All you need is...?
July 20, 2005 5:28 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when you're in love? And when do you say it in a relationship?

I don't mean this as quite the chatty question as it seems, I'm actually looking for some specific help. I've always been someone who "fell in love" waaaay to quickly in relationships. Usually wasn't love at all, but some combination of lust + fondness + neediness + fear of being alone.

In the past 2 months, after about 3 years single (after spending most of my teens, all of my 20's, and a portion of my 30's in relationships), I've entered into a new relationship. I feel more mentally and emotionally healthy than I ever have. My new SO is more mentally and emotionally healthy than anyone I've ever dated. We're both obviously (and openly) crazy about each other. I find myself with a strong urge to blurt "I love you" at various times (and not just during or after sex), but I keep biting my tongue, worrying about falling back into old patterns. How did the rest of you grownups know when it was the real deal, and not just the lust/etc. factor?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's one of those things that you just sort of decide. It's all mental. Magic doesn't exist. If decide to call it that, great. That's your own decision. But as you seem to have alluded to, you already wonder if it's just part of some cycle where you end up trying to end every phone conversation with your ex with 'I love you' when clearly you just want to bolt them to you and not let them out of your sight. Good luck and for the love of god stay truthful to yourself.
posted by angry modem at 5:45 PM on July 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'd say it is when you either a) can't imagine not having your
SO in your life and b) care about your SO as much as you do yourself or more than yourself...or some synthesis of the two.
If saying the words is all it would take to ruin the thing, well -- it wasn't love.

Say it, if you mean it!
posted by black8 at 5:57 PM on July 20, 2005

Wait until you can't possibly stop yourself from saying it.
posted by sexymofo at 6:06 PM on July 20, 2005

I knew I was in love when I was afraid to tell my SO that I loved him (for fear of cheapening the words, etc), but was really kind of angry that he hadn't said it to me yet. That sounds pretty weird, I know.
posted by muddgirl at 6:23 PM on July 20, 2005

I knew I loved my wife (when we were dating) because I was willing work hard to learn how to fight with her constructively. It's at those hardest moments that we love each other the most.
posted by recurve at 6:55 PM on July 20, 2005

Yeah, I think we get bogged down in "I love you" as performative utterance. Instead, really, the expression is just what it should be: a way to honestly describe a private, internal experience to the person we share private things with.

Easier said, I know. But I think it's time for you. And the thing about old patterns is that going out of the way to avoid them can be almost as bad as repeating them. (Again: easier said, pot, kettle here, etc.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:13 PM on July 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Listen to no-one on matters of love. There is nothing that anyone can advise that is right or correct for anyone but themselves. I'm sorry, anonymous, but you need to work these things out for yourself, and you'd be a fool to take what anyone else says to heart.

Others' experiences are enjoyable and voyeuristically titillating to read, sure. But they have no bearing on your own love, and your own relationships, and worse, may be damaging if you try to emulate them.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'd hate to throw a wrench into the works, but what kind of love do you mean? Like you say, there is needy love, lustful love, intimate love, maternal/ paternal love etc etc. I don't think there is a singular universal love - it's just that it's easier for us to comprehend singularity as opposed to complexity. We like to go to store a and buy object b, or go to restaurant x and order dish y with wine z, and we can do this because all these items are finite. But it's ridiculous to try and create a definition for a discrete state of being in love: so don't! And don't get hung up on when to say it to whom and why - your love is surely of greater value than a few post-coital platitudes which may well have more to do with a deeper need for reassurance than for expression.
posted by forallmankind at 7:56 PM on July 20, 2005

Life is short! It is also strange and indecipherable, sometimes. If you truly feel love, express it. It doesn't have to be in words. If it comes back to you, then you will know.
posted by snsranch at 8:09 PM on July 20, 2005

I agree with forallmankind, but I'm assuming that you are just "falling in love".
posted by snsranch at 8:11 PM on July 20, 2005

snsranch : "It doesn't have to be in words." WRONG (sorry) WRONG, WRONG. It HAS to be in words. Don't assume she knows how you feel. You say you are "both obviously (and openly) crazy about each other." But if you haven't told her you love her, IT AIN'T OBVIOUS! It may be obvious to you that you love her, but that just means you are asking her to read your mind. NO, NO, NO. Make it clear, make it honest, make it real. As black8 said, if saying screws it up, she wasn't in love with you, was she? If you don't say it, you're screwing it up. This is a win-win situation. I have NEVER regretted telling a woman I loved her. I mean, why do you even have to ask the question? You'll offend her? Get real!!!
posted by johngumbo at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2005

Stavros is right. It would be nice to know, but there's not a question that askmefi could be more useless for than this one.
posted by justgary at 9:16 PM on July 20, 2005

At the risk of sounding trite, if you feel it, it will come out one way or another, if you don't intend it to.
posted by xmutex at 9:30 PM on July 20, 2005

WRONG (sorry) WRONG, WRONG. It HAS to be in words.: johngumbo

Jesus Christ Betty! I was merely illustrating the give and take, the reciprocation. Meaning, between the lines, if it ain't there, then good bye!

Perhaps too subtle. Oh well.

At least you're passionate about it. Seems as though you must love someone.
posted by snsranch at 9:33 PM on July 20, 2005

Justgary, why is it your answer in AskMe seems frequently to be something along the lines of "nobody can answer this legitimately, and you shouldn't have asked and/or you should ignore the advice you're getting"? I've seen it more than once (most recently in the thread where the asker was planning on having sex for the first time -- despite the fact that there were DOZENS of great, patently helpful and encouraging responses), and it's neither helpful nor respectful.

It sounds to me that Anon is asking something perfectly legitimate -- he/she used to have what sounds like an immature sense of love, and is now looking to develop a more mature sense of it vis-a-vis his/her new partner -- and, with that in mind, is asking for stories/anecdotes from fellow Mefites whose own experiences may help ring a bell. Frankly, I think there are plenty of ways in which some people could be very helpful in that regard -- just because you apparently don't have any relevent thoughts to share doesn't mean that everyone else here is similarly bereft of insight. Recurve and RJReynolds, for example, both make great comments.

Or to put it another way: when I see a question I think is not what AskMe is for, you know what I do? I keep my mouth shut and see if others may have knowledge that I don't. I am frequently surprised by how much I don't know that others do.
posted by scody at 9:43 PM on July 20, 2005

Anon doesn't tell us his/her gender or the gender of his/her SO. At least one person here assumes anon is a boy, and I think I did too. Interesting. I have been blessed to date men who volunteer that they love me early and often. But most of my female friends seem to date men who are very parsimonious with the word.

Anon, it sounds like you regret falling in love too quickly in the past, or thinking of yourself that way, not saying the actual words. If you feel this strongly, what's the risk of saying the words? I guess they could make your SO uncomfy, but that seems either a) unlikely or b) like a really useful thing to discover. Alternatively, you could later decide that you didn't mean the words, but that's no big deal either.

But what's the risk of NOT saying the words? Your SO may feel unloved, uncared for. Maybe he/she is shy and hopes you'll say it first so he/she can express love back. Maybe something terrible will happen and you'll always regret not having told this person how you felt. At the very least, there's a decent possibility that your SO is complaining to someone like me that her SO is scared of expressing himself (or that his SO is scared of expressing herself, although that seems less common).

So just say it! You seem to feel it, and the risks of not saying it seem to far outweigh the risks of saying it.
posted by equipoise at 9:50 PM on July 20, 2005

I knew I was in love when I got mad and frustrated with my SO but I was still thought he was pretty cool. I find myself doing the same with our kids now - my 1yo can be stomping his feet, throwing one heck of a tantrum, and I'll smile to myself and think "isn't he so cute and precious?!" It's as if I adore every part of a person, the good & bad, and that's what I call real love. That doesn't mean that I put up with inappropriate behaviors :)

My Grandmother always said that I'd just know when I was really in love. I found that to be true. I met my husband in my 30's and just knew - it was good, smooth, easy, right.

I'm the one that blurted "I love you" first. Afterwards I felt a bit shy and vulnerable but I didn't regret saying it (and never do when I feel love) and soon enough the words were said back to me. If they hadn't been ...well, that's a whole other question/discussion.

To me you sound ready and I'm sure you'll find the right moment to bravely say the words.
posted by LadyBonita at 10:19 PM on July 20, 2005 [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

I'd say go for it.
posted by handee at 1:12 AM on July 21, 2005

I'm in kind of a similar situation, anonymous, and I've found it's not at all a bad thing to wait.

Having rushed in too many times in the past, I find it refreshing and challenging to sustain the relationship on pure substance, not by plugging in loaded notions like "I love you" too soon. You may find it rewarding to let the connection stand on its own two feet without such culturally-loaded baggage, and in the end that may strengthen you and the relationship. You know how a relationship can be stronger if you're friends for a while first? It's the same sort of deal. Once you cross the line, you can't go back. So let this time be all it can be before you do.

Obviously, there is a right time to cross the line and declare love, and some people wait too long to cross it. But since that doesn't sound like a danger for you, I'd say err on the cautious side. I don't think you'll regret it, for once, to take your time and explore the person, herself, without also taking on the contract implied in "I love you," and triggering the inevitable changes that come with it.
posted by scarabic at 1:26 AM on July 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

One thing you might try is finding ways to express yourself and your feelings without using the cliche phrase itself. You don't want her to mistake your feelings, certainly. But maybe you want to let her know how you feel without crossing the Rubicon on "I love you.".

This will challenge you to say something beautiful and personally meaningful, something true, something original, and that can be much more worthwile than mouthing a mating ritual catchphrase our culture has overused to death.

Try it.
posted by scarabic at 1:30 AM on July 21, 2005

At least one person here assumes anon is a boy, and I think I did too. Interesting.

Yeah I did too, because very few women I know will ponder whether they should say "I love you" to a man who has never said it to them, yet. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by intelligent, independent, modern women, this relic of ancient patriarchy remains.

When you're a woman you don't call him after the first date. You wait for him to call you. You don't say I love you first. You don't ask him to marry you. Sure, you can say that all that is crap (and it is) but enough folk still live by it for me to assume anon. is a male.

Then again, perhaps the reason anon. is biting her tongue on "I love you" is that he hasn't said it yet. I guess it could go either way. If that's the only thing standing in the way... by all means, girl, say it. Don't blurt it out. Consider it well, choose your moment, make it sound right, offer it as a gift, freely. And everything will be fine.
posted by scarabic at 1:36 AM on July 21, 2005

With my husband, I blurted out the "I love you" WAY too early. Thankfully, it was in a moment of excitement and he didn't, like, freak out over it or anything. I spent the better part of the next year wanting to say it over and over, but also wanting to really make it count when I did. Plus there was the issue that he HADN'T said it, and that made me think that for him it was a bigger deal than it was with me. We finally both said it and it was exactly the right moment. It meant more that we hadn't been all "OOh, I love you Schmoopie!" right from the start.
posted by web-goddess at 3:03 AM on July 21, 2005

I've always found that a warm-up "I'm really falling for you" will give you a good idea of where things will go.

Overall, life's too short for regrets. Looking back, I wish I'd said it to one girl in particular. But I also wish that I'd responded better after hearing it, a couple of times. Swings and roundabouts. I think the moral is that if you think about your feelings too much you end up paralysed.
posted by ajp at 4:52 AM on July 21, 2005

Always say "I love you" when and where you want to.

I spent the last 3 years starving to hear the SO say "I love you", it never came.
And after breakup, I was really surprised when they exclaimed "well, wasn't it obvious"?

No, it wasn't.
posted by ruelle at 4:54 AM on July 21, 2005

If you want to say it then say it. Waiting on it is just wrong. Don't hold back on your feelings. It does nothing but generate frustration. Tell your SO and then carefully consider the response. Like johngumbo, my stand on this has always been to say it as soon as I feel it. I've never regretted it. Such a policy can cause considerable drama and hurt, yes, but drama and hurt are unavoidable.

That said, I do have doubts about your readiness. Don't say such things based on 'urges'. Think it through a bit. Write a letter to yourself explaining who you think she(?) is and why you like her so much. When you finally do say it, you should say it with considerable confidence.

Wow this Live Preview thing is distracting.
posted by nixerman at 7:45 AM on July 21, 2005

'I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.'
- Much Ado about Nothing

Dex: Awwww, dude, there's a certain order you're supposed to do things in, and telling someone you love them is definitely last in that order.
Dave: Well, when are you supposed to tell 'em?
Dex: I dunno. Maybe your 40th wedding anniversary or something?
- The Tao of Steve

'Yet Katharine Hepburn surrendered all to Spencer Tracy - of her own volition. In various passages from her autobiography, Hepburn, the daughter of a suffragist and birth-control crusader, sounds disconcertingly unliberated: "We passed 27 years together in what was to me absolute bliss. It is called love. I could never have left him. I wanted to protect him. I struggled to change all the qualities I felt he didn't like. I was his." And then there is this startling admission: "I have no idea how Spence felt about me. He wouldn't talk about it."'
- Time Magazine
posted by driveler at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2005

If your new SO were killed in car wreck today, how would you feel having never expressed your love? I suggest that your answer to that question is the answer to this question. If it will haunt you forever, you are in love. If you are in love, you should share it. It isn't as if there is a surfeit of love in the world today.
posted by Cassford at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2005

Ask yourself: are you still scared of being alone?
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:45 AM on July 21, 2005

You should say it when you mean it. The point of it is to give your partner something,that is meaningful. If you worry about threatening them or confining them within it (love) then maybe you are looking at things the wrong way. You could say it thousands of times to thousands of people, if you mean each one then each will be meaningful. If you scare your partner away then perhaps it was not meant to be. I think that nixerman has it right, just remember to consider and not analyze the response.
posted by iwouldificould at 10:47 AM on July 21, 2005

Perhaps you should say "I love you" when you know why you love the person. I think it's a good starting point for being in love and it's worthwhile to regularly remind yourself specifically why you first loved the person and why you continue to love them.

If you want to say "I love you" just because you feel it, you might want to think a bit more and give yourself some reason behind it.
posted by jonah at 12:51 PM on July 21, 2005

If your new SO were killed in car wreck today, how would you feel having never expressed your love?

Mind you, every moment that you spend together is an expression of love. Don't get caught up in this trite business about carpe diem and speak your heart. This doesn't sound like one of those Victorian Novel situations where the people die poor and desolate because they never revealed their love to each other.

Obviously, you have strong feelings for this person and it sounds like things are going well. The problem isn't that there's some block between you, it's that invoking "ILY" may signal a change in the course of the relationship and/or change your SO's expectations of you because it's a big, fat, loaded milestone in the predominant template for relationships we're all living under.

There's nothing wrong with spending more time to enjoy the place you're at before you go onward. Think of it like sex: when you jump straight into coitus, you never get as turned on as if you'd lingered in foreplay for a while. You know those times when you *can't* have sex for one reason or another but you get so aroused playing around that your entire psyche bursts into flame? That's where you are right now. Enjoy it. There's plenty of time to bang one out tomorrow morning, and this delightful anticipation is much more intimate.
posted by scarabic at 2:20 PM on July 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Pitch my two cents in with scarabic's earlier comment. Try finding ways of expressing how you're feeling that fall outside of those three golden words. There's nothing wrong with those three words, but they do change things -- it's like you're walking together in a beautiful forest, and once you say the words all sorts of footpaths that you hadn't seen before become clear, and once there are footpaths you don't just walk amongst the trees anymore. If you say it and it's not reciprocated, it can be difficult going, and a bunch of the paths lead into darkness. If you say it and you hear it back, that's a lovely and wondrous thing, yes. It can also speed things up, and maybe you sound like you shouldn't be speeding things up yet. Maybe it would be good for you to enjoy what you have now and explore your forest fully before you walk out of it. Whether you're holding your beloved's hand when you walk out, or not.

I'm a girl, and with one very important guy, I said it first (one thing I don't agree with scarabic on, there), only a month in, because I was feeling the same things you are now: for the first time it just felt right, he was like a gift, not merely not-messed-up, but good and true, and our fit together seemed shockingly good and easy. I couldn't stop myself, and I thought he was willing me to say it, almost telepathically, if you can understand that. He wasn't, but he did say it back. Still, later on I think we wondered whether maybe it had been a little too soon, and down the road we had to think hard and reexamine whether we had rushed our fences. It is possible that it made things easier for us at the time, but harder a little bit later.

If you can't help yourself, and you find yourself saying it anyway, even though maybe you don't mean to, don't let yourself trail things off expectantly at the end. If the object of your affection isn't ready, and you have read things wrong and they're not expecting it and can't yet say it back to you, you've got to give them a graceful exit that won't leave both of you feeling awkward. "I'm going to say this and I don't expect you to say anything back, but I can't seem to help myself anymore and ... " etc. Then after after the etc. maybe talk about something that they did that was special to you, which lets them go off in other directions if they are so inclined. If they DO want to say it back to you, they will say it, and not be distracted.

(Not to overorchestrate your profession of love. Do what feels right. As others have said, you will know the best thing for you, or in any case will best learn from going on your own instincts and not mine. But my advice is sincere: wait just a bit longer, explore what you have fully, and enjoy all those giddy, unexpected feelings.)
posted by onlyconnect at 10:46 AM on July 22, 2005 [3 favorites]

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