Hoping For Those Three Little Words

June 27, 2013

You don’t want this

Dear Susan,

Love your website. Have been an avid reader for a couple years now. I hope you can take a look at my situation as outlined below. I’m having a hard time understanding if the relationship I am in currently is likely to lead to marriage.

We met online five months ago. We met for coffee and hit it off, then went out again on a more real “first date” (dinner and activity) two days later. We’ve been somewhat inseparable since. We’re both 26 years old, he’s a geoscientist and I’m a PhD student.

He’s been in one other long-term relationship that lasted about 2 years and just “fizzled” (his words) at the end. I’ve only dated men for very short periods of time (1 month-ish) because if I can’t see long-term possibilities with the guy, I don’t like to stick around or put out, so this is officially the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. We both were openly exclusive from the beginning, but we didn’t become bf/gf until almost three weeks after we met. We slept together a couple days before we confirmed bf/gf.


Since then, we’ve gone on weekend trips together, met each other’s friends, he’s met my parents, and we now spend more than 5 nights a week together. We both agree this is a serious relationship that has “value”, but we don’t talk about our feelings very often. We’re not gushy people. He especially doesn’t openly like to talk about how he feels, but instead says he likes to show his feelings in actions.

At about 3.5 months, I was bursting to say “I love you”, and finally said it to him early one morning. I was confident in saying it, and wasn’t fully expecting him to return the sentiment. That’s exactly what happened, and he was very appreciative, but wanted to think about how he felt. About a month passed, and I didn’t drop the words again in the space between because I didn’t want him to say anything he didn’t actually feel. It’s not fair to prompt someone to say it, but at the same time it’s hard to wait for reciprocitation. I said it again last week, in the hopes that his feelings were clearer, but I still didn’t get a return sentiment.

I’ve thought about how this could be a permanent long-term relationship, but I’m feeling less confident in his feelings developing in quite the same way as mine. For all the time we spend together and for all the fun we have together, it seems as if he should be at the same point as me, yet the words haven’t come out yet. I can respect waiting for his feelings to develop to the same place as mine, but I also think that I’m emotionally at risk if I wait too long to hear him say it back. Is there (or should there be?) an expiry date on relationships?


Dear Alison,

First thing: Stop saying it.

I understand the temptation to elicit the response from him, but trust me, he knows you’re waiting and he’ll say it if and when he’s ready. 

I’m very traditional about this – in my experience, things go better when men say it first. Women escalate emotionally to foster the desire for commitment, but I think it’s his job to let you know when you’ve succeeded. By telling him first, you’ve gotten out of sync with him, and made commitment seem like an obligation.

Second thing: Stop worrying and stop hurrying.

You’ve only been in a relationship for four months. Some couples don’t even get to bf/gf that fast. The fact that you became inseparable very quickly and spend most of your free time together clearly indicates that he enjoys your company, values the relationship, and is giving you pride of place in his life. His actions do indeed indicate a serious attachment. 

How do you feel when you are together? Is there emotional intimacy? Is the sex very connected? Is he spontaneously affectionate? He’s already told you he prefers to show his feelings – do you feel secure in what he is showing you? If you feel loved when he looks at you, trust that. If you feel like more of a sex partner without an emotional component, heed the anxiety that produces in you. If you feel like his kid sister or a buddy, pay attention to that. What does your gut tell you?

For many men, saying “I love you” is a very serious commitment. Some guys have told me they would only say it if they’re sure they want to marry the person, especially once they reach the age where settling down is a realistic option. I’ve known other guys who are serial monogamists, and have said it to ten different women. You don’t want a guy who throws those words around or says “I love YouTube” really fast. 

Third thing: Recognize that your feelings will never match exactly.

It’s not really valid to compare his feelings to yours. What amounts to “very intense” feelings may not be the same for each of you. There’s no metric that says you both need to reach precisely the same degree of emotional investment, passing 98.6 and heading to 103. You could both be very happy and not be in exactly the same place, because you’re different people with different personalities and attachment styles. 

A therapist once told me that every relationship is comprised of a pursuer and a distancer. Things can never be equal. It sounds like you’re the pursuer in this relationship, and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with knowing how you feel about someone. What’s important, though, is that you maintain your independence and ability to enjoy your own life without demonstrating excessive need. In other words, give him space. After just five months, asking him to be sure he wants to marry you is asking a lot.

Is there an expiration date? Not really, though I think the one year mark is a reasonable time to have a very frank conversation about where the relationship is headed. If he is not in love with you by that point, I don’t think he will be. But I think you’ll know intuitively if the relationship stalls. The emotional component between you won’t feel right. Trust your gut and let go of your expectations around the vocabulary. Give him the opportunity to demonstrate his feelings without pressure, in the way he has told you he prefers.

For the record, I can’t remember when Mr. HUS and I said “I love you” for the first time – I asked him and he doesn’t know either! In retrospect, that moment was not important, it’s what was happening without words that mattered.

I’m eager to hear what the other readers have to say – be sure to check out the comments, where you’ll get plenty of male and female feedback.

I hope this helps,