January 18, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of four months just told me he loves me. I don't love him, and I don't think I will in the future, but I do LIKE him. Now what?!

We are compatible in many ways, especially sexually- this is the first truly fulfilling sexual relationship either one of us has had. And I like a lot of things about him. But there are also things about him that I know I couldn't accept in a life partner, and while I like him and enjoy our time together, I don't think I will ever fall in love with him. Once my initial lustful infatuation died down a bit, I realized this, but I didn't want to break up either, because I was enjoying myself.

He said last night that he loves me, and that I didn't have to say anything. I didn't. (In one past relationship I said "I love you" when it wasn't really true... never again.) He also said something like "I'll always care for you even if we don't wind up staying together" which makes me suspect that he sort of can tell where I'm at.

This morning everything was fine and normal, but... I mean, now what? I would be happy to just keep things where they were, but that's not really possible, is it? But I don't want to break up... but I don't want to lead him on... ugh! I guess at this point, I just want to do whatever will minimize the emotional damage to him, while staying true to my own desires- whether that means breaking up or having A Talk or just waiting to see what happens next...

What on earth do I do about this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps it's time to sit down and have an honest conversation with him. Anything else is really just leading him on, you don't want to be that person.

Something about cake and eating it too....
posted by HuronBob at 8:41 AM on January 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

No it's not possible for things to stay the way they are. Break up with him, don't string him along.
posted by royalsong at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

If I were you I think you do need to break up with him.

You are saying
- there are also things about him that I know I couldn't accept in a life partner,
- I don't think I will ever fall in love with him
- I don't want to lead him on
- I just want to do whatever will minimize the emotional damage to him

I would end it, if only for the last point. Anything other than breaking up with him will be increasing the emotional damage. I think even having a talk about it with him isn't going to help because if, as you say, he already suspects you don't return his feelings, it clearly isn't a good enough reason for him to end the relationship. He clearly believes/hopes that in time you will feel the same way, and you've told us that isn't going to happen. Whether or not you think he can "sort of tell" where you're at, it isn't good for him to be in a relationship where he thinks/hopes you can/will fell the same way. Even if you think he already knows, you're leading him on. You're giving him false hope. You are keeping him (and you) from finding healthy relationships with other people where you are on the same level.

And don't engaged in a FWB situation afterwards. That, too, is just leading him on and giving him false hope IMO.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be happy to just keep things where they were, but that's not really possible, is it?

You've answered your own question. You need to break up with him, so that he's free to find someone who will reciprocate his feelings. And you deserve to find someone you can love, too.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:43 AM on January 18, 2013

I agree with HuronBob. Just be honest.
posted by phunniemee at 8:43 AM on January 18, 2013

You have to have some real talk with him. Tell him that you don't see you loving him, that you like him a lot and enjoy your time with him, but it's not love you're feeling and you don't anticipate feeling.

Move on.
posted by inturnaround at 8:44 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say you'd rather keep things as they are, but unfortunately what he's said will change them irrevocably - I don't think you'll find yourself having such a good time now that you have this hanging over you.

Do the decent thing and let him know how you feel, break up amicably, lose a lover and keep a friend.
posted by greenish at 8:44 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need to tell him that, while you care about him, and you're enjoying your time together, you can't see a future to your relationship and you don't see yourself falling in love with him. You probably should break it off after explaining that, it would be unfair to him to stay in an unequal relationship.
posted by windykites at 8:45 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

At this juncture it would not be kind or caring to continue your relationship. Royalsong has it--don't string him along. If you like him, please be honest, firm, and as gentle as possible. Tell him you like him and enjoy spending time with him, but this is not something you can commit to as a serious relationship, and you cannot return his love (now or in the future). Break it off and let him move on. Also, important: please respect it if he is not able to be friends with you right now, and give him whatever space he needs (even if it means that he never contacts you again).
posted by anonnymoose at 8:46 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a great relationship with my ex. We had a lot of fun, he treated me like a queen, we never fought, and to this day, we are still good friends. But I knew early on that I was never going to be madly in love with him. Still, we were together for three years. Eight years after we broke up I still can't figure out why I stuck around so long. Perhaps it was because nothing about the relationship was bad or dramatic. Now that I'm actually crazy in love with my current SO of seven years, I can't imagine ever having a long-term relationship with someone I'm not totally bonkers for.

Like HuronBob said, time for a chat. A breakup seems inevitable here.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:47 AM on January 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Where does he see the relationship going, have you asked him? If he wants marriage, kids, or even just a long-term, serious and committed monogamous relationship then no, I don't think it's fair to him to continue if you know you not only don't love him, but don't feel that you could. What happens when you meet someone new? He's not looking any more, but it sounds like you are just killing time until that mythical Mr. Right comes along.

I guess I'm wondering what it is that has you convinced you don't/won't ever love him, though, from your question. The sex is good, so you have the chemistry going, and you have fun together. You say there are "things about him that I know I couldn't accept in a life partner". Are these immutable, unchangeable things, or is there some room to explore this? Do you know him, and yourself, well enough to be sure that neither of you will change in these areas?

Either way, I think your next step should be talking to him about how you feel and what your reservations are, openly and honestly, so that he can decide if he wants to continue this relationship, too.
posted by misha at 8:49 AM on January 18, 2013

I agree with what people are saying here, but I think you also need to make sure (in a discussion with him) that he really loves you in the deep way you seem to be assuming he does and wasn't just saying that out of lust or to be nice or whatever (some people are more casual in using the L word than others). There's always the possibility that he feels similar to you in terms of not thinking you have a future together. After all, "I'll always care for you even if we don't wind up staying together" could mean that he senses you don't love him, as you suggested, but it could also mean "I don't know if I love you enough to want to be with you forever".
posted by Dansaman at 8:52 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

A contrary opinion to most of the answers so far:

He also said something like "I'll always care for you even if we don't wind up staying together" which makes me suspect that he sort of can tell where I'm at.

It actually sounds like he's totally fine with the way things are now, and understands that they probably won't stay that way. You say everything is "fine and normal" today ... I don't see any reason to instigate a break-up now. He's happy, you're happy. Now at some point, he will almost certainly become unhappy, and that's the time when things will change/end.

But I don't see why you should end it now when you are both happy with the way things are today.
posted by jbickers at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

But there are also things about him that I know I couldn't accept in a life partner

I'm sorry to say, but having made that decision, you are, by definition, stringing this guy along by not being honest with him. A mutually consensual fuck-buddy relationship with no future is one thing, but this isn't that. If you respect him or yourself, I think you need to come clean.

Let him find that happiness that he will not have with you.
posted by bonehead at 9:00 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Honestly, if I were you, I'd stick it out for another month or two. Dumping someone the day after they say I love you is just really hurtful. If you are enjoying yourself, keep doing so for a little while, but not so long as to have him get really deep into the relationship. He seems to sense your (lack of) feelings and probably wouldn't mind being strung along for a little bit longer. Then when you break up with him you can say you were hoping that you would be on the same page given some more time, but that it didn't work out that way, and no hard feelings.
posted by greta simone at 9:02 AM on January 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm with jbickers, in that this isn't necessarily a DT(not-a-)MFA moment. Did you two ever discuss what you each wanted out of this relationship? It may be that he already knows that y'all are only ever going to be FWB (which, let's face it, you already are, given that you know you're not going to be with him forever). If the two of you have already agreed to a "No-L-word" arrangement, then dump him. If not, redefine things. Maybe not tonight, but definitely before next weekend.
posted by Etrigan at 9:05 AM on January 18, 2013

Dumping someone the day after they say I love you is just really hurtful.

Yeah, I think I'd have to agree... obviously there is no future here and it will have to end eventually, but it seems hella cold to end it RIGHT now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:06 AM on January 18, 2013

I would concur that you should probably be planning for an exit. However, doing it right after he professes his love is super hurtful. Be kind.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:16 AM on January 18, 2013

I think the best thing to do here is break up.

In a perfect world, you could sit down with him and say that you're not in love with him and you know you're not going to be in love with him, but you'd like to keep this thing going until something breaks you up, and he'd be like, "Okay, no problem," and that would be that. And I don't know the guy - maybe he's not thinking about the long term either. Everyone's different.

But love is a funny thing. If you look at the human relations category on AskMe, there are a lot of questions from people in situations where it's immediately obvious that their relationship is broken beyond repair and needs to end. Sometimes there are two or three questions from the same person asking the same question: "What should we do? Here are all the horrible things about our relationship, but my significant other is nice to me sometimes."

Or sometimes it's "Dear AskMe, here is a description of my relationship. There is absolutely nothing good about it, and my partner is doing me harm by being in my life. Do you have any advice? Breaking up is not on the table."

I say all this to illustrate a point. I once heard love described as a neurochemical con job, and that's harsh but it's not really wrong. If you told your boyfriend that you're not there and you don't think you ever will be, his emotional entanglement means you'll be having two different conversations. He might say he's okay with that, and he just wants to let things run their course, but there's a really good chance he won't be thinking clearly, and will be hoping that if things just go a bit longer, you'll come around, you'll change your mind. Or he might not even be thinking that; he might just agree to it because he wants to be around you and figures he can keep putting the issue off. It's impossible for me to say what he's thinking, but I can say there's a strong possibility that he can't really think clearly about his own best interests at the moment. In the end, you'll each walk away from the conversation with different ideas about what it meant.

It would be harsh to dump him so soon after this, but it would also be grossly unfair to tell him that you're not feeling that same affection and you doubt you ever will and then leave it up to him as far as what gets done about that.

Now, again, it's totally possible that he's unusual in an emotional way and that he'll handle this differently than most people would, but honestly I doubt it. If he's like most people, then every day he's with you, he likes you more and more. And also, you're probably right that he can tell something's not right but he may not know the exact size and shape of it. It'll eat at him over time.


I would be happy to just keep things where they were, but that's not really possible, is it?


But I don't want to break up... but I don't want to lead him on... ugh!

It sucks, but if he's like most people (and he probably is), you're gonna have to pick one or the other.

I guess at this point, I just want to do whatever will minimize the emotional damage to him, while staying true to my own desires

Your fidelity to your own desires is not really a huge factor here. While it will be painful, you pretty much need to let this guy go. It'll be the best thing for the both of you in the long run.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:26 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also, further to the idea of when to break up: I agree that it's kind of crappy to dump him right after he says this, but I'm of the belief that it's a losing proposition to try to be kind about a breakup; instead, one should endeavor to be merciful. Only you can say for sure what that entails, but if you wait to break up until a moment when you're sure it will be painless for him, you'll be waiting pretty much forever.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:30 AM on January 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Don't just dump him like he is a child who can't make decisions for himself. Have a conversation with him first. He can then decide what is good for him, and you can decide what is good for you.
posted by Vaike at 9:37 AM on January 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

You already know the answer to this. If it's an innocuous "I love you" (which there are plenty of in early relationships), then appreciate that he cares about you, and enjoy your relationship.

If it's a serious "I love you" meaning "I want monogamy and potentially to create a family unit with you", then you need to have a chat with him about it.

You may want to sit with it for a few days and see how it goes. If he's waiting for a response, it will most likely show. If he's not, then it's all good.

Sometimes "I love you" is just "I love being with you right now in this moment" and other times, it's much bigger. You'll know quite quickly which this is. Maybe dude just erupted in some feelings and wanted to share. Maybe he wants a minivan. As said, the evidence either way should arrive quite quickly.
posted by nickrussell at 9:50 AM on January 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Four months is awfully early to tell someone you love them, not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just early. Why don't you have the talk with him, that you don't love him, but you want to stay together. You really don't know how your going to feel in a year, you just don't. If you still don't love him in a year, well that is a different story.
posted by waving at 9:51 AM on January 18, 2013

If you end up plugging ahead as you are now, you'll probably want to discuss the eventuality that one of you might meet someone else while the two of you are together when you have The Talk with him. You'll have to be pretty clear on the terms of your relationship.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:51 AM on January 18, 2013

Just another person telling you to be honest and to break up, even if he doesn't want to.

You'll only get more enmeshed, and it will only get messier.

It sucks, but it's the fair and right thing to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obviously the only answer is to break up in the near future, but just wanted to say I'm really sorry, because that totally sucks.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

It looks like I may be a voice of dissent on one point here; while I do definitely think you should talk, I don't agree that this is automatically a "break up now" situation -- provided that you and your boyfriend are really, really honest with both yourselves, and with each other.

I was your boyfriend in a relationship I had in my 20's, and my ex was you. I was the one who said the "l" word and he was the one who didn't. So we had a long, long talk about a few points.

* The first one was - we hashed out what saying those words meant to each of us. He said that for him, he didn't want to say it unless he meant it, and it was going to take a lot for him to say it. BUT - he stressed that he absolutely wanted to stay with me and he had huge feelings for me, it's just that calling those feelings "love" were thorny for him.

And I thought about it myself and realized that - y'know, I didn't really want any more than the freedom TO tell him I loved him without it scaring the shit out of him. I didn't even need to hear him say it back - some verbal expression was nice, but it didn't have to contain the word "love". I just knew I wanted to say it without it freaking him out.

So that seemed like a good thing there; he understood why I was saying it, and I understood why he wasn't, and the two needs didn't contradict each other, so that didn't seem to be a problem.

* The second thing was the whole "where do you see this going". This guy was always really honest with me about him and relationships - he said he always knew he wasn't going to marry because his job came first. He would get into serious relationships now and then, yeah, but he said he felt like he was the sort of person that just wasn't ever going to have a forever relationship. That being said, though, he wanted the relationship we were in at that moment to continue further, because we were indeed very close. But, he added, he really wanted to be sure I was okay with that because "I don't want you to feel like this is a waste of your time knowing this may not go anywhere."

I wasn't QUITE as honest with myself about this, but I was actually pretty okay with the possibility that he and I may not ever marry or stay together forever, and decided that I wanted however much more of our relationship I was going to get. I mean, yeah, I was still heartbroken when he did break up with me a year later, but I absolutely did not regret staying that year. So....that didn't scare me either.

So we realized we were still both pretty much on the same page anyway, even though I was now free to declare my love and even though he wasn't. Going forward, every time I said I loved him, he would either give me a big hug instead, or would say something different like "I'm really, really glad you're here" or something. We have stayed close after our breakup (nearly 20 years ago now), and he credits the fact that he is now engaged to someone - when he never thought he'd do that before - with the fact that he and I were able to negotiate our own relationship so well back then.

I say all this because: everyone has different ideas about what that one word "love", and the act of saying it, actually means; and everyone has different ideas about what they get into a given relationship for, why they want to stay, and when they need to leave. So you do need to talk about what you each mean and what you each want - but if you do all that and you can see a way for you both to still get what you want, then it may not be necessary to break up right now after all. It'll take honesty - with each other and with yourselves - but it is possible.

good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on January 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

Obviously the only answer is to break up in the near future

(I don't see what that is the only answer. That is an answer. But there are others. Often, I think relationships get complicated by reactionary movements. There's definitely something to be said for patience, and observing emotions and situations over a period, and sussing out what's really there. Rather than operating in a reactionary fashion.)
posted by nickrussell at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really, what's going to happen if you stay with him is his feelings will grow stronger, you will feel guiltier, and breaking up with him will become even harder. You could sit down and tell him how you really feel and leave it up to him, but I honestly don't think that's the right move. Because what he will say is he can handle it or that he still wants to be with you or he'll pretend he understands, but the truth is, he will continue to love you and secretly hope you fall for him too, which puts you in a really uncomfortable/assholey position. You just need end it so he can get over it and not put his love life on hold for you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2013

What would it take for you to break up? I hope you wouldn't just stay with him until something better come along because that's mean.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

It looks like I may be a voice of dissent on one point here; while I do definitely think you should talk, I don't agree that this is automatically a "break up now" situation -- provided that you and your boyfriend are really, really honest with both yourselves, and with each other.

I agree with this in principle, but realistically, how likely is this to happen? Especially when both of you, but especially you, have every short-term incentive to keep things the way they are? I think that if you don't break things off soon at least one of you is going to regret it very much later.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:13 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's not that you don't love him now, it's that you don't see it ever happening and you're in it for the pleasure. Nothing at all wrong with that, just let him know so he can make informed choices.
posted by headnsouth at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2013

Be honest and give him the choice.

Datapoint: Several years ago I was with a woman that I didn't really see a future with. I told her perhaps we should break-up because I didn't see us together in the long term. Her response: "I understand, but I don't see why that means we have to break up now." I was surprised initially, but said as long as she was clear on where we stood, I didn't need to break up right away.*

Great sexual chemistry doesn't come along all the time, and you said this is the best you've ever had. If the two of you mutually decide that is enough for you, then that's between the two of you. But the key word here: mutual. And if you do decide to move forward despite the imbalance, then watch for any signs of resentment from him or pushing you to change the way you feel. If those appear, then you need to reconsider the feasibility of the situation.

Yes, life is short, and you should spend it with the right people. Don't waste your time on relationships that don't give you what you want/need. But not all of those relationships end in marriage, and if that's not a huge priority for you right now, enjoy the present.

*we broke up three months later (though they were by no means an unpleasant three months), got back together three years after that, and got married 18 months further along. I offer those details for completeness, but I don't think the end result is relevant to the current situation.
posted by dry white toast at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Imagine telling someone you loved him, and him saying the very next day, "If we stay together, you will become so deeply in love with me that it will shatter you as a human being and do irrevocable damage. So I'm dumping you." I would laugh in the guy's egotistical face because hoo boy was I wrong about this one. Then I would go home and contemplate my error.

If this dude has never had fulfilling sex with anyone before, he's riding a dopamine/oxytocin high that he's never felt. He thinks this is what true love must be. He may well not have said anything this morning because when it's been hours after his last orgasm rather than minutes, it doesn't feel quite so much like love anymore.

Tell him where you are emotionally, and let him decide whether to stick with the relationship or not. The choice to risk his heart is not yours to make. He's an adult, not a child whose eyes you have to cover during the scary parts of movies.
posted by cirocco at 1:17 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

As usual, I agree with famous monster's thoughtful advice. Because he loves you, you can't just tell him how you feel and give him a real/fair choice. You should break up.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:56 PM on January 18, 2013

There are actually some good reasons why breaking up with him is the more ethically acceptable answer, although certainly it's not the only answer.

1. You don't see a long term future with him - hence if you stay with him and his feelings continue to grow stronger, as one would expect, you're taking advantage of him by sacrificing his feelings for your own comfort.
2. You are depriving him of the possibility of being with someone he loves who loves him back.
3. You are depriving yourself of the possibility of finding love.

This may or may not be true, but I also sensed the subtext of "if something better came along, I'd leave, but right now I'm happy with him because it's better than being alone." (and really, if you're with someone who you don't love and don't see a future with, if something better came along it would be quite illogical to stay with the current guy)

If that's the case, that adds fuel to the fire because you're basically planning on breaking his heart eventually, and also uncomfortable with yourself being single, neither of which are positive things. If you break up, you both have the opportunity to find someone who is a better fit for you and you get the additional bonus of not feeling like a jerk for stringing him along.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:03 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wait. If you end up falling in love with him, you'll regret the breakup. It's happened to me.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:37 PM on January 18, 2013

You don't need to dump someone in this situation. He's an adult and can decide for himself whether what you're offering is appealing in the timeframe you're offering it.

You do need to make that information clear to him though, so he can make an informed choice.
posted by ead at 5:58 PM on January 18, 2013

He said he loves you. He did not say he wants to marry you and be with you for the rest of his life. He didn't even say he was *in* love with you. Maybe he does not mean those things.

I've told a number of people in my past that I loved them without meaning I intended to spend the rest of my life with them. It never occurred to me that it might seem like I was thinking that, and they did not seem to take it that way. I did love them. But I knew, and they knew, that the relationships were temporary, and would end when they needed to end.

Maybe your gentleman friend is thinking of this the same way I always have. To me, loving someone has never meant that I cannot ever love anyone else in the future, or that I did not really love people from my past. I am, as many of us are, a serial monogamist. And I tend to feel that the whole thing would be rather unfulfilling if I had to keep second-guessing myself about whether I *really* love this person, because you only get one.

And if you tend to be the sort who thinks of love as a rarer occurrence, maybe your "like" and his "love" are on a more similar level than you think. You ought to talk to him about his plans and thoughts and hopes and dreams and such, and definitely be honest about your own. But I tend to feel you should make sure you're on the same page about what "love" means in this context before ditching him over this. It may be that you're totally mismatched, yes. But I would check, myself.
posted by Because at 10:20 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well I guess being anonymous doesn't matter now, I was the poster. You guys helped me realize that while it was hard, I really did need to end it now and not drag it out. I broke up with him tonight. He took it pretty well. It was hard and shitty but probably for the best. Thanks.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

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