Your cheeks flush, your eyes lower to the ground, and you feel a twisting urge in your intestines that can only be released by running away as fast as adrenaline can take you. Sound familiar?
He just dropped the “L” word and you don’t feel the same way.
In fact, it would be impossible to determine how you feel about him because your limbic system is on overdrive.
Simultaneously blind-sided, flattered, conflicted and scared, you are rendered tongue-tied.
Your inner monologue:
Things feel right with your boyfriend/lover/friend, but you are scared that he is starting to get a little too serious. As a wandering college student or existential post-grad that revises her world-view almost daily, what the hell do you know about love?
At this point in your life, you are continually creating and navigating your own chaos. You switch apartments more than once a year, sleep in your car sometimes and run from your unpaid internship to your “real” job (if a job is still defined as work you do for money). The thought of adding a serious boyfriend in the mix tastes sour.
You can’t utter the four-letter sentence “I love you, too,” without sounding disingenuous. However, you also don’t want to crush the guy. You like hanging out with him, but you aren’t “there” yet and you kind of doubt he is, either.
Instead of being honest and saying something reasonable like, “I’m not sure if I love you yet, but I know I love spending time with you,” you may be guilty of blurting out one or a combination of the 10 worst responses to "I love you" known to men everywhere.
1. “Uh…(nervous laughter)”
It is completely natural to laugh when you are nervous, but there are several situations when you should never laugh: funerals, upon witnessing a horrific accident and when your significant other says “I love you” for the first time.
In this situation, you are probably laughing because you are uncomfortable, not because you find his expression of love to be a hilarious joke. Still, even nervous laughter communicates that you do not take seriously whatever was just said and it can be a real downer for a guy who wants you to take him more seriously.
2. “Wait, I thought we were friends?”
He may have blindsided you by saying "I love you," but it isn’t like you never even thought about the possibility of becoming more than friends. Saying you believe the two of you were "just friends," even if you weren't boyfriend and girlfriend, will ironically, without a doubt, terminate any future lasting friendship.
At some point, the ambiguity in the relationship's definition becomes confusing and super awkward.
3. “Aww…(uncomfortably long pause) that’s nice”
Soft pillows and rainy days are nice. People are nice. Love is not “nice,” nor is it nice that you just responded to his vulnerable gesture by acting like you don't care about him at all.
4. “You don’t love me; you love the idea of me. You love the idea of being in love with a person like me.”
Not only does this response make absolutely no sense, but telling a guy he is not capable of loving you after he opens his heart is like puncturing a wound twice. Essentially you are saying, "not only do I not love you back, I also never envision us loving each other in the near future." This might not be what you intend to say at all. So don't say it!
5. “I should just go…”
Run away. Now he can spend his time chasing you amid sleepless nights hashing out what he did to drive you away. Hint: He would figure this out quicker if you just told him how you really felt.
6. (Searches for words, falls silent, changes subject)
This is probably the most awkward response. If you two continue the conversation, each of you will be waiting for the other to acknowledge what just happened. Warning: In this situation, the awkward factor increases exponentially with each second that passes.
7. "Thank you."
You heard it, processed it and are not returning the “compliment."
8. "I’m confused. Are we exclusive?"
Not only did you say that you do not love him back, you also introduce the idea that you might be seeing other people, even if you aren’t. This can prompt a reel in his head of you having sex with every other guy but him.
9. “I like you, too.”
You don’t even acknowledge that you heard him say the word “love.” It is like changing the subject, but with an added burn as you start to talk about the yoga instructor you just “love” or the coffee shop you “can’t live without.”
10. “Yea, ok.”
You don’t believe him and now he must open his heart once more to be stomped on while he defends the authenticity of his feelings.
None of these responses are what you actually mean, but then again, is there a real difference between what you mean and what you say when the other person only hears the latter? Love is a messy concept, but don’t let the powerful four-letter word rob you of your own vocabulary to express how you actually feel.
You could potentially end a good thing before it's even started. Remember that just because someone loves you doesn’t mean you have to love him or her, nor should you feel obligated to one day have to.
If the person truly loves you, he or she will wait, and if you decide to move on, you can do just that.
Photo via We Heart It