I’m in Love with My Boyfriend of 16 Months But He’s Not There Yet. Will He Ever Love Me?

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I’m a great admirer of your insight. I’ve read Believe in Love and Why He Disappeared, which helped me get through a tough period after my last relationship ended. We rushed because of passion and got engaged too soon, one of the red flags I ignored because I was so happy to meet a guy who was madly in love with me. I’ve tried to move more cautiously since then. I just turned 30 and I’m very confident early in a relationship, but I have a borderline anxious attachment style and tend to fall into the “last man on earth” trap once I’m in love.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I’m in love with my boyfriend of a year and 4 months, and he’s not in love with me. He says he cares for me deeply. He says I’m extremely important to him and his feelings are growing over time — but he doesn’t know if they’ll turn into love or not.

If he weren’t such a great partner in other ways, I would walk away. He calls every day, makes time to see me three or four times a week and we spend every weekend together. The sex is amazing. We’ve talked about marriage and kids and we want the same things out of life. We have a strong foundation of trust, respect and communication, and he’s integrated me into his tight-knit group of friends and their wives. But he doesn’t love me yet, a fact he openly tells me when pressed.

His stance: People say they’re in love too early and the word gets thrown around. His definition of love seems to be closer to wanting to spend your life with someone than mine is, and he isn’t there with me. He’s only been in love once, and it took him well over a year to realize it. He moves slowly and deliberately in general. He admits there’s a gap in our level of feelings for each other, but doesn’t think that’s a reason to end the relationship yet, and says he wants to see where it goes. But he’s also torn that this is hurting me.

Because I have some time before fertility becomes a more imminent issue, I’d like to relax and wait to see if he does fall in love. But I’m finding it tough to keep my cool and my anxious tendencies are coming out. Recently I keep wondering, what if he never falls in love? When do I cut my losses? And if I do stay, how do I keep my insecurities from eating the relationship alive?

Can people catch up to each other like this when there’s a gap in feelings? Or does this situation inevitably spell doom and pain?

Sincerely,
VM, a long-time reader

Great question. Sorry this is taking a toll on you. I’m sympathetic to you, of course, but because I’m a bit like your boyfriend, I’m going to try to help you understand where he’s coming from as well.

For most of my life, I dove into relationships head-first. Start with sex, commit within a week or two, declare love within a month. From ages 25-34, that got me into a series of short-term relationships with intense chemistry and no long-term compatibility. When I got dumped by a beloved girlfriend after only three months during the summer of 2004, I realized my methodology (or lack thereof) wasn’t working.

The reason you shouldn’t give up on him is because he’s already shown a sensitivity to your feelings…

The next time I had a girlfriend was two years later and I was EXTREMELY cautious. We dated for 2  ½ months before I agreed to have sex, not wanting to hurt her or lead her on. When we finally did sleep together, I committed to her as a boyfriend and we had a wonderful eight-month relationship. Yet I never told her I loved her because it seemed like a promise — an unspoken prelude to engagement — and I wasn’t willing to go on record with such a verbal commitment.

Was my standard for saying “I love you” too high? Probably. All I knew was that I was trying to avoid the same mistakes I’d made for the previous 34 years.

Before I ended the relationship, I realized she was ALMOST exactly what I was looking for in a partner. Warm, kind, silly, curious, family-oriented. What she wasn’t? Older and sexier. She was 25. I was 35. I needed a woman, not someone in her first job and her first relationship. Six months later, I met a 37-year old divorcee who, temperamentally, reminded me a lot of my ex. Ten years later, she is the mother of our two children. Still, I didn’t say “I love you” until we were together for six months — which was the very first time I brought up having Jewish children.

My thought process: I didn’t want to say I love you OR break things off until I knew I was ready to consider marriage.

That’s just my story, but I’m sure I’m not alone for not wanting to make promises (or even offer hint at commitments) I wasn’t sure I would be willing to keep.

It’s not that you’re wrong for wanting clarity; it’s that you can’t force clarity upon another person based on your own insecurities and arbitrary timetable.

The reason you shouldn’t give up on him is because he’s already shown a sensitivity to your feelings:

“He admits there’s a gap in our level of feelings for each other, but doesn’t think that’s a reason to end the relationship yet, and says he wants to see where it goes. But he’s also torn that this is hurting me.”

To me, that’s a sign of integrity. It’s not “this is a dead-end, you’re wasting your time,” but rather, an honest assessment that he’s unsure. It’s the same thing I was feeling after 16 months with my now-wife when I proposed to her — two weeks after having a “I don’t know where this is going” conversation.

My point is that if you have a good man on your hands, he already knows what’s at stake.

The next time this comes up, let him know that if he ever knows definitively that he’ll never propose to you, he should break up with you right then and there. And then zip it and become the kind of confident partner that he can’t live without. It’s not that you’re wrong for wanting clarity; it’s that you can’t force clarity upon another person based on your own insecurities and arbitrary timetable.

Give him the space to choose you and trust that he will — and you’re far more likely to get what you want. Good luck.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Karen

    Jeremy,

    How spooky that’s the first word I thought of ‘ obligation ‘ when I read her original post.

  2. 22
    Stacy2

    Evan, the OP is not happy, she is in denial. She think is she gained some kind of power by attempting to break up with her b/f while all the signs point to her being played.

    You assumption that he is a good guy like you is no more valid than our assumption that he is like “that guy we dated”. We have ALL dated that guy. There’s no mystery here. Could he miraculously wake up in the next 3-6 months and realize that he’s madly in love with the OP? Sure. Stranger things have happened. But I will take an under on that any freaking day of the week. I will bet the farm on it, in fact.

    1. 22.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Stacy2,

      1. The OP is happy. It’s not your place to say she’s in denial. That’s you projecting how YOU’D feel if you were here.

      2. There IS mystery here. Otherwise, there’d be no question or debate about the answer. You’re POSITIVE you’re right. I THINK you may be wrong. And since the OP has 16 months invested, she wants to give this the best chance to succeed. And that begins by being the cool girlfriend and leaning back and seeing if the relationship makes her happy later this year. If not, she should dump him. You can’t overreact to every situation with dumping out of fear of wasting time.

      3. “Madly in love” is a worthless term. You don’t need to be “madly in love” to get married. You just have to want to get married. “Madly in love” describes early-phase intoxication, not the stuff of which 40 year relationships are forged.

      4. Be glad that there are no farms involved and that your reputation is protected by your anonymity. I stand behind everything I’ve ever written on this site with my name at the top. And I have the results to prove it.

      1. 22.1.1
        Marika

        We should also try to be supportive of VM’s choice, someone who admits to being anxious and who has decided to take a chance on love growing with this man. Rather than telling her it’s all about to crash and burn. That’s just going to make her anxiety worse. Giving advice before we knew her choice is one thing, but now she’s made it clear she’s giving it a go, I say all the very best to both of you.

      2. 22.1.2
        RequiredLove

        If the boyfriend associates “I love you” with the desire to get married, then the two are intertwined as much as MOST people separate them.

         

        So it’s been pretty well established that not everyone associates the same things with “I love you”. Most understand it to be a term of affection and caring that is far more than “like” and a few associate it with commitment and mairage. It’s likely these two atrribute different meaning to that phrase and neither option is inherently wrong. My question is though, why are you expecting her to change her way of interpreting “I love you” ? Why cant he meet her half way (assuming that he feels the same way as her but just doesnt have words for it)? Why cant he say that he feels the same way? That he’s just not ready to use those words because, to him, they represent a bigger commitment.

        Why does it fall on her, who has already made herself vulnerable, to translate his feelings? There are no questions what her feelings are. Shes told him quite clearly how she feels, but he’s the one being vague. Therefore, in my opinion, it should be him defining his feelings. That’s ultimately what shes asking. She doesnt what a proposal, she wants confirmation that his feelings match her own.

  3. 23
    Chance

    VM,

     

    FWIW, I think you are with someone who is very conscientious, and I think that this is excellent.   Personally, I believe what is a much bigger problem is that waaay too many people throw around the term “I love you” like it’s candy waaaaaaaay before it is truly possible to even know if they love the person.   I think it often takes several years to gain a solid understanding of whether or not you love someone with the level of conditionality that is requisite for lifelong commitment (i.e., not the hormone-infused “I love yous” that are all too common).

     

    As someone who grew up with a mother who often said “I love you” (but rarely showed it) and a father who never said “I love you” (but always showed it), I can tell you that the latter is much, much more valuable.   It sounds, by your description, that this guy is more like my father because he is demonstrating that he is committed to you, while being extremely careful of not saying something that isn’t 100% sincere.

     

    More people should be like him, IMHO.

    1. 23.1
      Marika

      I think that’s a good point, Chance, but bear in mind that women need both. At some point (I’m not saying before it’s warranted) we definitely need to hear “I love you” and reasonably regularly after that, ideally, to be truly happy & content in our relationship. Actions alone are not enough. I’m not sure if men fully appreciate  the importance of this to women.

      I’m not even so much referring to VM, here, just in general. A girl growing up without hearing “I love you”, even if it was implied, would not  be happy. And I’m sorry to hear that your Mum didn’t show love in her actions, that must’ve been tough.

      1. 23.1.1
        Chance

        Hi Marika,

         

        That’s fair enough, but I would venture to say that when a man declares his love within a year, or 1.5 years, etc., he’s guessing to some extent (at best).   He may be in love with a woman, but I would argue that he doesn’t really know if he loves her.

        1. GoWiththeFlow

          Or he loves what he knows at that point in time.

    2. 23.2
      KK

      “As someone who grew up with a mother who often said “I love you” (but rarely showed it) and a father who never said “I love you” (but always showed it), I can tell you that the latter is much, much more valuable”.

      That’s sad.

      As someone who grew up with a mother and father who both said, “I love you” often and showed it, I can tell you there’s no need to settle for less than both in a relationship.

      1. 23.2.1
        GoWiththeFlow

        Same here.   Both parents said “I love you” and showed it regularly.   I strive to do that for my kids and other important people in my life as well.

        VM is choosing to give her boyfriend more time to get on the same page as her feeling wise.   That’s not an unreasonable decision to make.   She’s young and as she said, she will not let the situation go on indefinitely and their short time apart showed her that if they do break up, it won’t be the end of the world, she will move on.

        That being said, waiting 17 1/2 months to hear “I love you” from an exclusive boyfriend is unusual.   Yes it’s not worth the air the words float out on when someone tells you that after 17 days, but most men will feel it and say it (it it’s true) before the year and a half mark.   This really makes me wonder if other girlfriends in this man’s past have broken up with him several months into a relationship because he either wasn’t saying it or when it was brought up he said “I don’t know.”   I would imagine his extreme reserve or very tightly drawn definition of love is not an effective relationship strategy for him.   Sure the women are losing out on the chance he will come around by breaking up with him, but he is losing out too.

        1. GoWiththeFlow

          One more thought.   How many men would continue to see a woman if he told her he loved her many months in and she said some version of “I’m not there yet”?

        2. Evan Marc Katz

          Plenty. Love is a pretty strong emotion.

          Missed you on the Love U More call tonight.

        3. Chance

          GWTF said:

           

          “How many men would continue to see a woman if he told her he loved her many months in and she said some version of “I’m not there yet”?”

           

          Wouldn’t know.   I’m not so insecure that I would press her for that kind of information.   If she’s with me, I assume she’s open to it one day.

        4. Emily, the original

          GoWiththeFlow,

          I strive to do that for my kids and other important people in my life as well.

          I think kids need to hear it. I once overheard a male friend ending a phone conversation with “I love you.” I assumed he was talking to his girlfriend but he was in fact talking to his daughter. “She needs to hear it from me,” he said. Touche!

        5. GoWiththeFlow

          Evan,

          It’s my daughter’s birthday today and we’re getting ready to leave on a major international family vacation Thursday.   So today is laundry, suitcase packing, last minute errands, birthday cake, and presents.   Haven’t seen any tv today and I’m taking little breathers checking in on the blog while getting things done.   It’s either that or see what scary stuff is going down in Washington, DC   😉

  4. 24
    VM

    Wow, strong feelings here! I really appreciate that so many people who have been in similar situations that ended badly are trying to protect me from feeling the same hurt, I do, and I’ll take your advice to heart. A lot of assumptions are being made though.

    First of all, the idea that giving this a chance means I’m inevitably sinking years more of waiting in a dead-end relationship and will be devastated when it ends is a bit much. I’m not waiting around at his mercy. As Evan has noted, I can leave anytime. This relationship is just as likely to end because I walk away as it is because he walks away, and either would be fair and neither would be the end of the world. I know that I love him; I don’t know that I want to marry him. He’s got a great deal of what I want in a husband, but I’m still gathering information.

    What I do need to see and feel, as many other commentators have noted, is that things are progressing toward a shared future. Since we got back together, I feel that. If I stop feeling that, I’ll leave. I think – I don’t know, of course – that the “I love you” is coming. He’s recently slipped up a couple of times and called me a pet name that means “my love” in one of our other shared languages. Most speakers of this language use that phrase liberally but I’ve only ever heard him use it with his mom, so I know he doesn’t throw it around.

    Also, while I know another breakup will be tough, I don’t see why it needs to necessitate a long recovery time. I’ll lick my wounds, take some time to process and move on. This relationship, if it ends, will make me very sad, but it won’t be the end of my world and I know the split would be as peaceful as possible.

    1. 24.1
      Callie

      This all sounds really positive to me and I think it looks like there is some lovely forward momentum on his part. I wish you both all the  best! And regardless what happens you sound like you know what you want, and have a good sense of boundaries and how to enforce them, and that will always hold you in good stead 🙂 .

    2. 24.2
      Malika

      Better to give it a thorough chance than none at all. What heartens me is that you have a finite amount of time wherein you want to feel that he thinks you are important to him and that he wants to share a future with you.

      The words i love you can be overused by some people, and underused by others. Yet that doesn’t say anything about their intensity of feelings towards their partner. It’s up to you to see whether he feels what you need in order for this to be a happy relationship. I wish you lots of luck nd that his works out for you.

  5. 25
    aly

    The answer to vm’s dilemma depends on her personality and what she is willing to put up with. I agree with some others, this isn’t six or twelve months. I know I would be going crazy if my boyfriend didn’t tell me he loved me every night after 16 months. Some others it probably wouldn’t bother. To me it’s kind of like deciding to move in or get married… ar you seeing forward motion, pick a deadline in your head and stick with it.

  6. 26
    Adam

    VM,

    You are very lucky to have such a great guy in your life. Be the excellent girlfriend you know you can be; give him the emotional and sexual support that he needs. This is how he will come to verbalize his love for you. I can say verbalize because he probably already feels that way:)

  7. 27
    Marie

    Hi VM, I’m a bit torn in how to advise on your dilemma based on the updates on how you both reacted after your break up and get back together.   I’m not convinced either of you are really in love with each other. There’s just way too much rationalization of the entire thing on both your parts.   You may love him as in care for him, but that deep companionate love that people have, just not seeing it here.   This does not mean he won’t go out and buy a ring, that you won’t get married even.   People can get married to someone they care about but not necessarily love.   I would think very carefully if this guy ever does propose to you, whether YOU are really in love with HIM.

    I was that girl – not the one who was strung along, but the girl whose husband fell in love with her after being a serial monogamist to women whom he just couldn’t ever pull the trigger on.   He was a very caring and attentive boyfriend to them, incorporated them into his family, they went on trips with his parents, he even thought that he loved them but something held him back.   He tried so hard to rationalize himself into it and they tried so hard to convince him. Finally his last gf broke up with him and he met me 3 weeks later. Two months later he fell in love with me.   It really hit him out of the blue – he said it was literally like he was going along and then oops when he wasn’t thinking he fell.   And it wasn’t until he fell in love with me that he realized he actually wasn’t in love with his past gfs – cared for them yes, even loved them, but not in love. He proposed to me 8 months after that and we are happily married.   If his ex asked me what I did to make him fall in love I would say nothing, did absolutely nothing other than probably got in my own way at times even.   It’s just kind of a natural thing as breathing and it just grows and grows, deeper and deeper.   I like what YAG said – I know for a fact that if I ever left him or something tore us apart it would bring him to his knees. I am not sure that you and your bf would have the same reaction and that is why I am concerned that you are still in this relationship.   Some things just cannot be forced no matter what.   In time you may convince him that he loves you. But will that actually be the case or will it just be because neither of you have met the person who is your true love??

  8. 28
    Sparkxx

    Back to the basics, at what point do a man and woman say they are in a relationship?
    In my opinion, it is the point where they acknowledge that they:

    1. love one another ( and yes a verbal expression is an absolute necessity). In comparison, I seem to recall an earlier post about a man not ready for marriage and most commenters observed that ” it’s just a piece of paper and a ceremony”why not just do it if he really wants a life with her and since he knows it means a lot to her.
    In the same way, one “could” say that if he really wants her, he should say the words since he obviously knows they mean alot to her.
    Only in the OP’s case the man said ” he doesn’ t love her …yet”. Really? Almost 2 years later? Come on now.

    I stand corrected but in the current state, that sounds like a fling to me. Nothing more than friends with benefits.

    2. Lastly, again IMHO, it’s only a relationship if the two people involved share common dreams and aspirations. I guess you can do that without the three magic words like some claim to have done, but if the OP goes ahead, there will be an ever growing resentment both from:
    a) the OP for not getting what she wanted to hear
    or
    b) the man for having to consistently deflect or pivot or eventually have to say it under duress.

    Either way, am with Stacy 2 on this one. This situation seems untenable.

  9. 29
    Stacy

    Sorry, but if a man does not grow to love me in 16 months who I am spending so much time with, I’m gone.Evan, you said it in 6 months….way different scenario.He sounds like a good guy who likes her for her good qualities but feels no chemistry.There is no way you feel sufficient compatibility and chemistry and claim to not be in love for so long.I would prefer a man not settle for me so yeah,I would be out of there.

  10. 30
    DinaStrange

    Am on Evan’s side here. It’s extremely hard for me to say “I love you” to a man, unless its a man i am thinking about marrying. Words “love” had been cheapened by too many saying it, and then breaking up and or divorcing. I know we can’t predict future, but why not be cautiious. So in that case, i understand that guy. Either you give him time to decide by himself or you exit the relaitonship now.

  11. 31
    Cathryn

    I don’t believe in playing games. But I’ve seen a lot of women waiting years for the guy to finally commit.   They lose self-respect in the process and his respect if they ever had it.   If the woman was in her late 30s I’d say don’t bother waiting because he may be keeping his options open til something “better” comes along and stringing you along. But since you’re young I’d say you may not mind waiting another six months to see if he feels the magic.   Meanwhile, you could start looking around while you date him just in case your options need opening.

  12. 32
    Sparkxx

    The story of being with a guy for three years while he refuses to commit ( verbally or sometimes otherwise) or ” not being there yet”… and then a that or a different set of circumstances causes a break up…and next thing you here he is in love and committed (heck even married) to someone he met just six months after breaking up with you, is all too common.
    The sooner one cuts and runs, the better.

  13. 33
    Sparkxx

    * next thing you hear*

  14. 34
    Cathryn

    I’ve seen that story too, Sparkxx, so sad for the one used and strung along.

  15. 35
    Jennifer

    I haven’t read the above comments so I cannot comment on them but I would like to say I agree with Evans original post.

    I was in your situation for 12 months, I slipped out that I loved my boyfriend of 3 months yet it took him a whole 12 months afterwards to say it back to me. He is all of what you described as well – loving, caring, devoted, we spent wonderful times together. It was excruciating. He did everything a person would do if they were in love. I decided that there was no point pushing him or tearing myself apart inwardly anymore as it wasn’t helping the situation. I decided that I would give him 6 months of me just being myself, as if he’d said he loved me back and if in that time he had not said it then I would tell him he’s had his time. 4 months later he told me he loved me. Now he tells me everyday and now I wait, oh I wait, for him to propose… he’s a year behind so I expect next year sometime ☺️ Patience.

  16. 36
    Elemental

    At the beginning of this week, I walked away from I guy I love, and who loves me, after a 10 month dating relationship that followed an 8 year friendship. When we moved from friends to “more than friends” it was amazing! There was chemistry, but there was also the affection for each other that had developed over our friendship. He told me he’d had a crush on me since the first time we met, but he was waiting for the right time to act on it.

    The past 10 months have been amazing, but he and I have a different vision for the future. He’s happy, but doesn’t want to commit to anything beyond what we have. Our relationship is intensely emotional rather than sexual. He wants to be physical, but that’s not the primary driver of his desire for me.

    But thanks to Why He Disappeared (although this guy didn’t disappear), on Monday, I walked away from him. He wants to continue as we are so long as I understand there’s no future for us. That’s not what I want. That’s simply not acceptable.

    In the past, I would have accepted this kind of situation just to be in a relationship and believing I could change his view on what he wants, but thanks to this blog and the podcasts, I’ve learned how to love myself first and protect myself from situations that aren’t right for me.

    Thank you Evan.

  17. 37
    Love

    my experience shows that those who ‘are not sure whether they love their girlfriend or not’ – are the ones that need to be let go.

    If she cannot ‘just bail out’ I suggest to put clock on it. After dating this long he should know already whether he wants to marry her or not. If is is NOT SURE – then he will never be sure. Or he maybe ‘sure’ 10 years from now and she is 30 already, she cannot wait that long.

    Think about it – he is such a LOSER – he is in a relationship with a woman he does NOT love (i.e. he is in a loveless relationship). Why not find yourself a woman you love??

    Such a wussy….

  18. 38
    IagreewithStacy

    As a anxious attached female that is currently single and in professional/personal development & healing mode, I have to agree with Stacy2 on this one, as simply thinking clearly & rationally is not easy when you are A. In love and B. Anxiously attached . I speak from experience. Not only would I suggest that the OP take an emotional breather/detox but if this relationship ultimately does not work out, Id recommend that she not date again until she is fully healed and no longer anxious. It seems possible that she could be inlove with a love avoidant. Either way, I think theyd both benefit from a little separate me time.

  19. 39
    Jay

    Thank you so much for this post!!! I’m in EXACTLY the same situation with a man,and we just began a long distance relationship for ~2 years. He is cautious and deliberate as you described, and has the same kind of integrity in that he does not want to hurt me with his uncertainty. Thank you for this post, sounds like a small leap of faith is in order…

  20. 40
    Antonia

    Sixteen months? Wow.
    I’d be more sympathetic to Evan’s advice if it were say, 4-5-6 months, but a year and a half?
    Plus, her time frame is hardly “arbitrary”, as a woman wanting children. Women aren’t afforded the biological luxury of time as men are and as such, I’d say it’s rather unfair to suggest to a maturing woman her needs are somewhat irrational and that she should put them on the back burner for someone who openly says he doesn’t love her. Now that is not to say the man in question isn’t a decent man. He does sound decent and understanding. He hears her.
    But that doesn’t change the fact here – that he actually doesn’t love her. What a weird set up.

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