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Relationship Advice: The L Word

What happens after you say “I love you”?…
 
By Adam Segal
 
Dear Adam,
For the past eight months, I’ve been dating a guy who I think is fantastic. Everything is going the way I hoped it would…we’re seeing each other increasingly frequently, we’ve met each other’s friends and some family members, the sex is great, and we’ve even had one awesome holiday together. This is the tough part – I find myself obsessing about the L word. A week ago he told me he loved me; I was so glad to hear it, but didn’t say it back. I think I love him, but we are still getting to know each other and I’m worried it won’t always feel this good. Mostly, I’m so afraid that if I say the word, and at some point things don’t work out, he’ll feel so much more hurt. I love my time with him and I see us being together for a long time – but I’m worried I’ll mess this up. Why is this one word freaking me out? —Benji
 
Dear Benji,
First off, I want to commend you for thoughtfully contemplating your feelings for this guy and just how ready you are to use the word love when you’re with him. A lot of folks can either feel pressured to say the word even when it doesn’t feel right for them or throw the word around with abandon without considering just how loaded it can be for their partner. Your mindful consideration of his feelings is endearing, but I think it’s important that we make a distinction between mindfulness and obsessiveness.
 
What sounds like a good initial instinct­ – to bring awareness to your true feelings for him before vocalizing your love – seems to have mutated into an anxious fixation. Sometimes, when we are sitting with fears that feel broad and amorphous, it can be tempting to fixate those unformed feelings onto something really tangible – in this case, whether or not to use the word love. I have a strong hunch that your fear of commitment and the pain that can accompany relationships is at the heart of your particular preoccupation with semantics.
 
Like anyone, you are likely connecting with the fears that arise when embarking on a new relationship: fears of being hurt or abandoned, or of hurting someone else. Here’s the harsh reality: you don’t have complete control over how this relationship will unfold. Even if you have confidence in your strong feelings for him and can envision a beautiful LTR together, you simply can’t know exactly how things will feel in two months or two years. By saying ‘love,’ you aren’t guaranteeing your honey that you’ll take your last breath while holding his hand at the rainbow senior living centre. By no means am I suggesting that you drop the L bomb just because he has; but if you want to chill out a little, you’ll need to accept that there’s no amount of certainty that can guard either of you against the possibility of future hurt.
 

 
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health questions at @relationship@inmagazine.
 

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