You’ve been dating that special someone for a couple of months, then it happens, you say that simple phrase that can make or break any relationship: “I love you.” Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and a “Today” contributor on relationships, gives you some advice on when’s the right time to say the “L” word.
It’s a romantic, even passionate moment. He’s been so giving and caring. He’s looking into your eyes, and you feel that mental and physical connection. You feel close, he gets you, and so you blurt out, “I love you.” And then he is silent. What a horrid and awkward moment. Now it all seems weird and uncomfortable. You feel humiliated. What have you done?
Actually, you’ve done nothing that millions of men and women who have been swept up in the rush of deep feeling and longing for that special someone haven’t done before. Unfortunately, when one person says “I love you” and it is too soon for the other, both can retreat from the relationship altogether.
The power of the “L” word is intense. It can bring such joy when two people are comfortable and ready to mean it. But it can sour a relationship, if one says it or if no one says it … ever!
What does love mean anyway? Sometimes the definition is murky. When you say “I love you,” you may mean that you feel close to your boyfriend, he seems right for you, and you want a future together. He may see saying “I love you,” as meaning that you have to get married. And if he doesn’t feel obsessed with you, then he may not think that he’s in love with you. Sometimes people confuse lust and love. Having great sex is terrific, but does it mean love?
Even more problematic is the person who is so uncomfortable professing their love that they’re terrified to say the “L” word. Children who grew up in a home never hearing “I love you” may have trouble with the concept of love. Or if they never heard their parents say the “L” word to each other, then they may feel uncomfortable saying it to their partners.
Someone who can’t say “I love you” may have a problem with commitment. He may see love as the shackle around his ankle and just won’t go there. On the other hand, some people use the “I love you” expression to reel in a mate who really isn’t ready yet, trying to guilt them into staying put.
The point is to try to wait to say “I love you” until you feel pretty certain you and your partner are on the same love page. Discuss your feelings for each other to test the waters. How do you feel about each other? Do you like spending time together? Do you see a future together? Do you feel you’re right for each other?
And if you’ve said the “L” word too soon, it’s OK to say, “Oops, I blurted that out in a gooey moment and I’m not really sure I'm ready either.” That will take some of the pressure off of your partner to reciprocate his feelings at that moment.
Once you’re ready to say “I love you,” say it loud and say it proud. Everyone wants to know, feel and hear they are loved. And eventually your children will learn from you how to express their love and how to mean it.