Those three little words mean so much more than that, at least to me. When I dated a guy for a year who couldn’t say he loved me, it was reason enough to leave the relationship.
I felt vulnerable because I said it first. I told him I loved him about three months into the relationship. He said it back, which made me feel better, but there was always a doubt in my mind that he didn’t really feel the same. I wish I’d held back and waited for him to say it first, but I told myself it didn’t matter. Unfortunately, that was the first and last time he said he loved me. Ever.
He showed me love… or so I thought. At first I thought it didn’t matter if he couldn’t say he loved me because he was always showing me that he did. For instance, he was always showering me with romantic gestures. Then I realized it really could’ve been something else. Buying me roses and telling me how beautiful I looked in a LBD made me feel special, but were those actions really love?
He fell short when it really counted. Sometimes, the way I wanted him to love me didn’t match how he showed love. For instance, when I wanted him to support me no matter what, he seemed to have a disclaimer: he’d only support me when it was convenient for him. When I wanted him to be affectionate, he wasn’t. These experiences made me wonder what the real problem really was.
He said those other three words instead. One day we were talking about relationships and love when he confessed that he never told partners that he loved them. As in, ever. Why? He had issues with it. Those were the three words he gave me: “I have issues.” Telling someone he loved them made him feel vulnerable and terrified, like standing on a cliff and fearing that he’d fall. OMG. He reassured me that he did love me, he just didn’t want to say it. Uh… right.
I realized I was trying to fix him. One night, when we had sex but it didn’t feel like we’d experienced emotional intimacy, I realized I’d been wasting my time trying to fix him. I was trying to make him love me in the way that he clearly didn’t. Part of the love I needed was hearing those three little words. If he couldn’t say them, then was I really getting the love I deserved?
I know it sounds petty but I won’t apologize for what’s important to me. Having a fit because he wasn’t telling me he loved me even though he was a good boyfriend in many other ways? Yeah, I know it sounds petty and childish, but I was realizing something important about love: there are many different ways to love and if two people can’t show it in the same way, there’s a huge problem in the relationship.
I started to feel unworthy. After months of seeing how differently the guy and I showed love, I started to feel depressed and unconfident. The more I told myself that it didn’t matter that he never told me he loved me, the more I battled to accept it. I felt even worse when I talked to him about it, which was really hard to do, and he told me I was being irrational.
I knew what I wanted. After years of being in relationships with toxic men who didn’t show me love or appreciate me, I knew I wanted the kind of love I felt I deserved. With this guy, I was clearly settling. If I didn’t get out of this relationship, I was just going to feel worse and worse. At least the one good thing that came out of this was that I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to back down.
His issues were bigger than three little words. It took me a while to see it, but my real issue with him wasn’t that he couldn’t tell me that he loved me (though that was a problem in itself). The issue was that I eventually realized he was a commitment-phobe. Major lightbulb moment!
I need a label-friendly relationship. If someone is so afraid of love that they can’t say they love their partner, they shouldn’t be in a relationship. Sooner or later, that terror will leak into the rest of his behavior, poisoning not only his speech but his behavior. I didn’t want to wait around to see that happen. I want to be with someone who can show me love and say that he loves me without hesitation. While actions are more important than words, I need both to be happy.
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