Dear Wendy: “I’m Scared To Say ‘I Love You'”

My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for a while now, and quite a few times in the past few months (especially recently) he’s told me that he loves me or is in love with me. Every time I’m with him my thoughts are screaming “I love you!” and I want to say it, and I’ve tried, but my head can never tell my mouth what to say, which leaves me wondering if I do indeed love him. When I’m with him, everything is finally okay, but when we’re apart, I don’t feel exactly right. I’m willing to do anything to see him happy, even if it means bending over backwards, which I’ve done, and I’ve sacrificed my own happiness for him a few times (he was unaware of it though) just to help things work for him. Twenty years from now, I want more than anything for him to be happy and with the love of his life, but sometimes I don’t think I’m her. There are times when I feel like we’re great now, but not necessarily forever, and that leaves me wondering if I really love him. What does it mean to you to be in love? If you’re in love does it mean that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person, or can it simply be something just for now? And also, how do I go about telling my boyfriend that I love him, when every time I’ve wanted to and tried, I’ve failed? I feel like I can’t rely on myself to say a simple “I love you” so are there other ways to do it, while keeping it incredibly romantic and memorable? — Love Shy

Girl, you need to relax! I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but in as compassionate a way as possible. You’re talking about feelings here, not some business deal where legalese, foresight and careful planning are of utmost importance. You’re talking about falling in love — one of the most wonderful sensations you can ever feel; why rob yourself of that raw emotion with over-analysis and intellectualizing every little thing and trying to somehow “make it perfect” or whatever. Love isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s just supposed to … well, be. YOU are supposed to be.

You know what will make it “incredibly romantic and memorable” when you finally tell your boyfriend you love him? Just saying it. And meaning it. Finally allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your boyfriend’s presence for once and letting the emotion simply take you where it may, without worrying about the “what ifs?” The thing is, love doesn’t care about the “what ifs?” Love doesn’t care about tomorrow, or next week, or twenty years down the line. It cares about this moment — this moment, right now, because there might not be a tomorrow or next week or twenty years later, and even if there is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you feel for your boyfriend today and everything that has led to this moment — all the big and little ways love has chipped away the armor you’ve built to protect yourself from hurting and being hurt.

What matters is that you’ve let love through. You’ve let love through! What a wonderful, amazing thing. It’s not every day we get to fall in love (and be loved back!), so let yourself revel in it for a while. Tomorrow and next week and 20 years from now are going to come whether you worry about them or not. So, why not not worry about them? Why not let love do its thing and see where it takes you? Yes, you may be led right out of love. You, indeed, may not be the love of your boyfriend’s life. But then, even more reason to express yourself now while you’re both still under its spell — while the feeling’s there — while it’s all-encompassing and unbounded and reciprocated and not yet touched by whatever complications you’ve imagined exists in the future.

If you’re scared about saying the actual words, practice saying them in the privacy of your own company. Recite them out loud until they don’t sound foreign to you. Or, speaking of foreign: say the words in a different language. Or, write them. Or sing them. Or sign them. Or spell them out in Hershey Kisses. Or trace them with your finger on a steamed-up mirror. Say them with your eyes squeezed shut. Say them in the total dark. Say them in the morning light. Whisper them. Shout them! Just do it. Do it, Love Struck. Tell your boyfriend, who has already told you he loves you so many times before, that the feeling is mutual. It’s one of the very best gifts you can give yourself. And certainly one of the best gifts you can give the one you love.

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