What If You’re Not Ready To Say “I Love You”?

Elizabeth and Darren.
Elizabeth and Darren.

We were standing at the bottom of my parent’s stairs, saying goodbye for the night, when Darren first said the big three words.

I love you,” he said as he hugged me goodbye.

I froze. I wasn’t sure what to say because I wasn’t ready to say it to him. I was scared that he would be uncomfortable and bolt.

At this point we had only been dating for three months. In my mind that wasn’t long enough for him to get to know me and for me to get to know him. He was my first real boyfriend and I was new to the words and feelings of “I love you.” I was certain I liked him and wanted to continue dating him. I was confident I would get to the point of being able to say I love you, but I didn’t want to say it just because he said it first. I wanted to make sure that I really meant it.

I believe it is important it is to know what you are saying when you say those three important words. They have a lot of power, either to bring life to a relationship or to destroy it.

Sometimes, as was the case for Darren and me, both people aren’t ready to say “I love you” at the same time. In the TV show Gilmore Girls, Dean says “I love you” to Rory and she responds by just staring at him.  Dean assumes that her pause means that she doesn’t love him back and breaks up with her.

But Rory explains that it’s hard for her to say those words because of her family background. Her mom, Lorelai, got pregnant with Rory at 16. Lorelai said she loved Rory’s dad, but they aren’t together anymore. Because of that, Rory takes those words very seriously. She tries to explain that to Dean, but he shows little empathy. He says, “This is not something you have to think about Rory, this is something that you either feel or you don’t.”

Dean’s view puts the other person in an awkward place. He or she can either say “I love you” just to keep the relationship going or say nothing and kill their relationship. But this view of love doesn’t show much respect for the person who isn’t quite ready to say I love you. Forced love is not real love.

Sometimes we need to be patient while our significant other heals old wounds. Rory needed time to heal and really be able to count on Dean before she could say “I love you,” but he didn’t allow her that experience.

My now-husband Darren reacted differently by choosing to give our relationship life when he first said “I love you” that night at the bottom of the stairs. Although I wasn’t ready to say those words yet, Darren was kind, and he acknowledged that he didn’t want me to feel pressured to rush my feelings. He did not act threatened, insecure or defensive. Instead, he was patient.

Not once in the three months it took me to decide I loved him did I feel pressured by him to say those words. When I finally worked up the courage to tell him, he and I both knew it was how I truly felt. I’m glad that he allowed me time to come to the same conclusion by not making me feel bad or uncomfortable about not being on the same page with him right away.

In fact, his patience and understanding with me during that time, and the way that he loved me even when he was not sure if I returned his love, were signs to me that he was the kind of man that would love me unconditionally. The time he gave me to “take things slowly” and thoughtfully discern if I truly loved him was not wasted. It was time that allowed us to have the confidence that we really did love each other, and that we could continue to do so for life.

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