie says:

    *heels. Kinda of a funny typo when you think about the issue at hand.

  15. William Crowley says:

    I waited 35 years for my first, undying love to say those 3 words to me. We were never together. We both married others , lost touch, divorced, married again, raised kids. Reconnected after 35 years, I finally told her all of my feelings. After getting to know one another again, and reconciling who we were to who we are now, she finally said those words to me. It’s ironic, because I’m terminally ill with only months left to live, and severely disabled. But I’m happy in a way I’ve never been. I was impotent the last 2 years but no more. There is still a tiny sliver of the strong Man I once was, remaining in this ravaged meatsuit. It’s my spirit she loves however. And always did. Just never realized it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    You are 22. Lots of time to find true love!!
    Nobody should settle for less than love. Don’t wait!!
    Don’t walk,
    The sooner the better for you.
    You are completely on different pages of life.
    You will be happy you did

  17. HeartsMum says:

    “It’s hard to know what to do when you are in the situation” for sure, but this is a sign you need to step back. If it doesn’t feel right, what makes you believe it is? I’ve NEVER heard of ‘I will love you not now but maybe soon’ as the prelude to a warm, sustainable relationship. You are fun sexy times for him, like a lot of younger parties in an age gap relationship. I just don’t see why you’re so invested in this situationship.

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