Love you but not in love with you, Version 2.0?
January 21, 2013 11:20 PM   Subscribe

"I don't love you, I just love how you make me feel." What does it mean to be on the receiving end of this?

My relationship of 2 years has ended due to my partner's revelation that "he doesn't know if he loves me, or just how I make him feel." I don't understand what this means exactly; I mean I think I know. But in trying to parse this, I have a question for Metafilter.

Is the above a statement of narcissism or just plain honesty? Is it like "love" the way a small child feels it; not really aware of their parent and their needs, but still dependent/bonded to them?

Perhaps it is sort of like, "I love you but I'm not in love with you," just a general "it's over" line and I'm overthinking it, but I've never heard this before. Any ideas for unpacking this sentiment would be helpful. I think the above may mean things are for the best; but I'd like to also know what it means. (Especially with respect to staying friends after).

posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
To me it sounds like he's saying that you make him feel good/special (which he loves), but that he's not in love with you as a person.

I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by Defying Gravity at 11:25 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I read it as 'I love what you bring to my life, but I am not in love with the essence-of-you. I want to feel the way I feel when I'm with you, but I want that feeling with someone else.'

In other words, one of the million variations of 'It's not you, it's me', a.k.a 'You deserve better'.

I'm sorry. :(
posted by Salamander at 11:28 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

it's not easy to say something that direct to someone you've been with for that amount of time. so just on that, it seems like an honest statement. because why bother being that direct if it ISN'T honest.

had he ever said the words "I love you" before this? and this was a step in the opposite direction?

to me, real ACTUAL love is a care you feel for the other person. it isn't about sex or physicality. it is a feeling that you want them to be ok, to be healthy, to be happy. you want that person to be these things even if you're not with them, but at the same time not being with them would be suffering for you. and that person will always be a part of your life in some way. having been in a very long relationship, that's how it feels to me.
posted by ninjew at 11:49 PM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

He feels loved and valued by you, and that gives him happy juice. Loving you back would give him happy juice as well, but a deeper kind. He thought and hoped maybe he had them both going on, but found it just wasn't true -- the deeper one is missing.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:11 AM on January 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

It sounds like he likes the way you make him feel but he's not capable of giving that to you in return.
posted by Jubey at 12:35 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I read your previous questions about your partner and he kind of seems like a "negging" jerk. I'm not sure him saying this is a reflection of reality or just something he is saying to make you feel bad, like how he said he thinks he is better looking than you. By the way you described him, this guy isn't worth the analysis.
posted by bearette at 12:45 AM on January 22, 2013 [24 favorites]

It means getting out of the relationship was a very good idea.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:14 AM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

This reads to me like a variant of "it's not you, it's me."

It basically comes down to the fact that he can't reciprocate the love back to you. Because he doesn't love you.

It could be soft soap, an admission of selfishness on his part, or a comment on how he enjoys some aspects of your relationship but not others. Or all of them.

It really isn't worth burning up on or overanalysing. Life's too short to waste energy on loving partners who don't feel the same way.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:15 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is honest. Often people say they love someone when what they love is themselves reflected back at them through that person's eyes. So yeah, it's honest. But it is the kind of honest thing you don't say out loud, just as you wouldn't say "I'm more attractive than you are" to someone you care for.

(Especially with respect to staying friends after).

Be careful with this. This person has told you that your value to him comes in the form of how you make him feel. That's not a good basis for a friendship.
posted by headnsouth at 4:26 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Salamander has it. I've heard a couple of variations of this, but it always boils down to "I can't love you the way you love me and I don't know how to express this feeling any other way".

It's honest, but it sucks so hard. I'm sorry. Take care of yourself.
posted by fight or flight at 4:30 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It means you are dating an immature a** who can't take responsibility for his own feelings and instead makes cryptic statements intended to let him break up with you without having to feel too badly.

In general, whenever someone breaks up with you it is because they don't like you enough to stay with you, no matter what they say.
posted by yarly at 4:41 AM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Agree that it means there's not reciprocity. Probably means, "I like being on the receiving end of your affections. I know the reason you give me so much is that you are in love with me. I am not in love with you in the same way. Therefore I can not give you the same you are giving me."

And then the subtext, and probably reason for the breakup: "In time, this mismatch will grow, so since I know this now, it's my responsibility to take this decision."

It's the high road essentially. It's hard to break up with someone like this. Sometimes, it's easier to stay in the relationship because the other person's love is seductive, in a way. In a weird way, I suppose it is actually the other person showing the best kind of love that they can – letting you go free to receive love equal to what you are capable of giving.
posted by nickrussell at 4:45 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Personally, I'd feel insulted and used if I were on the receiving end of that statement. It's the romantic equivalent of the kid who doesn't actually want to be your friend, but keeps coming over because you have the best toys.

On the other hand, context is really important here, and it could be a much kinder statement depending on what else he said, if anything. Like "I don't love you, I just love how you make me feel. That's deeply unfair to you and you deserve to be loved wholeheartedly." That's sympathetic, not insulting. If it were "I don't love you, I just love how you make me feel. If you were only more _____, I might love you," or "I don't love you, I just love how you make me feel. Wanna fuck?" that would be pretty awful.

I'd also think, if it were presented in a less-kind manner, "well, at least they're an honest asshole."

Although, in light of your previous questions:

If this is the misogynist who thinks he's better looking than you, you really shouldn't bother reading anything into it. Guy's proven time and time again that he's an asshole underneath it all, and you are not to blame for how this relationship ended or how he feels.

Do not stay friends with him. He's not friendworthy. Go no contact and get plenty of time and space between you so you can think of him as an asshole from a safe distance, without getting hurt. Don't stand next to a house on fire trying to figure out what caused it; just get out and worry about that later.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:53 AM on January 22, 2013 [27 favorites]

It means, most likely, that he's a shallow ass. Fortunately for you, he is self-aware enough that he recognizes that he's a shallow ass, and has the intelligence necessary to put his shallowness into words. It's not you, it's him.

Be thankful that it's ending like this, in a more or less peaceful tearing off of the bandaid (a bandaid over a wound that isn't healing). Seriously. It could be so much worse!
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:18 AM on January 22, 2013

It means that he likes the feeling of being loved by you, but doesn't love you back. Or, in other words, he likes being the center of your world, but can't make you the center of his.

Whether this is an example of him being honest and self-aware, or whether this is something that he made up which sounded good, is an exercise I leave to you to ascertain. I'm sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on January 22, 2013

This is the boy who doesn't understand why rape jokes aren't funny & thinks ordinary feminist ideals are extreme, yes? You're over thinking his little declaration when you should be out dancing the jig of relief & freedom!
posted by zarah at 6:17 AM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Or, and sorry to be blunt, he's met someone else and doesn't want to tell you.
posted by Dolley at 6:23 AM on January 22, 2013

"I don't love you, I just love how you make me feel." What does it mean to be on the receiving end of this?

Taken literally, the "happy juice" thing mentioned by PercussivePaul. It suggests the person is infatuated. If that is all someone said to me, and they wouldn't elaborate, I would interpret it as they realized it was mere sexual attraction and that it hadn't developed further.

After two years, I would find it a bit inadequate and puzzling; it's a little long for someone to be coming out of the phase of being drunk on hormones and realizing there wasn't much else there. But I am sure it happens.

Again taking it somewhat literally, it would seem kind of unpromising for friendship. If he broke up because you have sexual chemistry and nothing else, the friendship is supposed to be based on what exactly?
posted by BibiRose at 6:23 AM on January 22, 2013

Sounds like he's just getting a "high" of sorts by being with you. This is unfair to you as you're not getting your needs met. Kick this guy to the curb.
posted by Anima Mundi at 7:16 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man. Kettleoffish, I know I commented on at least one of the previous questions about this guy. I'm sorry to hear that he's still hanging around, making you feel bad about yourself. I know that we are Internet strangers here, but if you were my sister or my best friend, I would tell you in no uncertain terms to cut this loser out of your life today, never ever call him again, and not date anyone else until you are ready to demand that partners treat you with simple respect, care, and affection. Lose his number. Figure out what kind of treatment you need in a relationship and stop settling for less.
posted by anonnymoose at 7:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

What anonnymoose said x1000. Your exboyfriend is an absolute incorrigible douchecanoe. Run and don't look back.

It's like if you were black and had a boyfriend who is a racist. I don't know how the hell people get into these situations that are so wrong. Close the book, lose his number, no contact, don't look back, spend a while therapizing yourself to get some self esteem and accept that (some but not all) people are loathsome douchebags, and get away from this. Run!
posted by kellybird at 8:40 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Translation: He has enjoyed receiving the benefits of your care, attention, kindness, and affection, but does not feel the desire (let alone need) to provide those things to you. For all intents and purposes, you were in this relationship alone, likely for much longer than you realized, unknowingly pouring your energy into a black hole who basked in your warmth and attention while failing to point out that he would not be responding in kind. Love is not like this.

This person does not have your back, he will not support or cherish or uplift you when things get tough... and that's what friends and lovers are for, which means he's neither. When the chips fall, he will never move heaven and earth to help you return to a place of happiness, safety, or peace -- not because you don't deserve those things, but because he is too lazy/immature/pick your poison to engage in a mutually respectful adult partnership with you. It's tough, but it's better to find out now than in another year or six.

I've dated a couple of dudes like this. Sometime after the honeymoon period has ended, they'll say something like, "I'm kind of an asshole." I take it in stride, lamely convincing myself that if I'm just nice/kind/caring enough, that aspect of their personality will slide into oblivion. Naturally, nothing of the sort ever happens, I get super-bummed over the intervening days/weeks/years, and end up breaking up with him much too late in the game. While I am crying and gnashing my teeth, feeling like a hopelessly naive dupe, the dude shrugs and says, "Well, I told you I was an asshole."

It is DEFINITELY for the best that this relationship has ended now, because this is a bit like what this man is doing to you right now. You may want to believe that if you had only changed [x], he would have changed his mind, but he won't. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the fact that he's kind of an unrepentant prick (and a TOTALLY unrepentant prick, if it's the same guy from your previous questions). I promise, you will look back on this one day and wonder how on earth you ever managed to tolerate his nonsense.
posted by divined by radio at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Eh? Who cares?

You're well rid of him in my opinion.

What do you hope to achieve by parsing out his parting words? That you'll figure out what you did wrong, change it and get him back? No. No. No.

He was a relentless emotion suck and gave precious little back to you.

So burn up any rememberences of him and plan a weekend, girls trip somewhere where you can recouperate from your break up.

Cynthia Heimel always talked about driving across the desert with "Bad Moon Rising" blasting from the radio. That'll work too.

What you need is perspective. You need to get away from everything that reminds you of how comfortable you were in your dreadful relationship with that awful man.

So clean your apartment and anything that you find that either belonged to him, reminds you of him, or has his DNA on it, trash it. Really clean. That exhausing cleaning where you wipe down the baseboards and move the beds.

Get new linens. Nothing that touched his body should be on that bed.

Get a new perfume. Don't wear the one you wore with him.

Block him via phone, email and social media.

Take up a new hobby. Something that engages you that will keep you intrigued while you get over him.

Eat well and exercise. Don't cut or drastically re-color your hair.

In a year, he'll be a grease stain on the freeway of your memory. Trust and believe.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

Perhaps it is sort of like, "I love you but I'm not in love with you," just a general "it's over" line and I'm overthinking it

That's about the size of it.

If his statement was accurate - and I have no way of knowing if it is or not, but it's not really important - it would mean that he enjoys your company but just doesn't feel that oomph when he thinks about you, whatever it is that means to him in particular.

But people aren't always reliable narrators under the best of circumstances. During a breakup, they definitely aren't. What I'm saying is: Nobody but him can tell you what he meant by it, and he can't really tell you either. Feelings are messy, unreasonable, and often inscrutable, and it's a losing proposition to try to figure out the logical progression of events that made him dump you.

This breakup was for the best. Move on. After two years, it'll take a while, but be patient and kind with yourself.

(Especially with respect to staying friends after)

You should not even be thinking about being friends with an ex until you are satisfied that neither of you want to get back together, and that neither of you are holding on to lingering anger about the relationship or breakup.

Worry about being friends later. Worry about you now.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Any ideas for unpacking this sentiment would be helpful.

If I wanted to end a relationship because I didn't love a girl, I would say "I don't love you". If I wanted to end a relationship because I didn't love a girl AND I wanted to maximize her chances for confusion and heartbreak, I'd tack on "but I like how you make me feel".

Adding that on the end is unnecessary, and makes me think that if you'd try and be "just friends" he would have a similar clueless disregard for your mental and emotional well-being.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is an INCREDIBLY narcissistic thing to say.

The humour here is that he's so narcissistic, he probably thinks he was being "kind" by being so honest.

I suppose it is kind in the sense that he's shown you his true colors, without reserve.

No. You do NOT want to remain friends with this person.

He is SPECIFICALLY telling you he will come back in the future when it suits him to "top off his tank" with your affections, but he will never ever EVER return same. Keeping you as a "friend" facillitates this maneuver. He'll also torture the shit out of you while he dates new people because he's admitted that your attention makes him feel good.

Don't be his long suffering audience, helping him lick his romantic wounds as he moves foward in life.

Please, just cut him off completely, for your own sake.
posted by jbenben at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [21 favorites]

Someone up top wrote that this is the romantic equivalent of remaing friends with you, even though he doesn't like you, because you have the best toys to play with. I agree completely with this analogy.

Someone else wrote that he found someone else to pursue. I think this is a very strong possibility.

It's possible you are being set up as the "FWB back-up" if the new person doesn't work out.

You are better than this. You don't need a user or an emotional vampire in your life.

Block him on your phone and social media. When/if he pops back up, resolutely ignore him.
posted by jbenben at 9:31 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Eesh, based on your past posts about him, I'd give a rough translation of, "I don't love you, because I don't really think of women as humans worthy of love, but I sure do like feeling smart and libertarian and dominant, and also the fucking. So you shouldn't feel bad, because you were a high-performing fuckbot toy for me."

To put it in New Yorker terms, "Christ, what an asshole."
posted by like_a_friend at 9:41 AM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

Even before I remembered your previous questions, my first thought was "It means your ex is a toolbox."
posted by KathrynT at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Jbenben speaks the truth. Listen to her!
posted by anonnymoose at 10:10 AM on January 22, 2013

I think it's very possible that you're looking for an answer that simply doesn't exist. You want this to mean he has a simple, coherent feeling that you can understand. That's not necessarily the case. I think for you, what matters is that he doesn't want to be in the relationship anymore. Is it narcissism? Is it honesty? Maybe neither. Maybe both. Maybe a little from column A and a little from column B.

I don't think this line of inquiry is going to help you. I think the hunt for an answer will make you feel worse. It might mean he likes your attention but doesn't value you, or it might mean he just knows he wants some other feeling. The best you could ever do here is an answer to what it would mean for an average guy, and that's not going to help you, since you're dating a specific guy, and he's not going to tell you what it means for him.

I understand why you want to know, but I'd do the very best you can to put it down and let it go. For whatever reason, individual to his mind and history and way of expressing himself, he's leaving. And it's sad and feels awful, but it's over, and the good thing about it is that you are finally free of trying to analyze and figure out the relationship and worry about what he thinks. Give yourself at least that. Don't let the relationship be a source of puzzlement when it's already a source of so many other things that aren't enjoyable.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:13 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

It means that you are better off now, or you will be once the pain of the breakup is behind you.

Most generously, it means that he realizes that while there are good things about his relationship with you, he knows something is missing, even though he may not know what it is (or he does, but he is sparing your feelings and/or avoiding exposing himself to judgement by specifying it).

Or, alternatively, he has an unrealistic narrow, idealized view of what love is, which he may or may not grow out of.

Give yourself some time. You'll make it through this.
posted by Good Brain at 11:19 AM on January 22, 2013

I promise you that one of the most liberating things one can do after a breakup is just to draw a line under the relationship and stop trying to parse the "reasons" you were given by the ex. Just. Stop.

There is no information in this statement that could possibly be useful to you. It's not like "I need to break up with you because your drinking is out of control" or "I need to break up with you because you hurt my feelings by saying cruel and belittling things", which are statements you might want to reflect on and see if they're accurate and, if so, contemplate changing those behaviors for your own sake and the sake of future relationships.

"I don't love you, I just love the way you make me feel" is either meaningless or a childish insult. Either way, it has no more useful information for you than if he'd said "We have to break up because strawberry tangerine kiwi banana".
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:32 AM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm going to suggest you not waste your time or energy analyzing this. Read this to understand why.
posted by discopolo at 11:44 AM on January 22, 2013

"Don't want answers" is a very frustrating answer, when answers are available.

In this case it's easy: he meant exactly what he said. He doesn't love you, but you've been a good source of supply. This is a glass-case example of a narcissistic statement.

The reason why so many people are telling you not to think about it is that there's less to narcissistic behaviour than meets the eye. After forensically combing the area for trace evidence, you are inexorably led back to the answer "'cos he's a douchenozzle". Sadly there's really not much more to it than that.

That doesn't mean that trying to understand it is useless. The better you understand this now, the less emotion you'll waste in the future. As soon as you recognise someone like this for what they are, they'll be [flip switch /] dead to you, and you won't need to think about it because you'll have thought about it already.
posted by tel3path at 5:01 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

And I wrote the above without reference to any of your previous posts.
posted by tel3path at 5:07 AM on January 23, 2013

Thanks for all of your responses and words of wisdom.

Yes this is the same guy as from the previous posts. There was pattern looking back-- definitely. We had decided to give it one last go.

One way to recognize the other person isn't in love is a sense of playing a role, and of being limited in the responses that I could have to him. Being somewhat guarded is a feature of any beginning of a dating relationship but in a sense it never really dropped away in time. (And this was an otherwise happy relationship, despite everything else: shared hobbies, emotional support, generally, shared plans for the future...).

We were finally having a fight Sunday and he admitted that he just says and does things that hurt me sometimes because he is mad and he wants an outlet. It wasn't voluntarily, he said, but he has to admit that this is something he does. For example, the whole day he had been insisting that I had said something I didn't say and I was apologizing and he was running around the house, raging, slamming doors. Finally, I had had it up to here. The feminism joke thing was disingenuous, and the beauty thing was plausibly deniable, but I know in my gut that this he was provoking me. So I said to him, "you know I did not say that thing and you are getting mad on purpose and making me cry because you feel bad about yourself." And he said, "you did say that thing." And I said, "just admit it. That is the only way to fix this." And he finally said, "you're right, I'm sorry. I know."

I told him "what is going through your mind?" and then he said "I really love how you make me feel but I don't know if I can love you as a person and I am sorry."

Thank you for those who read my previous post too... I think the whole thing is just much clearer now. It is literally reading the above thread and the previous ones that have helped me be able to articulate WHY this isn't love. It's probably not such an uncommon scenario, but it was a pretty honest discussion about it- and I think this is one of the rare instances when such a cryptic breakup line is pretty complete closure.
posted by kettleoffish at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

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