I love you...maybe...
April 20, 2010 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I want to say "I love you", but I'm not sure if it's just force of habit. "I'm a special snowflake" and mild NSFW details inside.

So, I met a guy online back in January (he's mid-20s, I'm female mid-20s). We immediately clicked and have gotten along famously. Unlike previous boyfriends, he seems universally liked by all my various groups of friends (work, hobby group, high school, etc). My roommates have both said he's one of the coolest dudes they've met (in general) and definitely the coolest I've dated. Our sexual chemistry is awesome, and our regular hang out chemistry is equally good. We make each other laugh, are both very physically affectionate, and both describe a sense of relief when we're hanging out alone. I'm very introverted and usually feel drained by people, but he actually energizes me and brings out what I think is the best in me.

Also very important to me, my family thinks he's great. I was in an extremely (physically, verbally, sexually) abusive relationship four years ago, and my parents especially have been extremely skeptical about boys I've brought home since then. This is probably understandable; I'm sure I'd be the same way. But he's fit right in the few times he's met them. Yesterday, my nephew had his fourth birthday party and this guy spent the previous two weeks building a compressed air launch pad for little cardboard rockets for the little man to launch. I used to be the nephew's full-time caregiver; I have very motherly feelings towards him, so now I get so happy and giddy watching him play with my nephew that it makes me think about the future and love and all kinds of warm fuzzies.

Our lives are not all sunshine and rainbows, however. We both suffer from mental illness (me with anxiety/depression, he's bipolar). We are both diagnosed, and follow our treatment programs (we both take medication; I go to talk-therapy). We both have off days, and it's been a relief to me to be with someone who understands how my depression feels, and that I can't really help it. We motivate each other to stay on our medicines, even though we both have days where we think we don't need it. Ultimately, we both understand that it isn't totally our business, but it's nice to "get" each other that way.

So anyway, over the past couple of weeks, I've started having this urge to say "I love you" in a variety of contexts. After sex, on the phone, when I kiss him goodbye. As my title suggests, I can't tell if it's because I love this guy (a real possibility) or if it's a force of habit for people I feel affection towards (also a real possibility). What to do?

1. I'm pretty sure he is not in that space emotionally. I had a little insecure spell and asked him for reassurance, and he was quick to say that he really liked me, cared for me, and was very attracted to me. He pointedly (to me anyway) did not say "I love you". I think I'd be okay with saying it and him not saying it back immediately (though I'd like him to eventually). But I'm insecure so who knows.

2. The way I was raised was to be fairly loose with the phrase "I love you". My mom and dad are married and very much in love and say it to each other, and to their children and grandchildren, almost constantly. I joke that I'm programmed to end phone conversations with "Love you. Bye." because I'm usually talking to a family member (I did this to a vendor at a job once). It's also pretty normal among my girlfriends to say some version of "I love you" under a variety of circumstances. It's a strong habit for me, so I worry that I want to say it to this guy because it's what I say to people I am close to, rather than an actual expression of romantic love.

3. I'm not super relationship experienced (can you tell?) and the last guy I really loved was my first (high school) boyfriend. I told him a month in that I loved him. Looking back, I don't think I actually loved him until about six months in.

I mean, in the end, I haven't been with this guy that long. Having the urge to say it though, makes me think that some part of my brain must mean it. So I thought I'd ask MeFites what thoughts they have.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You know, there are a lot of expressions of emotion that I think we're better off stifling. Hatred, greed, anger, vengeance, jealousy, obsession... the list isn't a short one. But "love" isn't on that list. I'm not sure the world is a better place if we fight ourselves to stifle expressions of love.

There are a lot of different kind of loves out there. And when you say, "I love you" it doesn't have to mean that I want to spend the rest of my life with you and have like ten thousand of your babies. It might freak him out and make him think that you're saving locks of his hair or planning your wedding or knitting baby booties. But mostly, I think his reception is a matter of packaging.

I recently had the same kind of obsession with telling my current boyfriend that I love him. For me, it was the juxtaposition of a really awkward go-nowehere relationship at the end of last year and this - what I can only describe as SPECTACULAR! AMAZING! GREAT! - relationship. I just wanted to let him know that I care about him, and that I recognize how wonderful he is to me.

I'm also an anxious person (often in the clinical sense of the word, as well) and I think agonizing over something like this is just a symptom of that condition.

In the end, I said it, once. I just put it out there and didn't harp on it (so he wouldn't feel awkward about it). He said he was pleased to hear it, that he wasn't there yet, but that he felt like he was getting there and that he really, really, really liked me.

posted by greekphilosophy at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was raised was to be fairly loose with the phrase "I love you".

I say be loose with it, if you feel that way. Everything will probably be fine. Just be ok if you don't get it in reply, and be ready if he panics about kids/marriage. He may have the exact opposite upbringing as you.
posted by anti social order at 10:10 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're truly worried, sound him out with milder versions like "I'm growing quite fond of you."
posted by kindall at 10:13 AM on April 20, 2010

I had this happen with my current boyfriend, and I explained it to him as this: If I were sitting here with any of my friends, I would tell them I love them. Because I do.

After a period of time, he reciprocated and we've moved past the "I love you" that means you're awesome and I'm delighted to hang out with you and into an "I love you" that means I can't imagine being with anyone else because your awesomeness eclipses all.

The best thing you can do is be open and honest with your feelings and trust that he'll do the same.

Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

-1 for Kendall's suggestion. "I'm growing quite fond of you" is British English for "I'm damning you with faint praise."

Look, if you're in love with the guy, and you feel it, then say it. It's liberating. If he can't handle it, then it's a problem that *he* needs to work on. However, from the limited information above, I wonder if he's waiting for you to make the first move on "I love you."

Anyway, just be honest about how you feel. That's my $0.02.
posted by Citrus at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you love him, for good reason. So say so!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:45 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're truly worried, sound him out with milder versions like "I'm growing quite fond of you."

-1 to this also, if only for the fact that it sounds like something Hannibal Lecter would say.

I'm not really sure how you should approach this, given that the two of you obviously weigh those 3 words quite differently. As long as you've made it known that you've got feelings for him (and I think you have), I'd try casually saying it offhand.

This will probably trigger a "difficult conversation" (and some commitment jitters along with it), although it sounds like the two of you need to talk about the exact definition of your relationship if you haven't done so already. This also provides a venue for you to explain that "I love You" doesn't necessarily translate to "I want to marry you and have your babies"
posted by schmod at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two sides:
1) saying "I love you" and meaning it is powerful, especially if you haven't said it to him yet. It sounds like you're close, and you've spent significant time together, so it's not a throw-away term. Embrace it, and feel great in it.

2) My wife decided to tell people she cares for that she loves them, including close friends. At first it felt odd to me, but then I realized it was really kind and open. On the other end of the spectrum, some of my friends were surprised to hear me say "I love you" to my parents on the phone.

With all that, how and when you tell someone you love them changes the whole phrase. "Love you, bye" or "Love ya" carry something different than "I love you," especially if said face to face. You could even say "I'm growing quite fond of you" with affection, and it wouldn't sound creepy or damning with faint praise.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tell people that I adore them when I'm quite fond of them. This can include friends, coworkers and in the rare case, lovers with whom I'm not in the "love" state. It conveys in a very non-threatening/inappropriate way that I care about them and that they make me happy/I am happy to be around them.

Give that a shot and see how it feels. If after you say that a couple of times you feel it doesn't satisfy your need to express what you're feeling it might just mean that you are, indeed, in love. YMMV
posted by FlamingBore at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2010

He sounds awesome. I hope you tell him. It's hard for me to imagine that anyone who sounds that awesome wouldn't take it in all the right ways.
posted by redsparkler at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is nothing wrong with telling someone that you love them, especially if it is the way you feel.
Do not, however, feel that he needs to reciprocate.
As long as you are both comfortable with you saying and him not saying it, then it is a good way to go for now.
He may later feel more comfortable with expressing himself also. All the better!

If the two of you can have a conversation about the meaning behind the "I Love You" phrase and the perceived connotation, then it is good to explore the feeling.

It's a nice feeling.
posted by Drasher at 12:12 PM on April 20, 2010

Honestly, I think that if you feel like you love him, you should tell him. Even if he doesn't say those three words back to you, I'm sure that after this length of time he has feelings for you that certainly approach the depth and magnitude of the "big three".

What is the worst that could happen? If you love him and you feel for him that deeply, I think nothing bad can come from sharing that information with him.

Best of luck!
posted by BrianJ at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2010

Two other ways to work up to it and spot-check his reaction:

a) "I love it when you ____________."
b) "I love that you [built a compressed air launcher for my nephew/_____]."
posted by carmicha at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personal data point: Neither my boyfriend nor I are very verbal in expressing our love. For me, cooking him a meal every day means "I love you and can't imagine living without you". And he fixes my bike and helps me in the garden to say "I love you and want to grow old with you". I think we actually say "I love you" about once in 6 months. So be aware that he maybe thinks this doesn't even need to be said, or maybe he doesn't think it's such a big deal, or maybe he's too "macho" to say "stuff out of romance novels"...

I mean, being nice to your family and friends? Taking two weeks to make a gift for your nephew? If this were my boyfriend, I'd say he's painting a mile-high sign saying "I luuuurve you!" :)
posted by gakiko at 11:20 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

“Some people never say the words 'I love you'.
It's not their style
to be so bold.
Some people never say those words: 'I love you'
But, like a child,
they're longing to be told."

~Paul Simon, Something so right
posted by handee at 5:14 AM on April 21, 2010

I am crazy-loose with the "I love you's" but in a romantic relationship I've come to believe that saying "I love you" is actually the end of something rather than the beginning of it. I am in a relationship right now where "I love you" is on the tip of my tongue all the time, I feel it for him in a limerent sort of way but also in a friendly comfortable "home" sort of way, it's quite nice. I have even said it to the phone after we've hung up, but I don't want to say it to him, and I'm not really keen on hearing it from him either. I am tickled that we have been able to inspire these groovy feelings in each other, for each other, and to me, saying "I love you" is a weird kind of relationship-milestone that people reach and then stop exploring beyond it. After the first couple of times people say it, it becomes routine. I want to keep exploring and growing, being continually surprised at the emotions it turns out I'm capable of having (I thought I was too jaded for this sort of thing) and being even more surprised at my capacity for expressing them (it's a pretty vulnerable state, isn't it?)

There are countless thoughtful and intimate ways of expressing warm feelings toward another person, an infinite combination of words to choose from, a nearly infinite collection of poems and songs already written that speak to you, and once you start saying "I love you" those more original, personal things fall by the wayside. "I love you" ends up being the only thing people say from there on out, and it becomes as routine as "good morning" and "good night." I would much rather he tell me something he hasn't told me a hundred times, something related to what we just did or the upcoming weekend or whatever, than to hear him use and re-use a generic set of words that apply to our dogs and sunny days and hummus as much as they apply to us. (Because really, who doesn't love hummus?!)And it just seems more genuine, and more fair to him, for me to use my own words to express to him how his presence in my life has affected me/changed things/etc. Our own words (or even little snippets of song lyrics or poems that we find, or whatever) are less safe than the rote "I love you," but that's because they're more authentic.
posted by headnsouth at 8:05 AM on April 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

Pooh. Say the three words. You seem to feel them.

And, as anti social order pointed out, say them as a gift, not an exchange. Don't expect him to say them back right now. That may take time (or happen before you can finish, who knows?!).
posted by IAmBroom at 2:54 PM on April 21, 2010

Try, "I think I'm falling in love with you"

True, isn't it? You're not sure. So, why pretend to be sure?

This lets him respond in kind, even if he's not sure. No one has to be sure but you can both be happy and have the mutual love excitement. It paves the way for actual declarations of love. It also lets him say "woah, in that case, maybe we should slow it down".

If you produce it as a fait accompli, it leaves a lot less wriggle room in case things go awkward.

This is somewhat calculated advice because yes, love is cool, but there is strategery involved especially when you get to the heavier stuff like saying the L word, proposing, buying big gifts and vacations, meeting the family, etc. It's all well and good to be generous and open and happy and lighthearted but the things we say change our relationships.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:58 PM on April 21, 2010

Hi, I'm the OP. I ended up saying it at a moment that felt pretty right (he asked me to just say something random for us to talk about before bed) and exactly what Drasher predicte happened: we had a good conversation about what it means to me ad what it means to him. He didn't end up saying it back, but let me know that he cares deeply, but isn't ready to say 'ILY'. It feels good to just have it out. Thanks for not disappointing, MeFi!
posted by katybird at 4:20 PM on April 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Whoohoo! Go you! Go love!
posted by IAmBroom at 5:08 PM on April 21, 2010

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