Ask Lynn-I Said, “I Love You” First

Those three little words slipped out, but her boyfriend says he can’t reciprocate yet…what to do?

By Lynn Harris

ear Lynn,
I’ve been seeing my boyfriend for about two months. One night while he and I were lying in bed, the words “I love you” slipped out of my mouth. He seemed happy but said he couldn’t say the words back to me because he doesn’t know if he loves me or not. What should I do? I feel like I made a huge mistake
I feel that I’m putting pressure on him and don’t want to.
by telling him how I feel. I do feel like I love him but now I’m hurt that he doesn’t love me. I know he cares about me and likes me, but am I asking too much of him too soon? I feel that I’m putting pressure on him and don’t want to. I do want him to say the words, but I want him to mean it. I don’t want him to say it just to make me feel better but I know I’ll be deeply hurt if he doesn’t because I’ll feel that he’s not that into me or the relationship as I am. What should I do?
- Lost in Love

Dear Lost in Love,
Ah, those three little words: “Whoops! No pressure!” I know having said them may feel like a massive gaffe, but it’s not. First of all, how wonderful it is that you were so in the moment that the three little words slipped out! A lot of people spend (waste?) those opportunities for bliss doing a lot of over-thinking, in all sorts of three-word combinations: What just happened? Where’s this going? What’s s/he thinking? You, instead, were basically thinking, “Me happy now.” And that, in essence, is what popped out of your mouth.

But I do understand exactly why you feel things are lopsided now. You said it; you’re not sure if he’s ready to say or even hear it. And at this point, you’re not sure if he’ll ever be.

Here’s the thing, though. You might have discovered that your feelings felt lopsided even without this incident. Something else might have happened. You might have sensed some other hesitation on his part, even something you couldn’t put your finger on. And you might
“I love you” means different things to different people.
not have known how to bring it up.

Instead, this situation offers you a concrete opportunity. Not to push things, just to open a conversation. I know you’ve already discussed it to some degree, but you can also say something like, “Hey, I don’t take back what I said, but I can see why it might have put some pressure on you. But at this point, this early on, there’s no need for you to take it as a demand for a response. Don’t worry about saying it or not saying it. Let’s just enjoy each other and what we have so far. That’s the only way to find out how we truly feel about this relationship. Sound OK to you?”

Keep in mind, in the meantime, that “I love you” means different things to different people. Some are very free with it, some feel it’s tantamount to “Please marry me.” The fact that you’re not on the same schedule doesn’t necessarily mean anything. That said, your job will be to get the focus off what he said and onto what he does. Does he treat you sweetly, like a keeper? Is he present, focused, and committed to the relationship today? That’s what you need to watch for. His saying “I love you” is ultimately the icing on the cake of an already-good relationship. Because it’s committed, devoted actions, really, that speak those three words.

Lynn Harris ( is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (, of the award-winning website — you can visit BG's blog to discuss this letter! A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times,,, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your own dating questions for Ask Lynn via Your question may be answered in a future column.
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