Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Hasn't He Said I Love You?

Dear Jocelyn,
When is it "time" to say "I love you"? I have been in a relationship for over nine months. He's a wonderful man—an engineer, and a very, very pragmatic individual who has a difficult time acknowledging his emotions. I love him truly, but I know I cannot wait forever for him to figure it out. He easily shies away from discussing anything emotional and when we have talks, it's mostly me talking. He's 26
I am told this is young for guys. I also have not met his family yet. They are out of the country and I will be meeting them next month. He has made comments about his roommate's parents meeting her significant other and how big it was for the family to meet him, so I am guessing it's cultural and that he's waiting until his family gives the seal of approval to really make a verbal commitment with me.

It's actually what I am desperately hanging onto as far as an explanation as to why I feel so unsure about where he is. It's all so cryptic, like I am having to read into everything he does in order to find out what I need to know. He's not much of a "sweet gestures" kind of guy
 flowers, cards, and so forth are not quite his speed, although he knows I love that stuff. It's something I have accepted, and gladly so. He has a heart of gold, he's a Christian, close to his family, and a very reasonable man. I trust him. He is loyal as anything, but just emotionally stunted.

I'm willing to wait. I'm definitely excited to meet his family and see what he's like in his home, but what if he never says "the L word"? Do I say it? If he doesn't say it back, is that a deal breaker?

I want to spend my life with him. I want to travel with him, have a family one day with him, and all those things. He's a great companion. But I'm getting antsy for some sign of commitment and I feel as though I am becoming one of those girls who tries to force it out of him, which will then make it all null and void. It needs to happen organically, and I know that when (if ever) he does say "I love you," it will be exceedingly meaningful. I guess my question is this: Is it ever too late? Is it abnormal to wait this long?

Dear Unsure,
Oh, this is one of the reasons I am happy to not be dating anymore. I say this in all sincerity and with full sympathy. The timing of saying "I love you" is a very individual thing—one person might be ready after the second date, while another person might not be ready until a year later. This is not because the first person has stronger feelings, but because of what they believe love is. It also has to do with personality; someone who is more outgoing and effusive is more likely to say it than someone who is reserved.

It can also be influenced by personal beliefs. The first time my husband said, "I love you" was during his proposal—he didn't believe it was right to tell a girl he loved her without making a promise of marriage. At that point we were both fairly bursting with the desire to say it to each other.

All of this is to say that there are many possible explanations for why your boyfriend has not yet said that he loves you. It is likely that he is waiting until after you have met his family, although that is impossible to say for sure.

It seems like the real issue is that you are unsure of how he feels about you and where your relationship is heading. This is something that can only be solved by talking to him. It is not too forward to sit your boyfriend down and ask him where he sees this relationship going. Doing this well depends on your tone and how you pose the questions; ask him out of curiosity, not to pressure him into one answer or another. Once he tells you what his intentions are, it is up to you to decide what you want to do. If you want to marry him, and he says that he is happy with perpetually dating, that would be cause for concern (and might be a sign for you to end the relationship).

You said in your letter that you want a "verbal commitment"; however, that is not what "I love you" is. Two 14-year-old children can say that to each other
that doesn't mean they have made a commitment. Those words are certainly very nice to hear, but a real sign of commitment is an engagement ring.

If you do become engaged, I would recommend premarital counseling to help you communicate with each other. If he has trouble expressing his feelings while you are dating, that will cause problems in marriage. It is certainly not an insurmountable issue, but it is something you should address before getting married. You also might want to read the book The 5 Love Languagestogether to learn how to express affection in ways each other can appreciate.

I know this feels like a big struggle right now, but try to think long term for your relationship. Keeping the future in mind helps bring things into perspective.  Waiting a bit longer to say "I love you" will not harm your relationship, but forcing it too early might.


Anonymous said...

My husband first said "I love you" when proposing as well. but he had told me well before it was relevant in our relationship that he wasn't going to say it until he proposed to someone... I think it would have been uncomfortable if I jumped the gun. Definitely something where I want to make sure a guy is capable of taking the lead in the relationship.

Just my experience. I agree completely with Jocelyn's perspectives :-)

Anonymous said...

When my husband and I first started dating, I struggled a lot with this also. I figured he was just not the emotional type, I figured I had to give up on the idea of a storybook romance. I felt I had to rush to quickly ascertain if the relationship was going anywhere or not, and if not, break it off now because it's wasting my time.

I knew he was being extremely careful and deliberate to take things slow and not to repeat mistakes he had made in the past, and I appreciated that, but it frustrated me to no end. I later found out that he knew I was overly anxious to make a judgment, and he was keeping some distance deliberately to help me learn patience (and to protect us both).

Throughout our relationship I not only learned some patience but he learned how to communicate better with me and I learned to understand him better. Often he was completely unaware of things that I found puzzling or things that made me angry, so I did my best to make all that clear to him. I saw so much potential that I didn't want to throw the relationship away... Still there were a couple times I was ready to walk out, and both of these served to help "wake him up" and get his act together. I respected him more when I saw that improvement.

Eventually he proposed to me a little more than 2 years after we first started dating (exclusively... add another half a year for a developing friendship earlier). I would have said yes a year earlier or more, but I am very glad he didn't ask then, because it would have been a mistake- we still hadn't learned enough about relating with each other. Once we made that commitment, I saw a completely new side of him, and I was finally able to enjoy that lovey dovey side of romance that I thought I would never get.

Of course there's nothing to guarantee your situation will turn out like mine, but I do want to encourage you -- if you love and respect him so much as you say and can imagine a happy future with him -- to just be patient for a little more. I've heard of people dating for 6+ years once they are in their 20s, and that may be avoiding a commitment, but a year or two is really not an unusual time to wait, especially for these analytical cool-headed engineering types who take things step by step and want to be absolutely sure they are making the right decision.

Also, you mentioned connections to another country... if he is from another culture, this is also something to bear in mind. Culture has a big effect on people's inner notion of what "normal" is as far as communication, family, and many many topics. Learn as much about this other culture as you can and it will help you understand and support him better.

Wishing you all the best!

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