Q: Why are women so worked up about hearing “those three little words,” and why must they turn them into such a minefield? If a man says “I love you” too soon, he gets dumped because he's a clingy, needy Nice Guy. If he waits too long, he gets dumped as a suspected commitment-phobe. Even when a man operates without any calculation — freely and happily telling a woman he loves her — he runs the risk of some cutting or insulting response from her or no response at all. (I have gotten tripped up by timing this wrong a number of times.) Methinks there's a bit of self-loathing to the women who pull this baloney.
— Expressing Myself
A: “I love you,” said right away, suggests that you have great admiration for a woman’s unique and special qualities, such as being female, human, and willing to return your calls.
Early on in dating, should you find yourself brimming with emotion and unable to hold back, “I love bacon!” is a safer thing to blurt out. When somebody says that, even on the first or second date, nobody suspects he’s just hoping to use bacon to patch some gaping emotional void. This is probably why, no matter how soon or how fiercely you express your love for bacon, bacon will never respond by running away. To be fair, bacon also lacks feet.
The “I love you” a woman does want to hear is the one that’s shorthand for “I’d like to be the one who’s there for you when you can’t quite get the Velcro to close on your adult diaper” — or that at least indicates a desire to point the relationship in that direction and see how it goes. This is not a conclusion you hop to in a handful of dates. It comes out of feeling that who the woman is resonates with who you are and what you care most about, and takes seeing her less-than-lovable sides and deciding that the downsides aren’t big and hairy enough to cancel out the upsides.
As for your stumbles in the “three little words” zone, if you’ve told a woman you love her and gotten an “insulting” response, could it be because you scribbled it on a dollar bill and tucked it into her G-string? Being into a woman isn’t enough. First, she has to be together enough to be open to being loved. And, yes, there actually has to be a relationship between you — one developed enough and mutual enough that even if her response to “I love you” isn’t “I love you, too,” at least it won’t be “Sorry…have we met?”
Q: My girlfriend of two years is the bomb but is becoming a little needy. We live together and both have office jobs, and I’m cool not talking to her until I get home, but she’ll text me several times a day. If I don’t respond, she texts me a sad face or some statement about how busy I must be. If I’m hanging with friends in the evening, she gets upset if I don’t call her at least once. I really love her but feel indulging her need for more contact will only cause her to be more demanding.
— Tugged On
A: Affection is not a gateway drug. Texting your girlfriend a few extra “luv u babe”s or “thinkn of u”s during the workweek isn’t the first step to carrying her everywhere with you in a giant BabyBjorn. It might even help her stop treating that device in your pocket like an “Angry Birds”-enabled wireless leash. Consider “the dependency paradox,” researcher Dr. Brooke C. Feeney’s finding that, in a committed relationship, the more a person felt they could count on their partner to be responsive to their calls for comforting and support, the more autonomous and self-sufficient the person would be.
Ask your girlfriend to try a monthlong experiment in managing your mismatched need for closeness: You’ll commit to giving her more frequent verbal reassurance that you love her and are there for her and to dashing off a few sweet texts to her at slow points during your workday. She, in turn, needs to respect some boundaries, meaning not going all funeralface when you don’t respond to every workday text and not expecting to hear from you when you’re out with your friends unless you end the evening in a ditch or in jail. After 30 days, take stock. I’m guessing you’ll find your girlfriend feeling — and acting — much less like the sort of woman who’s about two unreturned texts from sobbing to a packed restaurant, “He’s decided to take a break from the relationship!” (Translation: “He’s in the men’s room.”)
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