In this Question & Answer series, I take tackle questions that I’ve been asked more than once and share my answer. I have been asked some version of this question about when it’s the right time to say I LOVE YOU in a relationship several times. Here is the original letter from Feeling Stressed…
I’m writing to you in hopes for a little advice. I have been together with my LDR partner, Louise, for about seven months now. We often use Skype calls and chats to communicate.
My fear is that she has started to say “I love you,” a whole lot. I’ve said it back, but since then it started I feel like it was too soon. I’ve been in two VERY toxic relationships that started about the same way (just in person and not online), so just letting her in was a huge step for me.
Anyway, I want to tell her that we might be moving too fast but I don’t know how to do that gently. I don’t want to hurt her, but I don’t want to get burnt either. We haven’t even met in person. The closest we’ve gotten to being face to face is through Skype’s video call option.
I do have very strong feelings for her, and I would in fact say that I do love her, but it all feels so sudden! I have no idea what to do. Do you think that half a year and over 200 miles of distance is grounds for getting that involved? Would it even be fair of me to ask to slow down at this point or tell her I’m not ready to say I LOVE YOU?
These questions are starting to ruin me, and I’m afraid to ask anyone else. I’ll take any advice you’re willing to give.
Thanks for your time,
Dear Feeling Stressed,
First, I’m sorry that you’re feeling stressed. I know from personal experience just how uncomfortable this situation is. It sounds to me like you care for Louise a great deal, but you also feel you’re not ready to say those very important words, “I love you.” You don’t want to hurt her feelings by asking her to slow down, but you don’t want to get hurt because you rushed into something too fast, either.
Stressed, you asked me some questions. The first of those was whether I thought that half a year and over 200 miles of distance is grounds for getting “that involved.”
I’m undoubtedly biased on this point. Six months after I met the man who is now my husband online—and after spending only 20 days total in the same country—we got engaged. So, yes, I think it’s entirely possible to get that involved after only seven months and over a far greater distance than 200 miles.
The second question you asked me was this: “Would it even be fair of me to ask her to slow down at this point?”
Stressed, what is “fair” is only part of the issue here. The deeper thing you need to consider is what you “need” and why you’re feeling this internal pressure to slow things down.
Your desire to slow down suggests one of two things to me—either you really do need some more time and space to sort out what you’re feeling, OR you need to work harder to push past your own fear of, as you put it, “getting burnt.”
Given that you say that you actually do think you love this woman, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that it’s mostly the latter.
I don’t think that the best way to push past your fear is to continue to say “I love you” when you’re not feeling quite ready for that. But if you care for Louise as much as it sounds like you do, you do need to move forward in some way.
For starters, you need to ask yourself what saying “I love you” means to you. Why is that phrase making you nervous? What commitment do you feel that you’re making, exactly? What do you think those words will lead Louise to expect from you? And if you’re not ready to say “I love you” what are some other ways you could take a step forward in your relationship?
Now I have a question for you, Stressed: Why haven’t you met face to face yet?
Seven months is a long time to invest in forming a meaningful connection with someone without ever meeting them face to face. And two hundred miles is actually not that far apart. Unless you’re both fifteen or incredibly broke, you could easily have made a face-to-face meeting happen before this. Why haven’t you?
I’m guessing that the tension you’re feeling now is less related to the phrase “I love you” and more related to the fact that you know you’re at a cross-roads with this woman. You either have to commit to moving forward in some way—no matter how scared or scarred you feel—or you need to stop wasting her time, and yours.
I don’t know what moving forward might look like to you, but I suggest that meeting face to face would be a good place to start.
Oh, and talk this over with Louise. Sure, she will probably feel stung if you tell her that you’re not quite sure you’re ready for the words “I love you.” But I suspect her hurt will be short-lived if you can also tell her that you care deeply for her, that you want to keep moving forward in your relationship, and what you’d like that to look like. But after you’ve gathered up your courage to have this conversation, don’t forget to also ask her about her thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the topic. And listen well.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you won’t let your choices be guided by your fears–fear is rarely a trustworthy navigator. And I don’t know what the future holds for you, but I hope you and Louise end up closer and stronger down the road.
May this crossroad be the first one you face together, but not the last.
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