We've all been told, as women, not to say "I love you" first in a relationship. I'm pretty sure I have heard, read, been advised on and watched this rule being enforced ever since I was a young girl.
We've all heard of the same scenario. A woman falls in love, and her best friend tells her, "Don't say it first. Let him be the one."
I can't name how many movies I've seen that simply state you won't know if he really loves you unless he says it first. We tell ourselves we'll know it's real if he says it first.
Now, in the day and age of the modern feminist and women owning their sexuality and jobs -- thereby creating a new class of boss women -- why has this rule not changed? Why are we still letting the men lead the relationships? What if your significant other can't say "I love you" because you made it too hard to do so?
I came into my relationship guns blazing, with a fearless and unapologetic way of saying, "Yeah. I have dated my share of sh*tty guys, and I will not make this easy for you." Despite my age, fear and vulnerability, I was not at all worried about his reaction while I overshared the details about why I feared dating and trusting men after four years of being proudly single.
I did not make it easy, and I had no shame in that. I had little to no regard at that time for the kind of pressure I was placing on him.
I think when we, as women, have had our share of sh*tty guys, we own that and share it with a new partner. We don't realize we're inadvertently putting certain standards and expectations on the relationship that may not be the other person's responsibility to meet.
Don't get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with sharing your past. In fact, I encourage it to the fullest extent.
But speaking from my own experience with my boyfriend — who is a wonderful man and has never given me any reason to doubt him — I was unjust in creating the pressure that he had to be better than my exes. I should have naturally allowed him to do that. Even though I inform him of my past and the mistakes the exes have made, it's not his job to make up for it all.
Needless to say, I had high expectations for him, but I had to check myself a few times. Because we were dating each other -- it was not just him dating me -- the relationship required work on both parts.
Luckily for me, my boyfriend was happy and willing to put up with my blockades and barriers as I tried to feel real vulnerability and genuine emotion to help the relationship grow. But truth be told, I was deathly scared of getting my heart smashed again after bringing my walls down and allowing myself to be open and exposed.
I didn't know when and where I was going to let that guard down. The deeper he fell, the more and more I tried to push back. I didn't know how to be loved, and -- if I was to love him back -- how to maneuver the fact that love makes you vulnerable.
In the course of our seven-month relationship, I tried to duck and dodge using "love" in any of our conversations, until it started creeping in with simple things like "I love the way you smile" and "I love the way you laugh." Finally after six months of deployment abroad — oh yeah, we were in a long-distance relationship — we reunited after six months for his Marine Corps Ball.
In a drunken stupor over the vacation, I had said "I love you" to him. The morning after, many things were foggy to me.
But that memory was lingering in the back of my head. My boyfriend, being the gentleman that he is, didn't bring it up for fear I didn't remember saying it.
I climbed on his lap, after discussing the night's events and the drunken tirades we had gotten into. I finally said, "I love you" and meant it. (Although I apologized for saying it drunk.)
He responded by saying he was just happy I had said it, and that he was leaving it up to me to say it first -- regardless of how he felt -- because of the times I had pushed him away as a result of my own issues. He was waiting for me because I had made it too hard, and had placed too much pressure that being open and honest with me would scare me away. I did that.
I was different and younger in my relationships prior, and had never thought I would have made it hard for my significant other to want to express himself to me. It was a humbling lesson for me about who I was in our relationship, and who I did not want to be again.
I had no shame in saying it first because I meant it, and I am happy he was honest with me about being hesitant to say it first. If I had waited for him in terms of the girl rules, I clearly would have waited ages. I was the one who made it difficult to articulate it in the first place.
So, here's to tossing the rules out the window. We need love, and sometimes, you can be the only one standing in the way of that.