We never said ‘I love you’

I was never the girl who found love easily, but I did love my ex. For some time, I thought he was the one. But we never said I love you to each other. After 13 months together, I wonder if I ever felt it with him, or maybe I just found someone I could stand to be around for more than a few weeks.

So my question is: How do you know when it's love? And after a breakup, when you feel like you have lost the love of your life, does the pain count if you never said I love you? I've asked multiple friends (and Uber drivers) about love, and every time the answer is always "When you know, you know.”

For background: I really don't have an answer as to why I never said the words. I met my ex in grad school and we started dating and became exclusive. As time went on, he became more reserved, didn't want to go out with friends, and would go to his family's house a lot during the weekend. I had a roommate who was there for basically our whole relationship and she was dating someone seriously, exchanging I love yous after like three or four months.

The night he broke up with me, I had decided to say I love you but he beat me to the punch. I will admit I was a little surprised because he never discussed feelings with me. He said that he couldn't see being with me in five years, but that I had become his best friend. That was the last night I saw him because he never reached out. I found out a couple of months later that he was hooking up with a coworker he had told me was just a friend.

Looking back on it, feelings were never really our strong suit. I think we were both comfortable with each other, and I was doing a lot for him (nothing financial, only help with rides when his car broke down, etc.). I guess I spent some of the relationship stressed out that I didn't know how I felt. And then when I thought I did, he didn't.

Sorry for writing a novel, but it's so cathartic writing this out to strangers.

– Love?

This is the second letter of the week from a person who's been told that "when you know, you know." Sometimes that adage is true, but ... sometimes you know until you stop knowing. We all know different things at different moments.

For instance, it feels different to be in love with someone at four months than it does at 14. If you asked a bunch of people in love to explain why they feel the way they do, you'd get different, ambiguous answers. There is no universal lightbulb that turns on when people decide they care.

For that reason, stop worrying about the words and focus on what you're looking for from your next partner. You cared about your ex, but you had problems with the relationship. He withheld feelings and had become "reserved." There's nothing wrong with going home on weekends, but based on how you described your roommate's romance, you'd rather have someone who can make more time to be with – and fall for – you.

Just so you know, I'm a bad "I love you" person, and have said it twice during breakups – as in, "Oh, by the way, I loved you." Past tense.

Many commenters have quoted that Love Languages book, and there's a reason. Those three words aren't the only way to show someone how you feel.

– Meredith