When he tells you he loves you

You’ve been dating a guy for a little while — no more than a month. You get along great, enjoy your time together, and perhaps have had a sleepover (or two). But you’re just getting to know each other, and you aren’t even sure if you’re interested in him long-term, although you enjoy his company. But there are some yellow flags that make you doubt that you’ll be together in six months. You try to put aside your concerns and just focus on enjoying your time together.

Then it happens. As he hugs and kisses you goodbye, he whispers in your ear, “I love you.”

You freeze. While you’ve longed to hear those three words — but not necessarily from him — you are caught off guard. What do you do? Do you utter “I love you” back, even though you know you are fond of him, but don’t quite feel “love” at this point? Or do you convince yourself that loving someone is the same as being fond of them, so it’s okay to say it?

If you hesitate too long, he’ll know it’s an obligatory “I love you,” not a heartfelt one. How do you respond — with “Thank you,” “I know” or “There are many things I love about you, too”? These sound so flat. But if you say those three words and don’t truly mean them, will more harm be done? So should you not say anything?

The quandary is when you know you care for him, am fond of him, yes, perhaps even love him, but you know you’re not in love with him. The former can be felt for anyone toward whom you have affection. The latter is for very few — someone who makes your heart beat faster, you ache for when he’s away, have a mix of excitement and calm when you hear his voice, and get those silly goose bumps when he strokes your arm or kisses you. “In love” is reserved for someone with whom you think you could go the distance, will have your back, and be your partner, mate or husband.

So, what do you say when he says “I love you” and you’re not ready to say it back? Maybe you know you’ll never be able to sincerely say “I’m in love with you,” but right now you have to say something.

At this time, a simple whispered, “Thank you, sweetie” should suffice. But the next time you talk, you need to bring up how you feel. Something like, “I really appreciated your telling me you love me the other day. I like how you are able to express your feelings to me. I want you to know that I am very fond of you, and it takes me a while to feel I love someone. I don’t want you to think I don’t care about you if I don’t say ‘I love you.’ And I don’t want you to feel you can’t say it to me if that’s what you’d like to do.”

But the larger picture needs to be addressed at some point. If you are both seeing this as an activity-partner-with-benefits relationship, then the “love” issue shouldn’t be a problem. But when one of you sees the other as “the one” and the other realizes that s/he probably won’t ever feel that way, best to get that out in the open. If it is you who is not feeling it, then it’s your responsibility to start the conversation and be as gentle as possible. You don’t want to lead him on if he has a different expectation.

However, I also know that this conversation can create hurt and upset, even if you’ve been honest all along that you’re not “in love.” False expectations can build up quickly. So best not to let the fantasies simmer.

What have you done when you’ve heard “I love you” before you’re feeling it, or when you hear it and know you’ll never feel similarly?

Technorati Tags:,,,,,,,, , , , ,

Got a topic on dating after 40 you want Dating Goddess to address? Send your issue to Goddess@DatingGoddess.com.


14 responses to “When he tells you he loves you”

  1. bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    I haven’t had this experience, in the past I was always the one saying ‘I love you’ to a guy who couldn’t care less about me.. 🙁 Needless to say, I don’t say those words to anyone except close friends and family anymore. I like what you wrote here, as always your advice is first rate.

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  2. Casey Dawes Avatar

    This is an excellent post. I’ve too often said “I love you” in the heat of passion. For a very long time (too long), I confused sex and love. Also, I’ve had guys in my life who tell me, “I love you,” knowing it’s what I want to hear so that they can sleep with me.

    Fortunately, my current husband and I waited close to nine months (hmmmm) before I said, “I love you.” Within the next 24 hours, he, too, confessed he loved me. That was six years ago and now we say it often! :-))

  3. Christine Avatar

    DG! I can’t help but wonder if these last few posts are all questions from your own recent experience?!? Oh, DO TELL, inquiring blog friends want to know! lol

  4. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Well, Christine, all my posts are based or informed by my own experiences, or those of my friends. Some are triggered by recent events, others by conversations I’ve had,or comments from DG readers. I usually reference a particular guy if I think it’s important for readers to know the context.
    But sometimes I purposefully don’t reference a specific guy as I want the lesson or insight to stand on its own. Make sense?

  5. NYSharon Avatar

    Sometimes I love You just slipps out doesn’t it? I have just said back, “I love being with you too sweety–its been great/fun/hot/intense” and then LET IT GO. I don’t believe in getting into all the lengthy discussion crap and I don’t think men want that–it’s just uncomfortable.

  6. Guy Gets Girl Fan Avatar

    Nice post. I can’t say I’ve ever blurted that out to a girl, but hopefully I will get the chance one day.

  7. Chrys Avatar

    I really appreciated your comments on this issue; my entire dating experience has revolved around the men in my life confessing their love to me mere weeks or months after dating. This occurence often leads me to be frustrated and withdrawn for some of the above mentioned reasons. I feel guilty for not ‘loving’ him back, or not as quickly, I become upset because I question the genuineness of the statement so soon after dating, etc. Luckily the man I’m with now has told me he loves me but knows I take a while to feel the same way and knows I’m more cautious. I’m lucky that he said it in a really healthy, positive way. There were no strings, or expectations of returned ‘love’. Thanks for the post…always a pleasure to read!

  8. Bethany Avatar

    The guy im going out with told me he loves me the VERY second day. What am i supposed to do?

  9. Richard Avatar

    I wish there was a better vocabulary to express one’s feelings during the beginning stages of a relationship. It is easy to tell someone what they are feeling, but when you express it yourself, it sounds so cold. At the beginning, there is an initial attraction that can be all consuming, but is the most superficial level of “love”. You feel you “love” the person. When we see it in our kids, we tell them you have a crush, puppy love, etc.

    How do you express your feelings to the other person? I have a crush on you? I am infatuated with you? Nothing sounds right to me. So, I am left with “I like you a lot”; telling her “you look beautiful”; and silently baring my soul as we gaze into each other’s eyes. This leaves me very sad because of all the emotions bottled up looking for a way to escape. And, so I write a love letter.

    Some relationships develop very quickly. If there is mutual attraction, it can get to the infatuation stage by the 2nd date. When that happens, it is magical. Bethany, in your situation, it seems like it is very one sided. You may like him, but nothing close to what he is feeling. Unfortunately, it may be a sign of a very needy person. And, like Mike commented on “Are your early contact expectations out of whack?”, your best course of action may be to run.

    Short of that, you can tell him you appreciate his feelings for you. Tell him he is feeling the rush of initial attraction, and that it takes time to develop true love. That you like him and would like to get to know him better. On the 3rd date, it is not unkind to be brutally honest on this matter. It is something he needs to learn and control.

    The harder situation is the one described in this post. There is a relationship, and one person wants to take it to the next level, and the other is not ready. That can be heartbreaking.

  10. sandra Avatar

    My boyfriend just told me he loved me about a month after us dating. He makes my heart beat fast, I think about him night and day, he is far away right now so I only get to see him a few times a week. He was actually my first love, my first boyfriend, my highschool sweetheart. I grew up in a strict muslim household and so after a year or so my parents broke us up and after a few attempts to contact me, my mother told him to stay away. 15 years later I am 29 years old, and he is 31, throught the magic of facebook, we reconnected, he lives over an hour away but we talk on the phone everday, and just last night he told me he loves me. We have only kissed so far and I like it that way. I do feel I love him, I said I love you too after he said it because in my heart I do feel I love him but it was somewhat hard for me to say. Maybe because it was the first time, I don’t know….please let me know your thoughts.

  11. Emily Avatar

    I’d been dating a guy for about a week, and we discussed how we feel. He’d never had a girlfriend before, and I had just come out of a horrible break up. I was on the fence and I really couldn’t tell at all how I was feeling about him. We had a discussion about where we wanted to take our budding relationship and we both talked about how we have no idea how we feel about each other. I of course started to feel embarrassed and stupid and felt like going home was probably the best idea…but my phone was dead and I was in the middle of eastbumble with no idea how to get home. I used his phone and called my friend who was intoxicated and couldn’t help me out haha. SO I decided I was going to brave the night and head out alone. I started getting my shoes on and he had this look on his face, he came over to me and started hugging me and squeezing and told me he didn’t want me to go, that he wanted me to stay. I responded; telling him that I didn’t want him to ask me to stay because he felt sorry for me, or guilty in some way. He said he didn’t feel sorry or guilty at all, that he genuinely wanted me to stay…when I asked why? He said it. “I Love You”

    What do you even do? I figured he’s never had a girlfriend before, perhaps hes more in love with the idea of being in love…not necessarily with me. I told him that I couldn’t say it back at the moment..because I wasn’t feeling it yet, and I don’t throw those words around willy-nilly. I figured the next morning he’d have slept on it and thought to himself “what in the name of old ladies bloomers did I say to her last night.” but to my surprise..he didn’t. We were cuddling in the morning, and it really did feel so right. I looked at him, and for those moments I felt it. I felt love for him, and I told him how I was feeling. I was terrified and thought he’d say he made a mistake..but he just grabbed me and squeezed me and said it again. Needless to say I left that morning, went home and told him that perhaps we should just be friends. Only to realize I was a flaming idiot, and I could have very well been falling in love.

  12. Olivia Avatar

    I’ve been officially going out with my boyfriend for one month but we have been speaking for 5 months prior to this. He lives far so we see each other once or twice a week and I still feel I’m in the stage where I’m getting to know him. Lately after we talk on the phone he’s been saying I love you and I don’t know what to respond back. I brought the I love you conversation up to him and I told him I cared about him and I don’t use that word loosely. I’m afraid he thinks just because we are in a relationship he has to say it. When we spoke about the I love you I told him he might think he is but actually isn’t and his respond was I would not be with you if I wasn’t. I don’t know what to do I care about him but I’m not quite there yet with I love you.

  13. laura Avatar

    dg, i’m currently going out with a guy. we got together really quickly after knowing each and we haven’t even been dating a week when he’s already said “i love”, “i miss you”. I don’t feel that way about him as i went into the relationship looking for a bit of fun. i do want to stay with him for a while but how do i tell him that i don’t love him? x

  14. meg Avatar

    Please anyone I need help!!! I have been dating this guy for a couple of days and he sent me a text saying that he loved me. I just acted like I never got it but I have to talk to him tomorow because we agreed to hang out what Im I gonna say??? I do love him but Im just not ready to say it and when I do what do I say it what Im i to say “Love ya 2” aaaaah Im flipping out HELP PLEASE ANY ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!