July 22nd, 2008 by Nina Atwood
Dear Nina: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about a month and a half. We’ve been moving at a good pace and I hope we have a strong future ahead of us. I believe he’s going to tell me he loves me soon (he’s given me indications he’s been feeling this way). I’m not sure I’m there yet. Is it concerning for someone to tell you they love you so early on in a relationship? How long should one wait? – Debbie
Dear Debbie: In dating, the words “I love you” are often spoken to describe the experience of falling in love, which is not necessarily the same as loving someone. To love someone, and to feel loved, you must have intimacy, and I don’t mean sex. If you break it down phonetically, intimacy is “into me see,” meaning that you are open and transparent enough for another person to have a strong sense of the real person underneath your social mask.
In dating, especially at one and a half months, it’s not easy to get to that level of emotional intimacy. To really get there, you have to peel away a few layers, and that usually takes time together, some conflict or the possibility of conflict, and the experience of working through something together. It also helps if you share your life stories in depth, not just the good but the mistakes, regrets, and losses.
So the bigger question in your question is this: how well do you really know one another? If the answer is very well, then you are on the map of the map of intimacy. Only time will tell. Your not feeling you are ready to say “I love you” may be a reflection of not yet having gone deep enough in revealing your selves to one another; if that’s the case, make that your goal. Drop any remaining masks, really open up, and see what develops in your hearts.
Meanwhile, if he says the words and you don’t yet feel them, be honest; the worst thing you can do is fake it by saying it too soon. Suggested script: “I’m so flattered that you feel this way, and I just need more time to let my heart open up with you. I hope you can handle that. When I tell you I love you, I will mean it; I won’t be parroting what you said in return.”