Those three little words

I don’t know what’s going on out there, but in the past few weeks I’ve been hit with a number of letters about the meaning of “I love you.” I’m going to post two of the recent letters – one today, and one tomorrow. Today’s letter is from someone who doesn’t want to say “I love you.” Tomorrow’s letter will be from someone who wants to hear it. Here's the first letter ... and remember to chat at 1 p.m.
Last spring I got back together with an ex-boyfriend (Let’s call him Kurt). During the first dating go-around (which lasted maybe 5 months) Kurt told me multiple times that he loved me. I never reciprocated because I did not feel ready to say it and was not sure I felt the same way. I don’t recall how I reacted, but the conversation was probably about as awkward as one would expect it to be. We broke up for a little while, (on good terms … I live in NH and he’s 3 hrs away in CT so it’s of long-distance-ish … also I don’t know if it’s relevant but I’m 27 and he’s 35), and then reconciled a while later. Upon getting back together, Kurt apparently decided not take any precautions and started saying “I love you” within weeks of our re-uniting. I never know what to say back and try and say something positive or nice but I’m sure that there is nothing that holds a candle to that phrase when you’re the one who’s saying it and you’re not getting it in return. Fast forward 2 months- Kurt is still telling me he loves me, and I’m still not reciprocating. Still don’t know if I’m at that stage of the relationship and the last thing I want to do is say it to say it (which at this point would be the easy way out). I know I have a bit of a wall up, but I don’t think I am holding back because I’m afraid to tell him I love him -- rather just because I don’t know yet. What is the best way to handle this situation? Also, I get irritated/upset when Kurt says things like “maybe someday you will” or “I wish you felt the same way.” I think these comments are unfair, somewhat guilt-trip-ish, and actually detrimental to the progress of our relationship. Also, we have gotten into arguments before during which he has said “do you love me?” I think that that is a totally inappropriate time to say something like that. Am I totally out of line here?

– Perplexed in Portsmouth

PIP, “I love you” means as much as you want it to. Two years into a relationship, it might mean, “I see a future with you.” Twenty years into a relationship, it might mean, “I'm shocked I still want to hang out with you.” Forget semantics and figure out how you feel about your boyfriend. “I love you” aside, can you describe why he appeals to you? Are you happier when he’s nearby? Were you sad during the break-up? Do you like him more as time goes on? Does he make you laugh? Do you like to confide in him? Do you want to know more about him? To me, those are more useful questions than “Do you love him?” Maybe he’ll calm down about the lack of “I love you” if you can be specific about how you feel about him. But know this: at 35, he may be looking for a life partner. His “I love you” might mean that he sees real potential in you. If that’s the case and you don’t feel the same way, you may need to come clean and stop stalling. Yes, his tantrums are immature -- but his feelings are real. Something tells me that you only love him "ish," as you might say. "Ish" isn't enough. Readers? Is the letter writer thinking too much about those three little words? What do they mean in this case? And why is the bf demanding an “I love you” answer? Share here. Chat here.

– Meredith