Saying “I love you” for the first time is a very intense experience.
There is an odd power in being the receiver of the first “I love you.” If you're on the receiving end of the statement, you hold all the chips.
If you say it back, you save the other person a lot of heartache; if you don’t, you will crush him or her. You're the one with nothing to lose.
If you say it first, you really put yourself out there. You’re taking a lot of emotional risk. You’re putting all the cards on the table.
You have to let go of all of your doubts and trust that the person in front of you feels the same way.
It was a usual work night, not so long ago. I was watching one of my bad reality shows, feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot strawberry tea in my kitchen. I’m dating an entrepreneur.
When you’re dating someone who works for himself, you get very used to being on your own. You are always second to projects and work. That’s okay. You have to accept that.
I value my independence, so being alone a lot of the time has never been an issue for me.
The problem is this: For the first time ever, I want to be with my boyfriend more than I want to be on my own. I’m not going to lie; it kind of sucks being a girlfriend reserved for the weekends.
As I went to refresh my tea, my phone started ringing. I paused my show to answer it. It was Bae. Whenever he works late, he always calls to check in on me before bed.
It’s something I appreciate about him. Something you should know about my boyfriend is that he can be a bit cold. He's made a conscious effort to be more affectionate, but it’s really just his nature to be reserved and at arm's length.
Most days, I like this about him. He's elusive, and his stoicism is something that drew me to him in the first place.
He caught me at a unusually vulnerable moment that night. I’m not a particularly emotional or needy person, but something about the combination of one too many nights spent alone and the depressing celebrity catfights on TV forced me into overload.
I was attempting to explain my discontent, to tell him that I valued how hard he worked but still felt neglected.
Without warning, the words just fell out of my mouth.
“I love you and I am so proud of you for working so hard, but I need to be able to see you during the week.”
There they were: those three little words.
They hung in the air, heavy and thick, somewhere in the airwaves between the Upper West Side and the East Village.
A few moments passed. I held my breath. I had ruined everything. I had never said those words first before. WTF was I thinking? When did I become this vulnerable mess?
“I love you, too,” he said.
The joy that overcame me felt like a warm wave from the Pacific. Somehow, I had avoided disaster. He said he loved me back. He loved me back.
I had put myself out there, and everything was going to be okay!
I wish it had just ended there. I wish it had just been the exchange of “I love you's,” and that was all there was to it. Simple, quick, bloodless. We loved each other, but that first “I love you” isn’t where the declaration of love ends, is it?
After you trade those words, they are supposed to become a regular part of everyday conversation.
“Okay, see you later. I love you.”
"You’re so cute. I love you.”
“I’m going to bed. Goodnight. I love you.”
The words are suddenly everywhere. They add a little happiness to everything you say. You can rest assured. You are loved.
What if that isn't how it happens?
Except that wasn't how it happened for me. After a week or two of “I love you's,” the words started feeling like sand on my tongue. They dried out my mouth and made me desperate for some kind of relief.
They made me feel empty and alone. The moment I said the words, I regretted it. I wanted to take them back.
It’s not because I didn’t love my boyfriend; I did and do love him. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to express how much I loved him. I said the words because my heart became so full of love when we spoke that I had no choice but to tell him "I love you" just to feel at ease.
What made the words so piercing and painful was the fact that I was constantly saying them first. I was the only one to say them first.
There is nothing quite as awful as being the one to always says “I love you” first.
It’s like being in a strange limbo. You’re somewhere between happiness and despair. You’re somewhere on the outskirts of romantic bliss, blocked by a firewall that just won’t let you in.
It makes you lose faith in your relationship. What are you doing wrong that nothing you do can inspire an “I love you” from the person you're so crazy about?
When you say “I love you” enough, with only a “love you, too” in response, the words start to lose their meaning. You start to wonder if your partner even means them. It starts to feel like you’ve accidentally trapped him or her into saying “I love you.”
It is so horribly awkward.
It makes you question your sanity. Are you desperate? Are you needy?
When did you become this pathetic person who needs to be told he or she is loved to feel safe?
Every single time you say “I love you,” a piece of your heart dies. You feel so close and yet so far from your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s like having your heart broken over and over again, every single day.
The pain is so acute. It is exquisite. It feels like masochism to keep saying it. But you keep saying it.
You are burning up from the inside. Your heart aches so profoundly.
You keep hoping you’ll hear it. You keep praying that your boyfriend or girlfriend will just say it first.
You keep telling yourself that your partner does love you just as much as you love him or her -- even if you have no proof.
What can you do?
You’re in love. And love is a mother f*cker.