Just like everything else, dating has a learning curve. Some people are fast learners. Others are slower. Some don't gather too much data on dating; others have multiple anthologies on the subject. In other words, some are very timid, and others like to experiment. I'm not just talking about your physical relationship here, but certainly the two are related.
It's really not about how many physically intimate partners you've had; it's about how many life partnerships you've tried to establish and how many years you've devoted to past partners. It takes time for people to get to know each other.
We start out knowing very little, usually allowing our imaginations to run wild and fill in the gaps. As we learn more, one of two things happens: We lose interest or we find that we're even more intrigued than we were initially. The more often we feel the latter, the more likely we are to fall in love.
Ah, falling in love … I swear the only other experience that can compare to the rush of falling in love is falling out of an airplane. With a parachute, of course. The problem, however, is that you don't want to be the only one jumping. But the truth is that someone always has to go first. It may as well be you.
You don't need to wait until he or she tells you that he or she loves you. If you're in love, you want to let the other person know. But you need to wait until it's time. Here's a few signs that'll let you know when to say "I love you":
1. You're sure you love the other person.
You don't need to be sure that this person is the one that you're going to spend your life with. You should be certain that what you have is love. The truth is, you always know when you're in love. I understand that when you look back, it may no longer seem like your previous loves were full of love.
But they were. A shallower love? Maybe. Definitely a less mature one -- for with each failed relationship, we change as individuals. So if you're questioning whether or not you love someone, it's not time to get ahead of yourself and tell that person that you do. Not even if it's in reciprocation to his or her love for you.
Not hearing “I love you, too” is going to crush your partner -- true. But as long as you explain that it doesn't mean that you never will love him or her, things will be okay. Just don't say “thank you.” That's a bit fucked up. Be honest and let them process the information however they need to. If your partner really loves you, he or she not going anywhere. It would be impossible. When love is at play, free will fades to a memory.
2. You've been together long enough that you're not afraid you're going to scare the other person away.
Some fall in love faster than others. I believe most of us understand this, but when we find ourselves in love, we quickly move to convince ourselves that such a love must be reciprocated. Especially if the two of you are in what you believe to be a serious (or heading that way) relationship. You are both intimate, you want to spend time with each other, and you're both very interested. But are you both in love?
That crossover to love isn't always so simple. We all carry baggage, and sometimes that baggage slows us down. Sometimes we want to be in love but aren't yet allowing ourselves. The worst part is when we don't realize that we are the ones sabotaging things. Our past relationships define our present relationship. The past may define what a relationship is NOT supposed to be, but either way, those memories are sticking with us.
Until we allow ourselves decide to let them go, that is. We can let go of past pains without letting go of the lessons they brought with them. You don't need pain to remind you; the memory of the pain you already experienced, the memory of the way you suffered, is enough. And that memory itself doesn't need to cause pain. Until the two of you let go of that painful past, you won't truly love each other. Understand that even if you've managed to let go, your partner may not have. Be understanding. Offer time and love.
3. You believe you're capable of loving properly.
This brings us back to all that baggage you're carrying. Loving is like hugging with your soul. Good luck lifting your arms with those 50-pound carry-ons under both your arms. Or maybe it's not baggage; maybe you have too much going on in your life to make a real effort.
Some say that there is always time for love. Well, time should always be made for love, but I know plenty of people who keep themselves too busy to make a relationship work. If this is you, don't lie to yourself and make promises that you won't keep. With that being said, if you've found someone to love, then you'd better figure out a way to make time for that person. You'll regret it if you don't.
Maybe time isn't an issue; maybe you're too young. Maybe you're not physically young; maybe you're a little emotionally immature. It's not something to be ashamed of -- unless you're 30 or older. Once you hit 30, you don't need to get married and start a family, but you should be mature enough to truly appreciate a good thing when you see it. If not, then you must not be learning from your mistakes. If you love someone, say it. And give love only if you can do it fully and passionately.
4. You promise yourself that you're going to stick it out when things get tough. Because they will get tough.
Things always do. I want to say that things get easier as we get older, but that isn't always the case. Those of us who get wiser with age do find happy and healthy relationships more manageable. But of course, not all of us wise up. And by "wise up," I mean, "come to the conclusion that no one is perfect." People make mistakes. And the good ones -- those that touch us and impact our lives -- come in a blue moon.
Until you really understand all that, you'll always have a few questions: What if? What if this person isn't "the one"? What if I'm missing out on my true soulmate? What if I'm making a mistake? But loving is never a mistake. It's all the stupid sh*t that we do when in love that's a mistake. Don't blame love for your indiscretions.
Relationships are easy until they're not. They're easy until rough times make it difficult for us to be happy. Until things happen to us that rock our little worlds. Until we stop putting in the effort that we once did. Until we stop feeling loved like we once did. Until we make mistakes…
If you can promise to ride things out for as long as reasonable, you're ready to love. I'm not asking you to do anything that isn't reasonable. When things get heated, just take a step back and reason out the best way to act. I'm asking you not to call it quits after years of happiness because you had a single moment of sadness or anger. Don't say you're in love until you can keep your promise.