Saying ‘I Love You’ - Why You Shouldn’t Fear The Response
We don't seem to struggle when it comes to declaring our love for a book, or a film or a pizza topping, perhaps the difference being that we aren’t expecting them to say it back. I think that is the scariest part about it. The fear of letting the words slip out and being met by complete and utter silence, or even worse, a ‘thank you’.
I interviewed several men and women who have been on both the giving and receiving end of those words and they told me what it’s really like to be met with silence but also why the lack of desired response isn't always a bad thing.
“So we had been dating for about six months when I decided to say it. Someone close to me had just died very unexpectedly and he dealt with it so well and was there for me through it all. We had spent a weekend together and were walking home after a lovely evening and it had just started to snow. We weren’t talking, we were just enjoying the walk so I decided to say it then. He sounded surprised and was like ‘’do you!?’ and that was kind of the end of the conversation. But I didn't mind that he didn't say it back because it was more just a way to describe how I was feeling. He was there for me in a terrible time and I decided at that point that I could wholly trust this person. Just because he wasn't ready to say it, didn't mean that he had no feelings towards me and I think we both knew that our relationship was still working towards that. And here we are two years later living together and very in love!”
“I was happy that she said it but also a little guilty that I couldn’t say it back. I just didn’t feel it at that point but I knew I had the potential to love her in the future but at that point it time I wasn’t going to lie to her. It would have been so much worse to say it when I knew that I didn’t mean it or feel it, than not say it at all. I wouldn’t have been there and continued with the relationship if I didn’t see it happening in the future. If i thought I wouldn’t love her ever I wouldn’t have stayed because that's just not fair.”
“ Me and my boyfriend had been dating for about 2 months when he said it. It was valentine's day so I think all the hearts and roses had spurred him on a little. We had a date night planned and were both getting ready in his room. I had on a little red dress and walked out the bathroom to be met by his dropping jaw (the exact response I had hoped for!) He kissed me and then took my hands and said ‘I love you Lizzie’. I was so caught off guard that all I could think of to do was hug him. It seemed appropriate and if I'm honest I really wanted to avoid eye contact. We hugged for a really long time and I think he knew I wasn’t going to say it back. I felt terrible but i’m actually really glad I didn’t say it. I’ve made the mistake before of blurting out ‘you too’ without even thinking about it and I really didn’t want to do that with him because I knew I would love him one day and wanted to wait until I could say it with true feeling behind it and not just to fill the awkward silence. We didn’t really bring it up again but I know that when I finally did say it he knew that I really meant it and now we are both glad that I waited.”
I’ve never been too good with feelings. I struggle to admit them to myself let alone anyone else! I knew I really liked her but I have never really thought about whether or not I loved her. We were in a great place and I definitely didn't see it ending that's for sure! When she told me she loved me I wasn’t really sure what to say. A girl has never said that to me before except over MSN when I was like 14. I think I responded with something like ‘aw baby’ and then kissed her. Not what she wanted to hear but i didn't want to say it back just for the sake of it. I'm so glad she said it when she did though, instead of waiting for me to say it first. I think it actually made me love her more when I finally got there! She’s never been afraid of being honest and saying exactly how she feels and it's definitely made me more open. We’ve talked about it since and she said she is glad I waited until I really meant it, even if it did sting a little in the moment!”
“We were out one night for drinks when he looked at me funny. I said ‘what’s the matter?’ and he was like ‘I love you’. We had only been dating for about a month! I said something like ‘Oh, okay. I don’t think i’m there yet’ I just felt like I didn’t know him well enough to love him. The days after things just weren’t the same. He was quieter and slightly off with me. I could tell he was upset and felt embarrassed than he had made himself so vulnerable and not got the same response from me. He was a very sensitive person which isn't a bad thing at all. So I just said one day ‘Oh btw, I love you too’ but I didn’t. I just couldn’t stand the awkwardness anymore! I felt so pressured to say it back and looking back now, that’s not what love is at all. He ended up breaking up with me a few weeks later so I don’t think he could have really loved me. I wish I hadn’t given in to the pressure. It wasn't my fault that I didn’t feel the same way and I shouldn’t have said I did just to please him.”
It can feel incredibly intimidating to bear all to someone, but being in love is about being vulnerable, being honest and tearing down all your walls and letting them completely in. In a perfect world, couples would fall in love at exactly the same time and every single ‘I love you’ would be followed with an ‘I love you too’. But love is so different for everyone. We feel it differently, we speak it differently and we understand it differently.
Just because they don’t say it back, it doesn’t mean they never will. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or rejected, you should feel proud that you were brave enough to let them in and comforted by the knowledge that they were honest in their response, as you should be with yours. In a way it’s easier to tell them what they want to hear, to mutter, ‘you too’ and watch that terrified, vulnerable look on their face turn into a smile. But take a breath and ride out the awkwardness. You will both be thankful that you didn’t say it before you were ready.
Sometimes we simply don’t know the answer. When does a strong liking for someone turn into love? When can we say, with one hundred percent certainly, that we know, trust and love this person who only months ago was a stranger? It’s okay not to know. Falling in love is confusing and complicated and we can’t be expected to have all the answers. Just be honest. If they truly love you, they will love everything about you, even your confusion in loving them back.