“My boyfriend and I have been together for one year, and we are starting to have conversations about the future. We align on so much in terms of family and lifestyle, but here’s the hitch: he hasn’t said, ‘I love you.’ I said it six months ago. When I finally asked about it, he said he just doesn't know yet. Is this normal to not be sure after a year? I am really worried these future conversations are moot.”
It is really vulnerable to put yourself out there, and be left hanging for six months. So, first of all, I commend you for not self-sabotaging an otherwise happy relationship in the six months since you said ILY.
It would have been very easy to fall into a trap where you think two people are supposed to feel the exact same thing at the exact same time, or the relationship is doomed. Just like orgasming at the same time or wanting to commit at the same time, confessing mutual love in the same moment is one of the great fallacies of romantic relationships: That successful relationships are founded on perfect timing. In reality, they are founded on patience, understanding, open discussions, problem solving and believing in your partner. You’ve already shown you’ve got the mettle to make this work.
Of course, you want to know your partner loves you; that’s natural! But there are tons of people who have hang-ups about saying the words. Maybe your boyfriend has never felt romantic love before and has nothing to compare it to. Or maybe he’s just not verbal. Here are two big questions to ask yourself.
Is he committing in significant ways?
I’d be concerned if he was trying to shut the conversation down at every turn, but it sounds like you and your boyfriend have talked about his hang-up on the L-word. There’s a big difference between blowing off your feelings or being evasive about why he hasn’t said it and him actually trying to articulate some complicated feelings because he’s committed to you holding himself accountable.
I’d make sure he knows that hearing the word is important to you, and that you’d want to know if he thinks he can’t ever get there. However, keep having check-ins. If he’s honestly unsure what the emotion feels like, you could try to explain how you knew you loved him or what love feels like to you. If he says he sees you in his version of forever, that’s a good thing. If he’s making commitments with you—intro’ing you to family, co-adopting a dog, moving in together, making year-out travel plans, for instance—that’s the path to love.
Look for the signs. And when you feel insecure or concerned, keep the conversation open and free flowing.
Do you feel loved by him?
I understand that the words are important to you. But let’s think about the bigger picture here: do you feel loved? Does he make sure you’re taken care of? Does he take a genuine interest in your life, happiness and well-being? Is he generous? Is he kind? Is he thoughtful?
Love takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s communicated verbally, which is what society puts on a pedestal and immortalizes through John Cusack declaring his love with a boombox overhead. But I’d argue the purest, hardest-to-fake, most-personal form of love is the type that’s communicated in a pattern of actions. If he fills up your gas tank in the winter because he doesn’t want you to have to stand outside in the cold, or if he makes you dinner when you’re working late...well, that’s love, too, in my humble opinion.
The patterns of action are what matter most. Do you feel the love from him? The care? The consideration and commitment? The love may be there, and he’s just not totally aware of it. Yet.
Give it time. Keep talking about it; I think he’ll get there. In the meantime, reframe your situation. You may realize that he’s already told you he loves you.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, speaker, and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at email@example.com.