New relationships are exciting, but it can also be scary to feel vulnerable. For many of us, one of the biggest challenges is to say “I love you” for the first time. Especially if we are going to be the first person to say it!
Recently someone wrote poignantly about his fears to my advice column in The Washington Blade. Here’s his letter and my reply.
Of course, this issue transcends sexual orientation. So no matter who you are, if you are struggling to tell your significant other, “I love you” for the first time, this is for you.
I’m 22 and in my first real relationship with another guy.
I think we’re at a standstill because neither of us has said, “I love you.”
I’m scared to say it unless I know he feels the same way. What if he doesn’t? I would be so embarrassed about being premature or misreading him.
I think he does love me — he’s very sweet and romantic and looks really happy whenever we’re together. Last week was my birthday and he sent flowers to my office! But I’m still scared he might not be “there” yet.
When I was in high school another boy and I were really close. We were always hanging out together (nothing physical). I was in the closet and didn’t come out to him, or him to me, and in junior year his family moved away. I had really intense feelings and wanted to tell him I loved him, but I was afraid I might be wrong and he wouldn’t talk to me again or would tell people I was gay.
I know this isn’t the same situation at all. Jeremy and I are boyfriends and it’s clear we like each other a lot. But I’m still scared of making myself vulnerable and then feeling foolish.
When I think about telling Jeremy I love him, I can’t help thinking that he hasn’t said, “I love you” to me either. Maybe he’s scared, too. That’s hard for me to believe, because he is a very confident guy. So then I think if I tell him and he doesn’t feel that way he will see me as needy or clingy and dump me.
But right now it just feels to me like there’s some barrier that we have to cross if we’re going to really be a couple. I’d like to cross it but I’m scared of ruining what we have right now or feeling like a fool.
You can either have an intimate relationship or be safe. Take your pick.
Intimacy means letting someone know you well. This includes stuff you might get judged on, such as saying “I love you” when you’re the only one who feels that way. So if you want to be in a close relationship, you have to be up for facing rejection, disappointment and heartbreak at times. There’s no way around this.
Yes, I know it’s scary to go out on a limb, but you do love Jeremy and you want this relationship to move forward. Here’s your opportunity to advance.
I have to say, from your description, it does seem likely that Jeremy will be glad to hear your words. He sounds like a sweetheart who cares a lot about you. But you do not get a guarantee as to how he will respond.
That’s true for everyone in life. We all have to take chances and do what we think is right without knowing how it’s going to turn out.
Of course, you could wait for Jeremy to tell you he loves you before you tell him how you feel. That would certainly be the safer route, because you’d eliminate the risk of his not reciprocating your feelings.
But it may be that Jeremy is also scared to tell you. If you each are waiting for the other person to make the first move, you’re going to have a long wait. Why should you not be the one to go first?
Keep in mind that this isn’t the only time you’re going to face a situation like this, where you believe it’s important that you speak up about something, but are scared about the outcome.
Taking a pass now won’t make it any easier to do this down the road. But if you do tell Jeremy how you feel, you will learn that you can survive making a scary move without knowing how it will turn out. Because no matter how Jeremy responds, you will survive. Going through this experience will help you to make similar moves going forward.
If you’re going to be in a strong and solid relationship, you need to be able to handle the possibility of disappointment, and soothe yourself when things don’t go the way you’d like.
Perhaps the coolest and most spiritual gift of being in a relationship is that you are handed one opportunity after another to become more resilient.
You are being handed such an opportunity now.