Auntie SparkNotes: L-Bombed
I've been dating a guy for almost a month now, and last week we went to prom. We were slow dancing and when the song ended we shared our first kiss. And after that I thought I heard "I love you" but I wasn't quite sure because it was loud in there, so I didn't say anything. Then, I was talking with my best friend (who is also friends with him) about it and she later told me that I had heard right -- my boyfriend had said "I love you."
Well, now I'm kinda freaking out about what to do because I don't think I'm ready to say it back. I don't want to say it and then not mean it, but I don't want him to get upset if I don't say it back. HELP! What do I need to do? What do I say if he says it again??
We'll get to the Classy Human's Guide to Handling Premature Confessions of Love in just a second... but first, I should probably mention that, unless you and your boyfriend were close before you began dating, "I love you" is going to mean a different thing after less than a month than it would after a longer-term relationship.
Which isn't to say that your guy didn't mean what he said—just that in this case, "I love you" probably translates more as "HOLYOMG we just kissed and I'm having so much FUN and this girl is AMAZING in EVERY WAY and OMG HEART AND HORMONE EXPLOSION OF LOVE!!!," versus "We are soulmates forever, and here is one of my kidneys, and if you don't love me back IMMEDIATELY I will commit SUICIDE BY SPORK."
But that's a good thing! Because it means, first and foremost, that you don't need to panic. Even if he says it again, and even if you still aren't ready to say it back, it's still so early in your relationship. It makes perfect sense that your feelings might still need time to develop. And if he gets upset over your reticence—i.e. reacts angrily or guilts you for feeling the way you do—then that's not good. Not because his feelings are hurt, but because it's a big red flag for some seriously undesirable behavior. It's okay for him to be disappointed, but he should still be respectful; a good guy (or girl, for that matter) will respect an S.O.'s feelings and not try to force or manipulate the issue.
And not necessarily in this case, but in general, it's best to be wary of people who make big declarations of love very early in a relationship; it can be a warning sign of an abusive personality. (Sorry, buzzkill, I know. But I have to say it!)
That said, props to you for not wanting to say "I love you" until you actually mean it. Maturity win! And while it's always going to be awkward to be the recipient of an "I love you" when you're not ready to return the sentiment, the least squirm-inducing thing you can do is also one of the easiest: you tell your boyfriend that it means a lot to you, and you care for him, but you also take the L-word seriously and you're not ready to say it yet, and hopefully he's willing to be patient on that front.
Basically, you tell the truth: you don't not love him, and you're not closed to the possibility of loving him. You're just not there yet. Which is not what he probably wanted to hear, granted, but them's the breaks. (And the risks you take when you go dropping the L-bomb after less than a month.)
Has someone ever I-love-you-ed you too soon? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Of Old Ladies and Unspoken Love