I have been dating a great guy for a year. Occasionally, I say “I love you,” and he replies, “Love you, too.” He has never said it first. So I asked if he loved me, and he said he didn’t know. He says he only uses those words when he is madly in love with a woman and wants to build a life with her. It has only happened three times in his life. Should I let it go and concentrate on the good in our relationship? Should I hope he will realize we do have a great relationship and will say “I love you” soon? When does “I love you” happen?
An “I love you” based on real love? Or big feelings we mistake for love? Genuine love grows slowly over time. You have to know someone to love them, and it takes a while to discover who someone is beyond the carefully constructed social mask. One year in a committed relationship is enough for most, but some people might need more time. Like your man. My concern, though, is that he is waiting to feel “madly in love.” That phrase signifies infatuation, not love. Infatuation is what a person feels when they’re focusing on the superficial aspects of someone and filling in the details with their imagination (remember high school crushes?). People do it because they don’t know their partner very well yet, or because it’s easier to fantasize than be intimate. Infatuation is an emotional high that seems to happen all at once. With effort, it can transform into real love, but more often than not, it fizzles as quickly as it began. Often people become infatuated with someone they know they can’t sustain a relationship with, and that sense of risk (of being hurt, of abandonment, etc.) seems to heighten the intensity of feelings.
Love is a decision, not a feeling. We choose to love someone and that choice transforms who we are. Real love strips us bare of our emotional defenses, and that’s why it is so scary. In his book The Price of Peoplehood, Catholic priest and retreat leader Richard Rohr writes, “I hope you’ve dared somewhere along your journey to say, ‘I love you’ to someone. We’re afraid to say it because we’re not sure it will be accepted and given back. If we say ‘I love you’ and don’t hear it back, it’s as if we have dropped our pants and exposed ourselves.” Although Rohr then likens this to the “nakedness of God on the cross” who “took that great risk of looking stupid” and “we didn’t say it back,” he continues, “Once you say, ‘I love you,’ you stand foolish and exposed until the other says, ‘I love you, too.’”
And that’s how you’ve been feeling, right? Well, if you choose to continue in your relationship, give yourself a deadline of three or six months more. Love yourself enough to understand that your boyfriend may not be able to give you more than he does right now. So if you need to hear those three sweet words, find someone who is free enough to say them.