I'm not the kind of person who throws around "I love you"s, though I've been in some serious relationships before. I'm now a Freshman in college and I'm fairly sure my boyfriend is very seriously in love with me - the kind that lasts a lifetime. The thing is, I've always held back from ever telling anyone I love them (romantically - I'm not a loveless, soulless, empty being) because I didn't want to say it if I didn't really mean it.
You are a lucky woman who is happily married to the miraculous and magnificent Mr. Auntie Sparknotes, no? My question is, when (or how) did you know you loved him? Is there some moment when you realize, "Hey, this is the man for me! I'm in love!" OR do you realize slowly over time? When do you realize its the honest to goodness, can't-eat, can't- sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of love, and not just some sort of puppy love infatuation? In short: How do you know when you love someone?
Good question! Although I'm not sure my own personal love story will be all that helpful to you—because basically, I was sitting on a park bench with my friend Brad, and somebody walked by with a big, fluffy dog on a leash, and he said, "Hey, look at that dog," and I said, "That's a good-looking dog," and he said, "I want to snorgle it," and I was like, OMG SNORGLE THAT'S IT I AM GOING TO MARRY YOU.
So, on the off chance that this formula for love isn't applicable to you (like, for instance, if you have no park benches or dogs at hand with which to test it) then here's a pretty simple two-point checklist for making sure you're sure, one that works for relationships of all types and durations, and one that allows for the incredible range and flexibility of falling in love—whether it hits you all at once, or starts as a creeping suspicion that eventually becomes a full-blown certainty. And here it is:
Point #1: The way you feel about him. A person you love is a person you appreciate and value, a person you trust to have your back, a person whose happiness is just as important to you as your own, a person you look forward to seeing every day... and, since sexual chemistry is one of the things that makes romantic love different from friends-and-family love, a person you look forward to getting busy with every night. (Or, I mean, maybe not every night, but... well. You know. WINK!)
And Point #2: The way your feelings for him make you feel about you. Because love doesn't just shine a bright, beautiful light onto the object of your affection; it reflects a rosy glow back on you, too. So if being with someone makes you feel like the best, most unguarded, and most authentic version of yourself—where not only do you feel like you don't have to hide your kinky/dorky/offbeat/freaky bits, but you suddenly feel as though those bits are some of the best bits you've got—then congratulations, you're in love.
But hey, if I can make a suggestion? I don't think your problem is about knowing what love is; rather, I think it's that you're expecting it to be something it's not. Because you said it yourself: you haven't lived a loveless life. You have loving relationships with your friends, your family, your dog. You're perfectly capable of recognizing love when you feel it. Your only mistake is expecting that romantic love will be a completely new, totally unfamiliar, knock-you-on-your-ass-with-its-impact experience—when in fact, it's just a different, slightly rarer species of a beast that you're already acquainted with.
And while not wanting to say it unless you mean it is a noble aspiration, it's far better to screw up and say it a couple times without meaning it than it is to never say it at all. Because "I love you" is a beautiful expression of feeling, but that's also all that it is. It's not a promise. It's not a guarantee. It's not a set of magic words that, if you save them until exactly the right moment, will protect you from ever experiencing the hell of a broken heart. And every time you consider saying it but then hold back, you don't gain anything but a missed opportunity.
So the next time you're pretty damn sure you want to say "I love you"—and in matters of the heart, pretty damn sure is more than sure enough—just do it.
I dare you.
How are you with the L-word? Cautious? Carefree? Somewhere in the middle? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.