When I was sixteen or so, I thought I loved my good friend’s boyfriend. He thought he loved me, too. We hung out alone together sometimes and I think on one of those occasions he was saying goodbye to me and an “I love you” slipped out of him and I said it back. And we tried not to make verbal affection into a regular routine or anything, but we still insisted on hanging out together platonically and stoking the sexual tension instead of avoiding each other like we should have, so I think we did say it to each other a few more times during particularly fraught moments. Funfact: for some fucking reason he turned around and told his girlfriend I was hitting on him all the time and it was making him uncomfortable, and she had this big formal talk with me asking me to please stop it, and that traitorous act pretty much killed my feelings for the guy in an instant.
My first-ever boyfriend when I was seventeen started doing this thing where, when I’d ask why he did something, he’d go “because I love you?” His tone was kinda half-joking, but he did it often enough that I eventually realized he was hinting that he did in fact love me. I have no memory of when or how we got to the point of outright saying “I love you” to each other from there, though.
My second boyfriend asked, point blank, “do you love me?” We’d been together less than a week at that point, and I think we were hanging out in a park. Truth be told, I didn’t love him. I assumed that I would eventually, because I was attracted to him and enjoyed hanging out with him*. But I didn’t love him at that time. Unfortunately, years of relentless bullying in school had put me on high alert and made me think his question was some kind of trick or trap, so instead of telling him how I felt, I defensively asked “do you love me?” He said yes, and then I couldn’t bring myself to say I didn’t, so I said it back. Funny story: he broke up with me a week later for someone else.
Sometime around this point, I briefly acquired a girlfriend, chiefly by virtue of being too shy to say no when she aggressively hit on me. She, too, asked “do you love me?” point blank. I once again said yes just to avoid awkwardness.
My third boyfriend…I can’t remember how I-love-yous were exchanged. I’m drawing a complete blank.
With my fourth boyfriend, I said it first. We were lying there in post-coital bliss and I just…said it. And he froze like a deer in headlights. I started frantically back-pedalling, telling him my declaration didn’t have to change anything and I liked our relationship exactly as it was and blah blah blah. I can’t remember what he said, if anything. I do remember thinking, for the next few days, that he didn’t love me back, and wondering how long I could live with that. Then he finally did say it, and told me that his paralysis had been because he was startled and thrilled, not freaked out. If that was truly the case, I don’t know why he didn’t smile or reassure me or anything, but whatever.
My husband and I started out as friends. He fell for me. I remember there being a lot of “Hey, can I tell you something?” “Yeah, what?” “Um. Never mind” type conversations. Then he definitively let me know he was interested in me by ending a phone conversation with “Ireallyhavethehotsforyoubye.” Eventually – I think because I’d started seeing someone and he got jealous – there was somewhat of a confrontation that culminated in him yelling “I’m in love with you!!!” It was a classic romcom moment, and the gravitas was so thrilling that I dumped the other guy and went out with him despite not being particularly attracted. Eventually I managed to drum up some semblance of feelings, and made some speech to him about uncertainty…”I don’t know where my life is going or what I want…but I know I”m in love with you” kind of thing.
With the rebound guy directly after my husband, I got flustered and upset over…something. Not wanting him to leave my apartment so soon or something, I forget. He asked “…Are you falling in love with me?” and I was like “…Maybe. I dunno. Shut up!” Somehow this segued into us eventually being on an I-love-you basis with each other.
A few years after that, I had a really really intense but short-lived relationship with my first poly guy. The chemistry was immediate. By the third date one of us burst out with “I know it’s really, really fast, but think I’m in love with you” and the other said “oh my god me too.” I’m not even positive who started it.
Then came Minx. The origin story there has been documented. And I only ended up telling The Pedant I loved him in, what, the second-last email I ever sent him? Third-last? Something like that. Also documented.
When I post-coitally gushed, “I love you, zebra!” at The Bunny I maaaay have been sneakily trying to get an I-love-you in under the radar and assess his reaction.
That’s the sum total of relationshippy I-love-yous I’ve had in my life up to this point.
Oh, there’s one more, but it doesn’t exactly count: I briefly dated a guy when I was 22 or so, in-between boyfriend #4 and my husband. I was in love with him (or thought I was, but in retrospect I’m thinking it was just infatuation). I never had the guts to tell him, and then he bailed on me in a sort of spectacular way. In between dating poly-guy and dating Minx, I found this “one that got away” on Facebook and messaged him to say that I’d been in love with him back then and it always bothered me that I never told him. Turned out he was currently single, and we ended up dating again for a few weeks. But we were starting pretty much from scratch and I definitely didn’t fall for him that time around, so I never said “I love you.” There was only the “I loved you” via Facebook.
I also have tons of platonic friends I say “I love you” to. Usually I was the one who started it, and it was barely scary at all, I guess because a platonic I-love-you is generally seen as an expression of what’s already been going on, while a romantic I-love-you often comes loaded down with a bunch of pressure and expectations. Saying “I love you” to a partner for the first time feels like handing them an anvil and going “yeah, could you just hold on to this for me, like, indefinitely? Thanks.”
That one guy I reconnected with through Facebook, though? It always bothered me that I hadn’t told him my feelings at the time. I was dragging that around with me for like fifteen years. It’s why I wanted to tell The Pedant I loved him a lot earlier than I ended up actually saying it, and it’s why I’m increasingly tempted to say those words openly to The Bunny sometime soon. Because when someone makes me that happy, I think they deserve to know it. Even if they don’t say it back. Even if the relationship self-destructs right after.
I hesitate, though, because if the words do freak The Bunny out and make him distance himself from me, it’ll hurt incredibly much. Things will be cut off right as they’re about to bloom, for me. Guh.
How did your first “I love yous” come about? Tell me your stories. 🙂
*And I was too immature to realize that that’s not necessarily how love works…