New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), or submit a question for advice.
In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:
After we’d been dating for about five months, I told him that I loved him one night while drunk. It wasn’t ideal, and when we talked about it the next day, I made it clear that I didn’t want to pressure him but that was how I felt and I wanted him to know. I’m glad I’ve told him how I feel, but unsure how to take his lack of reciprocation. We’ve spoken about it a few times. He’s brought it up and I’ve brought it up. At one point he asked me what love means to me and I said, “It means I have a lot of good feelings for you, I care about you, and I want to date you for the foreseeable future,” and he said he was on board with those things. He also said at one point that there’s no reason to think he won’t get there eventually and that we should just wait and “see what happens.”
He says it seems like a great level of commitment to say “I love you,” and the only person he’s said that to was the girlfriend he had when he was 16 (now he’s 27). I completely understand that he feels it to be a big step. Since we’ve talked about it some, and had some emotionally-charged discussions where I didn’t necessarily come across as level-headed, I’ve decided that we shouldn’t talk about it anymore. If it happens, it happens. I’m just wondering, what if it doesn’t happen? How long should I wait before I start considering whether to move on? I really love him and what we have together, but I want what you’ve described as the ‘marrow’ of the relationship. I want to make sure that I don’t delude myself into staying with someone who will never get to the level that I’m on. — Waiting Patiently for the L-Word
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BecBoo84 February 4, 2013, 1:15 pm
I really wish you’d given a timeframe for all of this outside of the fact that you’d been dating 5 months when you said it. I 100% think that there’s no “right amount of time” for this sort of stuff, but it would be good to know if it had been weeks or months since you’d said it.
I’m sure that right now he’s feeling a lot of pressure if you’ve brought up the fact that he hasn’t said it multiple time since you first said it, and good for him for not bowing to the pressure and just saying it to get it over with. It’s also possible that his defnition of love is different than yours (I know that mine is). I can tell you that I first said “I love you” to my now husband after we’d been dating about 2.5 months, and I’d never been more sure of it in my life. However, it was another 6 weeks or so after that before he said it, and I didn’t bring it up once in the interim. I talked about it with my sister and my girlfriends, but I didn’t want him to feel pressured. And, when he did say it, it made it so awesome because I knew he *really* meant it.
Original Poster February 5, 2013, 2:53 pm
I think that’s great that you told your boyfriend and he told you on his own not long after. I didn’t bring it up for 6 weeks after telling my boyfriend and when I did it was just to tell him that I really meant it and hoped it made him feel good. It’s now been 3 months since I said it and 8 months total, so yes it has come up a couple times in the past few months.
kerrycontrary February 4, 2013, 1:18 pm
I mean I think there is an “average” time frame for couples to say it (between 4 months to a year? I dunno), but it doesn’t mean you are one of those couples. I would definitely stop bringing it up all the time, because it’s pretty similar to someone bringing up marriage all the time when one person is clearly not ready. If you want to give yourself and this relationship a deadline, go ahead. I mean honestly I think if a guy doesn’t say it buy a year he never will, but who knows.
kerrycontrary February 4, 2013, 1:19 pm
*by a year he probably never will. my brain is so dead from the superbowl!
cdobbs February 4, 2013, 3:06 pm
i was thinking the exact same thing…if he hasn’t said it by a year i would move on…that is more than enough time to know how you feel about the other person and your relationship
tbrucemom February 7, 2013, 6:42 pm
My fiance didn’t say it for 2 1/2 years but I knew he did by his actions. I told him after 1 1/2 and again at 2 years. He’s just not good with verbal affection but he shows me he loves me every day by his actions and things he does say. I guess maybe because I’m older and was married a long time I wasn’t in a big hurry to rush things and if I wasn’t “feeling” his love I probably wouldn’t have waited so long. Five months is pretty short, I wouldn’t start worrying until it was probably a year and then have another conversation if he hasn’t said it by then.
bittergaymark February 4, 2013, 1:22 pm
You know, honestly? If more people acted like your boyfriend and didn’t run around proclaiming their undying love at the drop of the hat, the world would truly be a much better place. The words “I LOVE YOU” are all too often just empty words, full of sound and fury…signifying nothing. The more important thing right now is how does your BF treat you? Do you enjoy his company? Are the two of you good for on another?
Please stop focusing on what he doesn’t say with his mouth, and instead on what he does say with his actions…
Many women seem to get so bent out of shape over those stupid three little words… I LOVE YOU. And it usually only leads to disaster. Either they dump somebody because they are too insecure if they don’t hear it quickly. Or they foolishly stay with some total fuckwad FOREVER (again, because, I guess, they, too, are insecure) simply because he says all the time that he loves her — even though his actions painfully and clearly reveal to the world at large that he simply doesn’t.
So stop pushing your boyfriend. Stop watching shitty chick flicks. Stop listening to your foolish friends…. And just start enjoying your boyfriend. And, I dunno, be happy that the words “I LOVE YOU” actually mean something to him. To the rest of the world? Hey, they’re — more often than — merely a really great way to get laid.
MissDre February 4, 2013, 1:24 pm
Wow, for once I fully agree with you.
BecBoo84 February 4, 2013, 1:25 pm
Me too! I think this might be a first.
L February 4, 2013, 1:30 pm
Great points, BGM. Actions do indeed speak much louder than words.
GatorGirl February 4, 2013, 1:46 pm
Love this Mark!!
bittergaymark February 4, 2013, 1:53 pm
Thanks… it’d be even better if I could edit it. 😉 Aside from the usual petty typos, there are two missing words that I am simply DYING to put in there. See, it was supposed to read “Either they dump somebody GREAT because they are too insecure if they don’t hear it quickly ENOUGH.”
GatorGirl February 4, 2013, 2:05 pm
Even with typo’s your so spot on. Words are just words. Actions are the important part.
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 2:30 pm
EXACTLY! I feel like people, women especially, see “We said ‘I love you'” as the relationship stage and frame it in those terms. It would be a lot more helpful to view the relationship stage as “We’re in love.” Merely changing that thought pattern will allow people to take in consideration ALL the ways that someone can show love without having to say those three little words. Like Miss Dre said, she knows her boyfriend loves her despite the fact that after three years, he hasn’t actually uttered those words. It drives me nuts how many LWs ask “Why hasn’t he said ‘I love you’?” instead of asking the much saner question, “Does he love me?” That way the analysis would include a much larger picture and the conclusion would, at worst, provide a much more solid basis for a decision to MOA. Like BGM said, women can get tunnel vision and end up staying with a douchebag for way too long because even though he treats her like crap, he says “I love you.”
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 4:21 pm
“Like BGM said, women can get tunnel vision and end up staying with a douchebag for way too long because even though he treats her like crap, he says “I love you.””
But is this really a good reason for tossing out the L-word baby with the bathwater? It seems to me like people are making a big jump here from “Just because someone says they love you doesn’t mean the relationship is perfect or even good” (which gets a big fat hell yes from me), to the very different “It doesn’t matter whether he says it or not.” It obviously DOES matter to her — and to a lot of people. I think the key is not to denigrate all expressions of love — what a sad world we’d live in if no one ever said they loved each other! — but to get to know someone’s character well enough so that you know when they say they love you, it’s the truth.
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 5:04 pm
I wasn’t trying to imply that saying the L-word doesn’t matter, just that it should be one thing to consider when evaluating the broader context. I totally agree with your last statement about knowing someone’s character enough to trust them when they tell you they love you. I’m just saying that if you look at the relationship as a whole, you can also trust that someone really does love you even if they have some hangup about saying it. For this LW, it’s hard to say. She didn’t really give us enough facts. My feeling is that her bf is just more cautious about saying those words. When she explained to him what she meant by “love” he told her that the feeling was mutual. It’s also relevant that she said it while she was drunk. I’d really like to know how long she would have waited to say anything if alcohol-related filter reduction wasn’t a factor.
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 5:22 pm
Thanks, that makes sense — looking at the broader context, I mean. I wish we had more details so we could help her more, but the consensus seems to be that there’s no time when you’re “supposed” to say it, it should really be about the couple and what works for them.
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 5:39 pm
Agreed. Would you really want your SO to say it just because he feels like he’s “supposed” to say it? I also like that you pointed out that it’s about the couple, not just each individual. Every relationship has it’s own distinct dynamic. Three years ago I was dating a guy who told me he loved me two weeks into the relationship. In any of my previous relationships, that would have made me run like hell but it was totally natural with this guy. We’ve now been married for a little over a year. You gotta just trust your gut and not impose overly-simplistic timelines on relationships…relationships are too complex for that.
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 5:47 pm
Yeah totally. It can be hard for people to trust their gut… the LW is apparently among them… but hopefully the variety of experiences here (including the sweet story of your marriage) help her with that!
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 5:50 pm
It helped that we were older. It takes time to learn to trust your instincts about people and unfortunately that learning process often comes at the expense of getting totally and utterly burned. We’ve all been there.
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 5:54 pm
And thanks 🙂 It was an unorthodox relationship from the very beginning…we ended up together because my purse got stolen at a drag show. I wish there was some way to thank the thief. He/she got an ugly purse containing a mere $10. I got a lifetime with a great guy. Totally worth it.
HuggaWugga February 4, 2013, 2:56 pm
I would definitely agree with this! Having grown up with a previously-distant father who threw out “I love you” at the drop of a hat while not doing anything to back those words up, I learned pretty quickly that talk is cheap. I’ve dated guys who threw the “I love you” out there–but they wanted me to keep their relationship a secret, or couldn’t accept me for the way I was. They’re only words–what matters is the actions behind them.
But LW, I completely feel your pain! It can be hard to seriously put yourself out there and feel as though those feelings aren’t returned. I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year, and he hasn’t said it yet, either. At first, I did freak out, because well it’s been a year (seriously, I needed to drop the timeline!) I’ve had several relationships where I was more interested in the other person than they were in me. It’s a scary place to be sometimes, and sometimes when you’re in that space you would do anything to figure out what the other person feels so you can prepare yourself for what will happen next. But that’s not how it works–he may know what level he’s on in comparison to you, he may not, but the relationship won’t be as much fun if you’re constantly thinking about it in terms of his/my level or power differentials.
Beyond that, it’s clear that he does value you and care about you–he cares about you enough to be honest about how he’s feeling instead of saying things he may not mean. My bf hasn’t said “I love you” to many people (probably not since he was a teenager), and when he was, he was using it to manipulate people. He’s ashamed of that time in his life, and he’s resolved not to do that to anyone else since–he now takes those words very seriously. But what’s more important than the words is what he DOES to show me how he cares. And yes, the words would be nice, but he’ll do that in his own good time–and during his last visit, he told me he’s getting closer all the time. I guess the question I would want you to ask yourself is “Do you feel loved, even if he’s not saying ‘I love you’?” If you do, enjoy the relationship and trust that he’ll let you know how he feels when he’s ready?
HuggaWugga February 4, 2013, 2:58 pm
Ahhh, that last sentence wasn’t meant to be a question!
MissDre February 4, 2013, 1:23 pm
OK, I’m going to weigh in on this because I feel like I can totally relate. I even wrote to Wendy about this exact same topic back when she was on The Frisky.
My situation: I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3 years and he still hasn’t said “I love you”. Because for whatever reason, he has issues saying those words. The most I get out of him is “me too” when I say it. For the first year, it bothered me. It made me insecure. I told him that I FEEL loved but I don’t really know if he does because he’s never said it. But after all this time together, I’ve decided to focus on how he treats me, and how he makes me feel. I FEEL loved everyday because of all the things he does for me. He supports me in every possible way. He kept me close and involved during the unexpected death of his sister. He does anything I ask of him. He respects me. He talks about marriage and kids with me. He gives me thoughtful presents. Anything I could ever want in a boyfriend, I have in him, minus those three little words. And just to compare, my ex boyfriend told me loved me all the time, but was condescending and unsupportive and NOT the right man for me.
So my point is to focus on how he treats you and how he makes you feel. Read the 5 Love Languages and figure out how he’s showing you his love. Acts of Service, Giving Gifts, Words of Kindness or whatever they all are. People show their love in different ways. As long as this guy is treating you right, and you are compatible, and you are happy in the relationship, that is what matters.
HmC February 4, 2013, 1:42 pm
MissDre I totally think of you every time this subject comes up. And wow does it come up a lot! It’s crazy. Wendy is probably tired of answering this question.
I mean, if you don’t feel loved or you are unhappy in your relationship OR if you feel like him not saying it is indicative of a lack of commitment or something then that’s one thing. But if you are happy and the relationship is healthy, this whole thing is such a weird non issue.
I mean, if you’re someone who is very verbal and you have to hear it, then find someone who will give you that. Just keep in mind that words are just that… words. Talk is cheap, we all know that.
And this is coming from someone who is pretty verbal and always dated guys who said it fairly quickly. I just feel like focusing on stuff like this is kind of silly. Focus your energy on building a happy life for yourself and being around people that make you feel good and can give you what you want out of a relationship, not people who tell you exactly what you want to hear exactly when you want to hear it.
MissDre February 4, 2013, 1:57 pm
I’m still very verbal too. I’m secure enough in our relationship now, that I just tell him I love him whenever it pops into my head and I don’t worry about pressuring him. Which is a relief, because I used to hold it in. But honestly, the biggest thing for me was just looking at the overall picture, so that’s what I recommend to anyone else going through the same thing. Are you happy? Yes? Then don’t worry about the words.
Anna February 4, 2013, 6:22 pm
I think that’s awesome. Props for being so secure. But it brings up one big question for me. What if he does propose to you but still doesn’t express his love verbally throughout the proposal, the wedding vows, etc? It seems like at that stage in the relationship you can’t just be like “You’re awesome and I like living with you, wanna get married?” And the words “to love and cherish” are written right into traditional wedding vows. Would it be ok with you if he wanted to write his own wedding vows that didn’t include the word love at all? It seems really off to me but maybe that’s just me.
MissDre February 4, 2013, 8:48 pm
We’ve actually talked about wedding vows and neither of us want to write our own vows. So it’ll be the standard “to have and to hold, love and to cherish” etc.
Anyway, I’m certainly not discrediting anybody who needs to hear the words, and I’m not even saying that I don’t need it. Of course I would love to hear it! But right now, it’s a non-issue for me. In regards to my relationship, I wake up in a state of bliss everyday (my job and my money situation is another story lol!). It’s hard to describe, but I just feel so loved by him. And for the first time EVER in my life I feel very secure. I’m not afraid to talk to him about anything and there’s just no doubt in my mind that he loves me the way I am. I don’t even worry about my weight anymore! (I overcame an eating disorder).
I know I’m certainly not the norm here, and like I said, I’m not suggesting that the words have no importance. But in my case, I made the decision to place more importance on other things in the relationship. And so far, it’s working out wondedfully. Will things change? Who knows! Ask me in another 3 years!
MissDre February 4, 2013, 8:53 pm
But to answer your specific question, yes I would be ok if he wanted to write his own wedding vows without using the word “love”. Because I know he would come up with something very personal, very thoughtful and very meaningful. And probably full of inside jokes that would make me laugh. He’s very affectionate, just in his own way.
lets_be_honest February 5, 2013, 10:23 am
Just seconding Anna’s props for being so secure.
L February 4, 2013, 1:27 pm
My take on the big L word is that you can’t put a timeline on it. Sometimes people feel comfortable using it within the first month, but others may need a lot more time. Every relationship is different. Maybe he’s one who just doesn’t use it as often. Since you wrote in, it’s obvious this issue has been bothering you. You say that you’ve decided you shouldn’t talk about it, but it appears to me that you NEED to talk about it. I’d suggest bringing it up again when you’re both sober and when you’re in an environment free of distraction. Talk about what you want in this relationship. What are your expectations? Could you live with him not telling you that he loves you in the next few months? He told you he cares about you and wants to date you. It’s up to you to determine if that’s enough for you.
You Go Girl February 4, 2013, 1:38 pm
Five months of dating is not a long time, and it is understandable that he is not ready to say the L-word. The LW is wise not to pressure him after dating such a short time. But the boyfriend’s comments give me pause, and make me wonder about whether he is ready to eventually make a commitment. My otherwise decisive and resourceful boyfriend also told me “let’s wait to see what happens”, which is a very passive response. I eventually realized that he really meant “no”, but was having a lot of fun with me and wanted to continue.
So many young women are afraid to admit that their real goal is marriage and a family, and instead they wait around and waste a lot of time hoping their boyfriend will commit. If this is indeed the LW’s goal, I recommend that she discuss her desires with her boyfriend and see how he reacts. If he says that he does not want to get married, believe him. He is a great guy, but not the guy for the LW. If he does see marriage eventually, then enjoy time with him and let the relationship progress at a natural pace without pushing and enjoy time together.
Amber February 4, 2013, 2:25 pm
His feedback is appropriate for a 5 month relationship.
It hasn’t been that long – don’t stress about it, the relationship will unfold at it’s own pace.
Kate February 4, 2013, 2:30 pm
I think Bitter Gay Mark has great points, and I don’t disagree. A guy’s actions are always more relevant than his words, and women shouldn’t think their relationship is all set just because “I love you’s” have been exchanged, or that it’s doomed because they haven’t.
But I think “You Go Girl” touches on something interesting. I’m assuming you’ve now been together 6+ months, and it’s been weeks or months since you first said the words. You’ve talked about it a few times since then. He knows you want/need to hear it in order to feel safe / secure / comfortable / loved, yet he hasn’t said it. He has acknowledged that he has good feelings for you, cares about you, and wants to date you for the foreseeable future, which is good… But to him, “love” means a bigger commitment – has he been more specific about what that means? – and he’s not there yet.
So in fact he is telling you something by not having said the words yet, and that is that he doesn’t feel that “great level of commitment” he needs to feel to say “I love you,” but that he may get there eventually. I would say give it more time and really focus on how you feel and what his actions are saying. On a day to day basis, do you feel loved, or do you have doubts?
Maybe check in again in a few months, or when you guys reach, say, the 1-year mark. If he’s still not feeling that “greater level of commitment,” meaning whatever it means to him (maybe it’s that he can see a long-term future with you, leading toward marriage eventually), and you guys just aren’t on the same page, I do think that would be an issue.
lets_be_honest February 4, 2013, 2:55 pm
Is hearing ‘I love you’ more important than knowing you both want the same thing for the future, either with or without your current partner? Focus on the truly important thing here, not some stupid set of 3 words.
Oldie February 4, 2013, 2:40 pm
LW — your bf seems to be more mature than you. Actually, your letter left me scratching my head. You said ‘I love you’ very early and then demonstrated by your definition that you really have no idea what love means: “It means I have a lot of good feelings for you, I care about you, and I want to date you for the foreseeable future.” First of all, your bf agreed that he felt that way too. So, no problem there. The problem come in because that simply is a totally inadequate definition of love. “I have a lot of good feelings for you” is the sort of thing you say to a person you are breaking up with, who passes the hurdle of not being a total bastard and having redeemable features. “I want to date you for the forseeable future” is the sort of thing that applies to somebody you are dating. More than a hookup, less than even dating exclusively. If you feel you have dated this guy long enough to have “the talk”, please do it in concrete terms. It seems that ‘love’ means more to your bf than it does to you. With your definitional hurdle, he likely could have said ‘I love you’ after the third date, but that isn’t what he thinks of as love. So… ask him how he feels about the two of you being monogamous. Ask him if he sees your relationship extending beyond ‘the foreseeable future’. If you are bold, ask him if he sees himself married to you someday. If not, ask him if he is so strongly attracted to you that his mind is in a place now where it simply can’t imagine being with someone other than you.
beelzebarb February 4, 2013, 2:56 pm
“I have a lot of good feelings for you” is the sort of thing you say to a person you are breaking up with, who passes the hurdle of not being a total bastard and having redeemable features.
YES! I thought the same thing when I read the letter although I could not articulate it anywhere near as well as you did.
imogen February 4, 2013, 5:29 pm
I think maybe the LW was feeling insecure after saying I love you and not hearing it back, and so she downplayed what it meant to her to minimize the “risk”. That’s how I interpreted the letter, at least…
MissSally February 5, 2013, 11:35 am
That’s how I took it too … or else she felt put on the spot and just rambled.
fast eddie February 4, 2013, 3:07 pm
The word love means so many things to people, as in I love my dog/car/house/job, but I said “I love you” to many women and most of the time it was just to get laid. I said it to my last GF and immediately explained that I wasn’t sure what I meant by it. It was a couple of weeks before she reciprocated which didn’t bother me at all because my desires were being more then satisfied at the time. Fast forward 24+ years, we still say it to each other when we part every single time. It’s an uncertain world and the risk of not having said those 3 words is too great.
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 3:35 pm
Meh. Maybe this is because I am a very verbal person, but I think loving someone and being able to say those three little words DOES go together, or ought to. Have I had terrible boyfriends who said “I love you” to keep me around when they were treating me badly, yes (well, just the one boyfriend who did that really). But have I ever had a great boyfriend, who really loved me, who couldn’t say it within a year? No. Actually, I’ve never dated someone for longer than five months without getting there. If I said it first (twice out of three), I made it clear that I was just saying it because I felt it and I wanted to give that to them, and there weren’t any expectations, and they would get there within a couple of weeks when they were ready. And this isn’t true for everyone, but for me personally, I need to hear those words.
Many people say that actions speak louder than words and the words aren’t that important, but just as with calling someone your girlfriend, if someone won’t do it there IS usually a reason. Whether it’s that they have a hard time with verbal affection, put greater weight on the words than they do on their current commitment to you, or they really don’t love you — it can be very hard to tell which of those things it is, although knowing the character/integrity of the person you’re with can shed some light. As for me, I’m the kind of person who needs verbal affection to “feel loved” and no amount of lightbulb changing or family introductions or weekends in the country can really replace that. I think the LW should leave when not hearing those words starts to feel unnatural or make her unhappy, but try not to worry about it too much in the meantime. If she remains totally happy with him except for that, maybe she doesn’t need the words that much. If she’s not happy, that is TOTALLY OKAY and she should recognize that her needs aren’t getting met and tell him so.
I don’t think she’s necessarily deluding herself for now, though — some people, and my best friend is one of these, being a very serious and thoughtful person, really do view “love” as a serious commitment pretty much meaning you’re ready to get married.
theattack February 4, 2013, 4:15 pm
I completely agree. My love language is Words of Affection, and I have to have words to feel loved. I don’t think “I love you” should be a dealbreaker for everyone, but it is for me. In fact, I need a lot more verbal affection than just “I love you,” so an otherwise great relationship without the verbalization would just not cut it for me at all. If LW thinks she needs to hear it, she very well might. Then again, she might just be concerned because it’s what she thinks is supposed to happen, in which case she should just refer to BGM’s advice.
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 4:25 pm
Totally! You put it much more succinctly than I did. I don’t think she’s “deluding” herself at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Of course, at five-six months, it’s hard to tell if they’ve been serious for awhile or if they’re just in the beginning phases, so he could well be a Words of Affection person who’s just not ready yet.
Kristen February 4, 2013, 4:33 pm
I’m the same way. My husband could cook me dinner or do my laundry, and I would appreciate it, but say something meaningful to me, and I completely melt. The other day, he told me how much he appreciates me for carrying this baby and how great a job I’m doing at it, and it made my month. I felt SO good after that.
So, if that’s the LW’s love language too, I could more than understand why she’d be anxious to hear him say it. Hopefully when he does, it will be worth the wait.
ebstarr February 4, 2013, 4:39 pm
Awww! That story about your husband melted ME too.
theattack February 4, 2013, 5:22 pm
Kristen, where in the world have you been? I’ve missed you around here! Glad to hear that your husband is being sweet to you. How’s life? How’s the pregnancy going? Please come back to us!
Anna February 4, 2013, 6:25 pm
She must be living in a pregnancy bubble. I live a half hour away and I haven’t heard from Kristen lately either! 😉 Hope you’re doing well Kristen!!
Kristen February 5, 2013, 8:47 am
Aw, thanks, guys. I haven’t gone anywhere! Just been super busy at work and have only been able to read instead of comment. I’ve missed it too.
Only two months left of being pregnant! I can’t wait! haha. It’s getting hard to reach my feet to put on my shoes 😉
thenbeckysaid February 4, 2013, 3:40 pm
I dated a guy for an embarassing number of years before we finally broke up. He too would never say that he loved me because he wasn’t sure, or he needed more time, or wanted to see how it would go. Truth is, he never got there and I wasted a lot of time. I think there are people who are cautious for good measure, and there are people who keep you hanging on. I’d give your guy another year or year a half if you feel the words are something that are important to be happy in your relationship. I agree that how he treats you and his overall intentions are more important than the actual words. For me, words matter and in my case the lack of words were a telling sign of a future he didn’t really want. Wendy has a few other columns on this topic you should seek out as well.
katie February 4, 2013, 4:02 pm
i feel like this is kind of a forest through the trees kind of issue… your concentrating so hard on whether or not he does, when he is going to say, if he will ever, how he feels in the relationship, his timetable ect… are you even fully participating in this relationship? do you know whether or not he is treating you well? are his actions good? does he make you feel good? are you having fun? do you get along? ect. i mean, basically, WEES (what everyone else said) (we did make that a thing, right? its a thing.), but to add: dont make this the focus of your life. let him go at his own pace. i think its painfully obvious that you went way too fast for him- and thats not a bad thing necessarily, but if you keep on like you are doing right now, you are going to turn it into a bad thing very quickly…
lets_be_honest February 4, 2013, 4:09 pm
Yup. Forget about him. Ask yourself what YOU want out of a/this relationship. Are you getting that?
Simple as that, although it seemed like monumental advice the first time I read it on here.
lets_be_honest February 4, 2013, 4:12 pm
Also, there’s a big difference between ‘Don’t be an annoying gf who bugs him to say I love you’ and ‘decide what you want and get it or move on.’
I only say that bc a few of the comments on here sounded to me like a warning of He’s gonna dump you if you keep pestering him, so just keep your pretty little mouth shut!
katie February 4, 2013, 4:20 pm
big difference, but a very fine line, i think… and even person to person.
jake actually said he loved me before i did. he did for a long time. and i did kind of feel bad that i wasnt there yet, but he never made me feel bad, never needed know “where i was”, never even brought it up, actually. he was perfectly content, and it was very nice because i think i would have gone more to the “hes an annoying boyfriend who is pestering me” side of things…
lets_be_honest February 4, 2013, 4:29 pm
I agree its a very fine line. Just for the record, when I say get what you want or move on, getting what you want could be as simple as coming to an understanding that he needs more time and you are ok with that (like you and jake). Look at MissDre, for example too. She’s ok with it. We all have our lines in the sand so to speak, I just think some people have not figured out what their lines in the sand are and whether they are reasonable or not. I think this LW has gotten a lot of great advice on how to figure out what her’s is.
stickelet February 4, 2013, 4:40 pm
Only chiming in to say that I’ve only said I love you (and had it said back to me) with one boyfriend, and we had been dating over a year before we said it (we were 23). I think I’m in the minority here, but five months doesn’t seem like very long to me.
lets_be_honest February 4, 2013, 4:43 pm
Doesn’t seem long to me either.
csp February 4, 2013, 4:54 pm
LW – I think it isn’t the words more that you are feeling insecure. So, back in the old days like Jane Austin days saying I love you meant you were married. It is getting to be less and less a big deal. The problem I see is that there used to be steps in relationship (dating, going steading, pinned/class ring, engaged, married) That way a girl always knew where she stood. now it is so much more complicated. This is looking like good signs so far. look at his actions and judge. Guys can lie about thier words but the actions are always the truth. I can see why you are stressed though. I would be wondering too if I was at 6 months without a big show of affection. Look at the book the 5 languages of love (or something like that). I think that is a great book to show the different ways people act and show thier love.
Lucy February 4, 2013, 5:36 pm
I’ll tell a story that may be completely irrelevant to the LW’s situation. I dated a guy for two years. I told him ILY after about 9 months. He told me he didn’t feel he could say ILY to someone unless he decided he wanted to be with them permanently. I didn’t particularly believe this explanation, but I didn’t make an issue of it, because being told ILY wasn’t actually hugely important to me (for those keeping score, I’m Acts of Service). We eventually broke up for various reasons that didn’t seem related at the time. After our breakup, we weren’t on speaking terms, but I heard he went into therapy.
Five years or so later, I ran into him. He apologized to me for never saying ILY, and said he had learned in therapy that withholding ILY was a means for him to maintain the upper hand in his relationships with women, an attempt to exert control over the direction and intensity of the relationship. He told me that he had loved me at the time and that ever since he went into therapy, he’d felt guilty about not telling me so.
Only the LW can know if her boyfriend may have similar reasons for withholding; I can’t speculate. But I suspect that this sort of withholding isn’t uncommon, although this was the only time I’d ever experienced it.
You Go Girl February 4, 2013, 6:26 pm
Lucy raises a very interesting point. My boyfriend and I dated long distance for 6 years. I did tell him ILY a few times, but he always refused to say it back. I would also say I missed him, and he would often say he didn’t have time to think about me. In retrospect, I also think he withheld affection and ILY to keep the upper hand in our relationship and stay in control.
Guys have told me that they know pretty quickly if there is chemistry. Now I think that when my boyfriend said “Let’s wait and see what happens”, he was really saying he was waiting to see if someone “better” came along. Whether this is true of the LW’s boyfriend, I am not sure.
Anne February 4, 2013, 6:42 pm
I said it first to my boyfriend when we were dating for four months (it was a spontaneous thing). He didn’t say it back and for awhile and I worried about it – wondering what it meant about our relationship, etc. Eventually (about two or three months later) he said it in a planned and meaningful way (I came over to flowers, wine, and my favorite meal). So sometimes it’s worth the wait – I will always remember the first time he said it (maybe partly because he made me wait!). If it hasn’t been too long, just give him some time and don’t pressure him.
Sasa February 5, 2013, 8:12 am
What stands out to me here is your reaction to having said ILY in “non-ideal” circumstances, as well as to the lack of reciprocation by your bf. It seems that the whole thing has made you feel really insecure. I wonder if that’s just your own insecurity or if your bf is doing something to foster it. It could be that it’s just a spiral that has developed out of the initial non-reciprocation – you believing that you need to clarify things, him thinking that you’re really obsessing about this issue, you getting more insecure about it, him getting more stressed out, and so on. In that case, it’s probably best to just drop the issue. But if you do so you should really drop it – i.e. not just not mention it anymore, but also try not to think about it for at least a few months.
But it’s also possible that there is an underlying issue – him being less sure about the way the relationship should progress than you are. “Let’s see what happens” sounds a little noncommittal. Your final sentence also echoes this – you’re not sure that he will get to the same level as you. If that’s the case, it might be better to focus on that aspect than on whether he’s saying ILY. You might be focusing on the latter because of its symbolic meaning, but maybe you’re getting other signs that things aren’t going so well.
Generally speaking… I think if you have to hold back on expressing your feelings fully with an SO and become “strategic” in what you’re expressing, it’s usually not a good sign. If things are going well, even if you drunkenly say ILY “too soon” it shouldn’t be a huge issue. It would likely be seen as endearing, not as threatening. For example, my still newish bf recently suggested plans for half a year from now to me and I thought “wow, he’s planning far ahead”, but although I might not have done the same I thought it was kind of cute.
Ali February 5, 2013, 9:12 am
This guy sounds manipulative. I don’t believe that there isn’t something wrong with a guy who can’t say I love you to anyone but his high school girlfriend. Sorry. BUT the important thing is that he’s not giving you something that you need. If you need to HEAR the words “I love you” and that’s a deal breaker in your eyes, then this guy is not the guy for you, because in my experience, there are always a whole lot of commitment issues and emotional problems that exist behind the inability to express definitive emotions–the commenter who talked about the ex bf who discovered in therapy that he withheld love in order to maintain the upper hand in relationships rings especially true. It seems like a way to keep distance so that you can’t say he led you on if he decides to bail out of the blue–sort of like “well, I never said I LOVED you, so you shouldn’t have assumed we were a THING.” If you can live with him not saying “I love you” and his actions show that he is honest and really cares, then by all means, stay with him–but I suspect you can’t since you wrote to Wendy about it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You deserve what you want in a relationship, period.
Original Poster February 5, 2013, 10:56 am
Thanks for your responses. They’ve been interesting and helpful. I thought when I wrote this that I included a timeline but apparently didn’t. I told him I loved him drunk at a bit after 5 months. We didn’t talk about it again at all for 6 weeks until he asked me what it meant to me. After that it was another 6 or so weeks until we talked about it again. Now we’ve been dating for over 8 months. Not sure if that helps, but I certainly haven’t tried to press the issue or bring it up repeatedly. The last time we spoke about it was last week and I think it was just so charged that I don’t really think we should discuss it anymore.
I agree that actions are important and I feel great with him. I just know for me that I need to hear him say that at some point. I guess my big concern is not just that he doesn’t say it, but that he doesn’t feel it either. At one point he said, it’s scary when someone likes you so much. I just fear that we’re not on the same page.
Fabelle February 5, 2013, 12:15 pm
I read this, & everybody’s responses, and— while I think there’s some good points being made about expectations and the over-value of the phrase “I love you”— there’s something bothering me about the things you DID say your guy has said. “We’ll see where it goes” is a pretty casual declaration of feelings. And the fact that he seems preoccupied with what “I love you” means to YOU could indicate that he’s worried about things getting too serious? So (not to make you paranoid!) I’d keep that in mind. He could very well come around, but I’m getting kind of a casual vibe from this guy, just based off of your letter.
Sasa February 5, 2013, 1:20 pm
Strongly dislike the “it’s scary when someone likes you so much” line. The whole description reminds me of an ex of mine – both the “what does love mean to you” and the “scared of you liking me so much” thing. It didn’t turn out well. I say listen to your intuition – if you don’t feel right, it’s not right.
Kate February 5, 2013, 2:03 pm
Hmm, you say you’re concerned that he may not feel it. I think at 8 months you should feel confident that your guy loves you. You may wonder why he hasn’t said it yet, but you shouldn’t be wondering if he feels it. I also don’t think it’s a great sign if a conversation gets so charged that you feel like you can’t discuss your feelings anymore. And for him to say something about “it’s scary when someone likes you so much” is also an indicator that you guys may not be on the same page.
If, at 8 months, he’s still not sure if he sees marriage in the future, ok, that’s understandable. But I do think you should feel loved. Just curious, how much time do you guys spend together each week, and has that progressed over time? Does he ever talk about how he feels about you other than the times you’ve mentioned?
Original Poster February 5, 2013, 2:40 pm
I had actually decided to let this whole thing rest and just believe that he loved me regardless of whether he was willing to say it or not until the, it’s scary when someone likes you so much comment. I actually feel like things keep getting better between us besides this. We see each other almost every day and have probably 3 or so sleepovers per week. We’ve spent a lot of time together for the whole course of our relationship. Last fall we had fewer sleepovers and maybe saw each other more like 4-5 times per week. Lately it seems like he wants to hang out a lot more and I end up turning him down for plans much more than he does to me.
He has never really been good at expressing his feelings verbally and has acknowledged that. He has also said that he tries to show me how he feels about me. He’s told me he cares about me, likes me a lot, likes what we have, etc. I’m usually the one who will initiate a conversation about feelings and he will tell me something at that point.
I’m honestly not at a point where I would break up with him over this. I am willing to give him more time. The reason I don’t want to bring it up again is mostly because of my reaction to talking about it, not his. I don’t want to squeeze a declaration of love out of him so I also want to see how it goes.
lets_be_honest February 5, 2013, 2:49 pm
lets_be_honest February 5, 2013, 2:48 pm
so 4 times in 3 months?
That’s a weird thing to say, t’s scary when someone likes you so much. Sounds like you aren’t on the same page.
MissSally February 5, 2013, 11:45 am
As everyone else has indicated, each relationship has a different timeline, not to mention different people involved and the different values those people have. If it were me – and it has been – I’d let it go for now, see if he brings it up, and if not, then in a few months I’d bring it up again, very cautiously.
My love language, like some others’ here, is Words of Affirmation. I need to say “it” and I need to hear it. However, having an amazing Acts of Service stepdad has shown me how to recognize love in actions, and has proven to me that I can handle relationships differently, since I don’t lie awake at night wondering if my stepdad loves me, even though he just filed my taxes, changed the oil in my car, and booked an awesome Northern Europe cruise for our family. How silly would that be, right? Because it’s obvious.
The flip side of this is that my stepdad feels annoyed and disrespected when my brothers, mom, or I don’t have time to do things like take out the trash, visit a relative, or any other “Act of Service.” To us, it’s just a thing to be worked in among all the other things, but to him, it’s proof of love and really important.
Of course a step-parent-step-child relationship is different than a romantic one. But my point in this is that people in any relationship who care about the other person will meet that person halfway. Your boyfriend may be cautious, he may not have those feelings, or he may not like to verbalize vulnerability. But after awhile, his respect for you should drive him to say what you want to hear at least sometimes – IF he feels it. It goes the same way for you, too. If you’re making him uncomfortable by repeatedly asking for his, and I can’t imagine that you aren’t, understand that 1) it’s not kind and 2) it’d be a shallow victory for you if he were to admit it finally in defeat after being badgered for it.
Treat each other with respect, try to learn more about where the other is coming from, and let time work its magic for awhile. Then, in a few months, if it still needs to be addressed, you have the right to express how you feel.
MissSally February 5, 2013, 11:48 am
**** repeatedly asking for THIS, not his. Bah
fast eddie February 5, 2013, 2:51 pm
A friend of mine went to the plumbers office to pay an way over priced bill and was grumbling about it to the clerk. As he was leaving she said “I love you”. This surprised him of course as he turned toward her she said “Whenever I get screwed, I like to hear it”. He left the office smiling…
Joleen DeVore September 25, 2019, 10:56 pm
My boyfriend of 6 years still hasn’t said it, and yes, it bothers me. I brought it up tonight and he said it (the words) was too serious. He’s told me before that he cares for me deeply, but he’s not in love. He says he gave up on love a long time ago. I’ve brought up marriage and he said he’s too old to get married, he doesn’t want to get married, he’s happy with the way things are. He’s an OTR truck driver and has his home in another state. I rarely see him, though we talk on the phone constantly. I honestly think he’s with me because he’s comfortable with me and views me as a close trusted friend, and because he’s given up on ever finding anyone else. Those 3 little words would mean the world to me, followed by will you marry me. I think, however, I may be fooling myself. What I want may never happen.
allornone September 26, 2019, 7:59 am
After six years? Yeah, that’s bad.
You are not happy in this relationship. I don’t know what’s up with this guy, but if you want marriage or even a simple “I love you,” he has made it clear that’s he’s not going to give that to you. You need to move on and find someone who can . You are settling for something that is ultimately unfullfilling and making you miserable. Why? For a few phone conversations with a man who openly admits to not loving you? No. That’s not a relationship. Move on. This gets said a lot around here, but- aim higher. You deserve love. And even if you don’t find it (which I am sure you will), being alone and loving yourself is better than phone conversations with an emotionally unavailable cold fish.