Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I am a 26-year-old woman who recently started dating again after taking a break for a couple years to heal from a mental-health crisis. While on this dating hiatus, I did a lot of thinking about shitty patterns in my past relationships.
Examples of these patterns include: dating people I had nothing in common with and spending so much time with them I had no choice but to fall in love with them, falling for people with quick tempers that matched my own and mistaking constant arguments for ardor, and especially choosing people who were withholding or cruel in certain ways and thinking that I could change them.
I guess what I realized on the break was that I’d never actually been in love, and every time I thought I'd been in love it was just a reflection of some kind of mischaracterized passion.
Anyway, now I’ve been dating someone for about six months. I think I’m in love with him. He is kind, progressive, intelligent, admires and respects women, and doesn’t wield any of those identities like a cudgel. We have a lot in common and rarely argue. I trust him a great deal and have told him many potentially scary details about my family and personal mental-health history.
But I don’t trust myself enough to tell him I love him, because of all the times I’ve been wrong before; and because what if I say it, and mean it, and he’s not there yet, and then I have to break up with him because I’m sad and embarrassed?
I guess the crux of my question is: When is the right time to tell someone you’re in love with them? And what happens if they don’t say it back?
In Love (Probably)
Dear In Love (Probably)
Congrats, this is truly a wonderful problem to have! Six months into a new relationship and most likely in love is one of the best relationship times. Some people will tell you it’s the very early days, but those people are liars who thrive on novelty. The first few months are just a whirlwind of anxiety (will he text me back? Yay he did… what the fuck does this emoji mean? Oh no he’s into anime will I have to start watching anime?) but you’re now reasonably certain that, when this person sends you a sushi emoji, it’s a dinner suggestion and not a weird sex thing.
This is also, in my opinion, the perfect time to tell someone you love that you love them. Six months is pretty ideal — not alarmingly early but not so long that it seems strange to have waited. In terms of actually saying the thing, well, I assume you started to wonder about it when, under certain conditions, you were confronted with the urge to say it. So, just stop stopping yourself from blurting it out. It need not be an orchestrated production.
And look, if he does not immediately say it back you might feel hurt and embarrassed. That is a sadly unavoidable risk of being a person. Everything about us is embarrassing. Feelings are unending mortification, bodies betray us in a million humiliating ways, and the mortifying feeling of wanting to have your humiliating body very close to someone else’s is a high-wire act without a net.
But what choice do you have here? Sure, you could wait it out and see if he says it first, but knowing you love someone and not telling them strikes me as the silliest thing I can imagine. If he doesn’t feel the same now it’s unlikely he will in three months, or a year, and ultimately it is always better to know.
As to the question of knowing, there’s something in your question that I’d like to spend a minute on. Specifically, the part where you say that what you previously thought might be love was something else entirely. You are very young, so it’s possible and even likely that your past experiences of love were actually something closer to lust, but I’m a bit troubled by the notion that we can all engage in a sort of revisionist romantic history. I’ve been in love with people who didn’t love me back. I’ve been in love with people who didn’t treat me well. I’m not inclined to go back and say that those ones didn’t count. This strikes me as a miserly emotional accounting, and insufficient to describing love as it often does exist. If “real” love is only ever perfectly healthy and reciprocated then that leaves a great many of us struggling to imagine we’ve ever experienced it.
At the end of my life, I’d prefer to make the most generous view possible of how many people I loved while I had the chance. So just tell him already, and be glad you feel like saying it at all.
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