AAPW: We’re Talking Marriage, but He Won’t Say “I Love You”

Since when is "I Love You" scarier than wedding planning?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together eight months. From the very beginning, our relationship has moved fast on almost every level, which I took to mean that we were both ready and eager to build a forever kind of partnership.

Lately we’ve started having more serious talks. Some life things, about kids and where we’d live. We’ve also started talking about hypothetical weddings: band vs. DJ, buffet vs. plated, what kind of backdrops he envisions for pictures. Then a few weeks ago he asked me if I had an idea what kind of ring I’d like. I did some research in the next few days and when I mentioned a few, he said, “Those are definitely doable.” YAY!

I am very excited about all of this and plunged down the rabbit hole of wedding planning. I didn’t keep it a secret. He’s looked at some places online with me and looked at some other details on my Pinterest board and said he would definitely step in to help me color coordinate when we’re ready to plan for real (I got a little carried away with ALL THE FLOWERS).

The only hold-up is that he hasn’t said that he loves me yet. He had gotten out of a serious relationship about six months before we started dating—together for six years and had bought the ring but never asked her, she gave him a “now or never” and he said he couldn’t do it. So I didn’t want to pressure him or rush him, but I realize now being direct and pressuring are different things.

So today I said directly that I feel crazy that I started planning this fantasy wedding when we haven’t even said we love each other yet. I love him, and the lack of verbal assurance makes me sad. He said he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t said it yet, but he rushed into saying “love” in his last relationship and that failed, and he didn’t want to fail again.

While I a hundred percent understand not wanting to rush, I don’t see how talking about rings and asking me if I’d be willing to move to follow his job is taking things slow. I asked him if he sees us moving in the love and marriage direction and he said definitely, of course, without a doubt. I guess my question is should I take a step back on the wedding planning and the relationship? I definitely don’t want to walk away from him, but I am terrified that I’m going to invest so much of myself and fall harder and harder for someone who will ultimately not love me back (or not love me back “enough” to get married, which is what happened in his last relationship). I feel like the more I daydream about our wedding and we build our lives together, the more I’m setting myself up to be spectacularly destroyed. Am I just insecure?

—Scared of Love

A: Dear SOL,

Not insecure. Wanting to be sure that the feelings are mutual is totally reasonable and fair. Caution is a good thing!

There are a few things his reluctance could mean. Is he not ready right now, but eventually he will be?  (It happens. There’s nothing innately wrong with two partners who are moving at slightly different speeds.) Or is he holding onto baggage from the past and acting out of fear rooted in old mistakes? Or is he chronically adverse to commitment-type moves and it’s got nothing to do with you or anyone else? Or will he never be ready, he has a sense that you guys aren’t a good fit and doesn’t know how to articulate it?

Those possibilities range from meh, pretty positive to very nervous-making. All of them point to your gut instinct being right: guard yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to pull back or break up. You like him, you’re enjoying your time together. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to do that while you sort out the rest.

The balance here is to set up boundaries with the worst-case scenario in mind, without completely buying into that worst-case scenario too prematurely. Put another way: what will you regret if this all ends dismally? But try to answer that without convincing yourself, “This all will end dismally.”

In relationships, and particularly as women, we’re expected to throw caution to the wind and set aside practicality for love. We’re expected to avoid being “that girl” who has expectations. We’re supposed to be chill and give our partners whatever time and space they request. We’re expected to risk it all for love. And sometimes… our partners aren’t risking anything. Which is a pretty unfair (and sometimes unsafe) balance of power. There’s always a certain amount of vulnerability in being in a relationship. But, it’s only fair to assess whether you’re the only one making yourself vulnerable and he’s calling every shot.

Meanwhile, I’d encourage him to sort out what this all means for him. Something’s not fitting together here. Freaking out over commitment is normal, but doesn’t make much sense when you’re pushing toward ring purchases and DJ selections. Planning to marry someone inherently means “I love you.” So he needs to figure out if there’s something specifically about that “L” word that sets him off. Or maybe he’s flippantly tossing around this wedding planning stuff, but doesn’t actually mean it as much as he thinks he does. Or maybe there are some gut-level feelings about your relationship that he’s unwilling to look in the face. You know what helps when you’re trying to sort through all of that? Yep, a counselor. Not being ready for next steps isn’t always a definitive sign that you should talk to someone. But the fact that he thinks it’s got something to do with stuff in his past indicates it might help.

Talking about things together will help, seeing a counselor might also. But the big thing here is a whole ton of introspection for your own self. Determine how vulnerable you’re willing to make yourself with this guy, and do it without worrying about being “insecure” or “that girl.”


Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    Yes, stop planning your wedding right now. It sounds like he likes the idea of marrying you a lot and is trying it on for size, but doesn’t consider you two engaged. There’s plenty of time to plan once you actually are. And stop planning your wedding because it sounds like you want to be planning a wedding to someone who freely and confidently and vocally proclaims his love for you, and this guy isn’t there. Maybe he will get there, maybe he won’t, and I think Liz has great advice about how to navigate that time, but you need to stop.

    Speaking as someone who has kinda done this, learn from what he shows you. I dated a guy for a year who told me to go ahead and start planning and made appointments at jewelers to buy a ring. And then when it came down to it he dumped me in heinous fashion. And what gets me is that I KNEW he did this to his last serious girlfriend too. Here, he says he has changed, and your relationship is different, and he probably genuinely believes that. But he’s doing to you exactly what he did to her: sending mixed signals, stringing you along, making it look like he is committing, but not actually stepping over that threshold.

    I don’t think that pattern means you’re doomed or anything, but I do think you need to roll it back a bit and really focus on what his actions are teaching you.

    • Eenie

      I agree 100%. And make smart choices. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with any major life choices in the event that he doesn’t get to the point you need him to be at. You can do that, stop planning the wedding, and enjoy the relationship. He sounds wonderful.

    • Casey

      Another 100% agreement. I’m ashamed to admit that in a previous relationship, I was on the flip side of this. We’d discuss wedding plans, how to raise our children, how to decide when our two limited-opportunity careers came in conflict with each other. He was a great guy, and through all the talking and planning, I was testing out the idea in my mind of whether I was ready to commit to spending my life with him. There was great chemistry, we had fun together, he made me laugh, and we shared similar values. We had two years of this. Then he came right out and proposed, and it hit me: I was trying to build the relationship because nothing was “wrong,” but there was still something missing. A few years down the line, I began a relationship with a friend, and within a couple of months, we knew we’d get married.

      • anon 4 this

        I was also on the flip side of this in a previous relationship. I 100% echo this: “I was trying to build the relationship because nothing was “wrong,” but there was still something missing.”

        In my current relationship, at the beginning, I had a lot of guilt about what I did to my ex and was reticent to really commit. My partner advised that I get into therapy to deal with those issues because my guilt was making our relationship suffer (when he said “I love you” the first time, I told him – “I really appreciate that, but saying that to you scares me too much, so I can’t right now.”). That individual therapy SO helped me. After just six weeks or so, I was able to say, “I love you,” to him, though really quietly and scared. And then, after about 6 months, I felt completely equipped to deal with any painful feelings that came up, if they came up.

        I’m not saying therapy is a panacea or it will be as fast acting , but I’m not sure if you two need couples counseling as much as he needs to work on his individual issues. So I want to echo Liz’s advice about counseling, but for him, so he can work through the issues his past relationship brought up or caused to manifest. If there’s a way you can encourage him to go – because you love him, because you care about your relationship, because maybe it helped you get through xyz issues – you should. But obviously, it’s his choice.

    • Laura C

      Definitely listen to experience, even though someone else’s experience doesn’t mean your doom. Definitely look at the patterns. He bought a ring last time and never used it; he’s talking about buying a ring now, but you know that that doesn’t translate to a wedding. It sounds like he has major issues to work out, with the rushing on the one hand and slow-walking on the other — does he recognize that?

      FWIW, my husband and I had the hypothetical what-our-wedding-would-be-like conversation for like two years before we were seriously discussing our own actual wedding. Every time we went to a wedding, we had that talk, and it wasn’t meaningless, but it wasn’t a signal that we were ready to go through with it, either.

      • Eenie

        Yup, we had the hypothetical what our wedding would look like talk less than a month into the relationship and it still took almost four years for a proposal.

      • Meg Keene

        True true true. I mean, we had hypothetical wedding conversations for years before we got engaged. But two things: 1) We were already long (long) past “I love you.” And that’s not just words, that’s being on the same page about something pretty fundamental. 2) We were both really clear on what level of serious or not serious we were about those hypothetical wedding discussions. In short, we were not very serious at all. It was like, “Oh, we could get married here with this catering if we ever got married.” “Yeah, that would be cool.” No Pinterest boards, no feeling like we were seriously talking about planning a wedding. Instead, we were just sort of trying it on for size. Like, we know we love each other and we’re serious. What would it feel like if we DID decide on planning a wedding.

        My thoughts here are: there is no rush to get married, EVER. Getting married puts couples through lots of intense stuff, and your relationship really needs to be ready for it. It doesn’t make your relationship any more special, and real wedding planning is more stressful than funfunfun. AND, it’s so key that you have a firm foundation (and I love you is just the start of that foundation). AND AND, you guys have to get to the same page. And that might take awhile.

        So just… don’t rush….

        • Laura C

          I almost think what we were talking about when we had those hypothetical wedding conversations was who we were as a couple. How would we be going for a similar or different overall feel from the couple whose wedding we were just at? How were our priorities different from theirs (even at the level of, we care more about food than flowers) — and how were our priorities in line with each other? But even though we waited a long time to say I love you, we waited longer to have those hypothetical conversations.

          • Meg Keene

            YES. THAT. “Would we be the type of family that valued saving money above all else, or spending money on family, or spending money on experiences, or living a lavish lifestyle? Would we have a Jewish or a Christian or an Interfaith service?” We were really sort of feeling out what our individual values were, what our joint values would be, and if we could come up with a family vision that was cohesive enough for us to want to become a family.

            And I’m glad we had all those conversations, because they helped us get comfortable with where our values are as a family now, 11 years into being together. Jewish but interfaith. Spending on things that we enjoy or value, but not to impress others with how much money we have. Etc. Etc. GOOD CONVOS.

            But I think you have to draw a hard line between that and wedding planning, if one or both of you is not ready to plan a wedding. (And you know, if you haven’t said I love you… I think your not…)

        • StevenPortland

          This is so true!!! — “Getting married puts couples through lots of intense stuff, and your relationship really needs to be ready for it.” We had been together for over 15 years and had two kids, yet planning the wedding brought out more stress than I could have ever imagined.

          • emmers

            Upvote times a million. Also this: “real wedding planning is more stressful than funfunfun.”

          • Meg Keene

            AMEN. I don’t have to ask my in-laws how they think I should feed my kids lunch, but you bet I had to ask them (and errrrrryyyyybody else) about that wedding lunch.

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    • laddibugg

      I’ve had the hypothetical kid talk with boyfriends a few months in but that doesn’t mean I was going to get rid of my NuvaRing.

      • Meg Keene

        Right. Exactly. Trying something on for size and being even vaguely serious about doing it are miles (countries?) apart.

      • Basketcase

        Yeah, We had to have hypothetical kids talk at about a year in to the relationship, just after we moved in together, because suddenly my BC wasn’t suitable for me anymore and we needed to make decisions on if / when to decide what the next best option was.

    • JDrives

      Agree one hundred percent with all of this.

    • macrain

      I agree she should stop wedding planning and I would like to add that she should not stop out of fear of being “that girl.” She should not stop because there is something bad or wrong with having a wedding pinterest board and not being engaged. She should stop because it sounds like it would be sanity saving to stop, and it would help her focus on the here and now.
      A lot of women have wedding pinterest boards long before getting engaged or even being a serious relationship. There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s just good fun for a lot of people.
      In this case, it does seem helpful to put the breaks on, but for other reasons.

      • Not Sarah

        There’s a difference between having a Pinterest board yourself and “planning” with your SO. The former is more just figuring out your own tastes and the latter can easily be misconstrued.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I don’t really understand why she’s wedding planning but they’re not engaged. I feel like I’m missing something.

    • Amy March, you bring up an excellent point about watching his actions. People can say all sorts of things, but actions (and consistent actions over time) tend reveal to reveal the truth. I have been learning this and also learning that when people tell me something about who they are, I need to believe it instead of assuming they reeeaally mean x, y, or z, and internally “translating” what they said into something that fits with the way I see and understand the world.

  • Lawyerette510

    In addition to Liz’s advice, also just enjoy this time while you’re falling in love. It’s hard not to rush to the next thing, but take time to consider who he is, what he’s about, who you are with him, who you are together. Continue to get to know him. There will be time for wedding planning, once you’re engaged, but be present in your relationship now while it’s new. If you marry, you’ll have time for all the other parts, but don’t miss the first part because you’re so focused on a wedding.

    • Sosuli

      I think this is such sound advice for life in general – don’t let planning for the future get in the way of being present now.

    • Lauren from NH

      That’s a good point. I won’t say their timing is fast or slow to consider marriage, but 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t hurt to take your time getting there. So he likes weddings etc and is able to talk openly about them, that’s great and likely not going away if you shelve the conversation for a while. Maybe he needs to chill and recover more from his last relationship. Maybe while the LW finds wedding planning exciting, she doesn’t need NEED to be at the that stage just yet and could be quite happy with their current relationship status for a while. And in that meantime some of this “I want to marry you, but can’t say I love you” confusion will just work itself out.

  • joan

    It sounds to me like your boyfriend is engaging in wedding/future talk in more of a fantasty way — i.e. let’s try this on and see how it feels, maybe that would be nice some day — and you’re seeing it more as “this is solid, real planning for something that is going to happen.” Nothing wrong with either approach (my husband and I did the fantasy thing for a while, and then later the real planning for our wedding, and we’re in the same spot with kids — a lot of our past talk has been more fantasty kid talk, and I think we’re getting to a point where soon we may be ready make real plans — things like talking to my doctor about risk factors, etc.).

    All that said — it’s only been eight months! I would just let yourself enjoy the fantasy while being aware that right now this really is all in fantasty land. Or if fantasy wedding talk is too emotionally tough, say that to your boyfriend — that look, it’s too hard for me to make Pinterest boards and talk about rings when we’re clearly not in a place of getting engaged NOW. Let’s back off on that and just enjoy each other without all this future fantasty talk until we are really ready to make a serious committment. If he will not say he loves you, he is not ready for any sort of real committment to you (sorry!). I don’t know if that’s a dealbreaker to you at the 8-month-mark — maybe you are in a place where at this point, you really need a clear committment to keep investing in the relationship, or maybe not. But either way, I think the clear signal from your boyfriend is that he’s not ready to commit, so now it’s on you to decide where you are with that.

    • A.

      Yes, this rings so true. And the fantasy thing can be especially difficult if one member of the couple is ready to make it reality AND if they tend to take things at face-value (ahem, not speaking from experience or anything). My husband and I have had a loooooot of conversations about how if he says, “I’d love to have kids soon,” I will equate soon with an actual number of years and start mentally preparing how I feel about it. So it’s important that he says, “I can’t wait to have kids with you someday, hopefully in the near future once we’re ready to start seriously discussing it” (or something along those lines, not a script, ha) lest I end up creating timelines and Excel spreadsheets and thinking about family dynamics and our travel plans for the next couple years, etc. All this to say: I agree, communication, communication, COMMUNICATION…and especially based on what you know about your partner. And it sounds like LW’s boyfriend might not be as great about that, to put it mildly.

      Also, depending on their ages, 8 months isn’t THAT short of a period of time. Most of my friends have been getting engaged in the 1-2 year timeframe, in their late 20s/early 30s, unless they’ve known their partner through multiple life stages.

      • joan

        Fair enough – I guess to me 8 months sounds quick to be talking weddings, but that’s obviously not true for everyone! Maybe it’s more that regardless of how much time has gone by, the thing you have to assess is where you are, where your partner is at, and whether you’re okay with that arrangement. For some people, it would be perfectly fine for a partner to not be willing to commit after 8 months; for others, it would not be. Either way, I think it’s important to be honest with each other and yourself about where everyone is at and what your own personal boundaries/dealbreakers are.

        • M.

          Oh, it feels quick to me too! I was with my husband for 8 years before we got married. But I was still technically a teenager when I met my husband and had no clue what I wanted in life, let alone in a partner. So those 8 years were incredibly necessary. But that immaturity and uncertainty doesn’t really apply to my friends anymore or at least not at all at the same magnitude. (And obviously for some younger folks it doesn’t apply either, but that definitely wasn’t the case for my husband and me & I think a lot of people who start dating their future spouse at a younger age)

          But yes, definitely agreed on the overall message, re: deal breakers and personal relationship assessments–at any point, really.

          • A.

            (A.! Chose my real initial this time instead of short for Anon :p)

        • laddibugg

          Eight months is quick to talk weddings if you BOTH aren’t talking weddings.

          She’s talking about a wedding. He’s still just considering marriage.

    • Sarah E

      Totally agreed. And I’ll add that I think it’s completely possible to back off the wedding talk without backing off the relationship. Perhaps in time you’ll find that some of the possibilities Liz mentions come to fruition, but give it time and enjoy the present. Plan for your future separately at the moment, until you’re both on the same page to plan for a life together.

      • JDrives

        YES. APW commenters are dropping serious wisdom today!

    • JDrives

      “…it’s too hard for me to make Pinterest boards and talk about rings when we’re clearly not in a place of getting engaged NOW. Let’s back off on that and just enjoy each other without all this future fantasy talk until we are really ready to make a serious commitment.”

      I think this is an A+++ script for the LW to use!

  • Lauren from NH

    To me this sound spookily like what he did in his last relationship. He was committed enough to buy a ring, but not committed enough to follow through and propose when she said “I can’t wait any longer?” With the LW he’s committed enough to talk rings and wedding plans, but not committed enough say “I love you”. It sounds like he intentionally or unintentionally led his last gf on and now he is doing it to the LW. I would be afraid that he just loves the idea of engagements and weddings, but can’t handle the idea of marriage. For me, if he wouldn’t be willing to go to counseling, we would have to break up until he figured himself out and grew up. I am a terrible game player. If I am in, I am in and you can’t go in with someone who doesn’t mean what they say, intentionally or not.

    • honeycomehome


      His previous relationship is being used as an excuse to explain why he might be hesitant. But I’d be really concerned if my relationship looked/felt/seemed like his relationship with his ex… when he didn’t marry or love his ex.

      He’s been pretty clear about who he is: someone who has used talk of a wedding to stay in a long-term relationship with someone he didn’t really love. The fact that he brought up marriage before love in your relationship is a giant red flag for me. He’s more interested in talking about flowers and colors for a party than he is in YOU.

      Also, “I said I love you to my ex and the relationship failed” is BS. He ALSO TALKED ABOUT MARRIAGE with her and the relationship failed… yet, he’s still bringing up rings to you, isn’t he?

      • A.

        “Also, “I said I love you to my ex and the relationship failed” is BS.”

        Even without the latter half of your point, talk about mistaking correlation for causation, jeez.

        • joan

          I interpreted this comment more as “I said I love you to my ex BEFORE I WAS READY and the relationship failed.” Which I actually think is a valid thing for boyfriend to feel, but also a valid thing for the letter writer to decide is a dealbreaker. After all, he is basically saying: I don’t want to say I love you because I’m really not sure about whether I love you, and while I would LIKE those feelings to develop in the future, I’m not sure if they will. Which she might or might not be okay with going forward…

          • Meg Keene

            I mean, I think there is NOTHING wrong with that. Relationships don’t have to go crazy fast, and sometimes growing slowly is the healthiest thing. (Depending. In year 3 if someone was like “I’m just not sure,” I’d be like “Well, that’s my answer, you don’t love me, next.”) BUT. Planning a wedding, really in any sense, while you’re not sure yet? That is… not wise… in my book. And asking to have your emotional self exploded.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I think it’s takes away from focusing on what is ACTUALLY happening in the relationship. And then disaster bc you’ve been planning a wedding and he was still really like maybe at some point.

          • Alison O

            Yup, been here. And disaster was what it was. Long term, not at all a disaster. In the short term, my world exploded and I was devastated.

    • tr

      I have a guy friend like this. He started “joking” to his girlfriends about marriage way back in junior high (as in, he definitely did the 14 year old equivalent of “Band or DJ?). At this point, the guy’s been engaged four times. He’s even gone so far as to send out wedding invitations twice.
      And yet, he’s still single.
      It turns out he really likes the idea of being married, but he is not a fan of the scary/boring/frustrating parts of actually being married.
      Women aren’t the only ones who can fall in love with the idea of love.

  • Violet

    I don’t even know that you two are necessarily going at different speeds. Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but I don’t feel clear enough on where he REALLY stands to make that determination. But I do think *he’s* going at two different speeds- fast on the external indicators of commitment and slow on the internal indicators. He’s ready to do the outward signs of a commitment, but internally he’s not emotionally ready. The fact that he didn’t know why he didn’t say “I love you,” shows that he has some work to do getting in touch with his internal state. The after-the-fact explanation about rushing the “I love you” in the previous relationship is a tidy one, but it comes down to what works for you. At eight months in, you’ve got to decide for yourself how long you’re willing to wait for the emotional commitment to kick in. The longer you let the external indicators outstrip the pace of the internal ones, the bigger the discrepancy will get, and the more uncomfortable that will feel.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I’m wondering if he’s even doing that re external vs internal. I think men generally compartmentalize a lot more than women. Sometimes a conversation is just a conversation and nothing more.

      • Violet

        I am actually a big compartmentalizer, which is why I framed it that way. External stuff is one thing, internal stuff is another. It’s fair that the two might not be aligned, but if one gets too far ahead of the other, that can be really confusing, especially to someone trying to figure out what he’s thinking.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Oh you mean external to her? I’m saying I don’t think these are necessarily even external signs vs him being at a different place internally.
          I don’t know if it’s even that deep.

          • Violet

            I mean that in our culture, we get
            married because we love someone. (Arranged marriages do exist, but this is
            clearly not the case for LW and her boyfriend. And of course you can love
            someone and NOT get married, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.) If
            marriage is right for the couple, marriage and preparations for marriage occur
            once after the parties realize they are in love. Someone discussing an external sign of being in love (aka, marriage) without talking about the love itself is
            what can get confusing. I agree with you that it might not really be all that
            deep that the inner and outer aren’t aligned—and I don’t really necessarily
            ascribe any malice. That’s why I was saying it would be good if they talked about
            his own feelings to see where that part’s at. He’s clearly talking about the
            external marriage part, maybe set some time aside to talk about the internal
            love part.

  • savannnah

    My boyfriend and I are actively saving for our wedding in a joint account, we are actively talking about where we want the wedding and how we will navigate our families, and how many children we want etc. But we are very much not engaged–we just moved in together and we both want time to figure out if this is what we want for keeps. By stepping forward together but not assuming this is it, over and done, it gives us the space to still be thinking and feeling out how well we fit on big and small issues. We haven’t stopped thinking about our relationship critically even though we think this is it. I feel like that is a great temptation, because it is comfortable, but I think you need to be able to do both to really know this is the guy for you, especially given his last relationship which ultimately seems like a total breakdown in communication. You two need to be on the same page about not being on the same page.

  • raccooncity

    So my guy had the exact same issue – he said I love you too fast, he felt, to his last gf when we got together. (Although we’d both had lots of time to get over our previous relationships with lots of messing around with other people at this point.) Anyway, I didn’t want to pressure him so I waited it out and kept things non-serious for a while.

    This didn’t mean that he wasn’t committed – he was proud to be ‘with me’ in public – people could tell he was taken just by looking at the ridiculous grin on his face when he looked at me. We had a lovely time together and I FELT loved. Eventually he said it, at a sort of non-romantic time, and later when I teased him about how silly it was he was like “i thought we’d said it already!”

    I think maybe planning a wedding isn’t the best thing to do while you’re seeing what’s going on behind his lack of the words “i love you”, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship. If he seems committed in other ways (not wedding planning, but in how much he values you with his time, consideration, etc) then go with it. He’ll probably get there eventually and it might even seem so natural he’ll forget it hasn’t happened yet.

  • Alexandra

    The guy sounds confused. My now-husband wouldn’t say “I love you” to me until we got engaged (seven months into our relationship). We actually had a fight about it about five months into the relationship. I got drunk and told him I loved him, and he didn’t say it back. Lots of crying.

    The next day we had a more rational conversation and he said that for him love towards a girlfriend has a more specific meaning: commitment in the form of marriage. He said he had strong feelings for me, but feelings weren’t enough for him to claim he loved me. He said he’d say he loved me when we were engaged, because that’s when it would really mean something beyond just feelings.

    Two months later he proposed and said he loved me. Five months later we got married.

    I think in our culture the word love tends to be a nebulous term. I remember saying it to boyfriends after about three weeks, and then we’d break up two months later. Throwing the term around can cheapen it. My husband’s caution hurt my feelings at the time, but looking back I appreciate that he was a person who was going to say what me meant and mean what he said. He now loves me extremely well two years into marriage with a one-year-old son.

    That being said–this guy hasn’t clarified his reluctance. It was hard enough for me when my now-husband had a pretty good reason for not saying he loved me. If he couldn’t have explained himself, I think it would have been a big problem.

    • gonzalesbeach

      YES with the cultural aspects around ‘I love you’. I had an ex where they never ever heard people say ‘I love you’ growing up. It was implied in actions (or not), but not said. Not by mothers to fathers or fathers to kids etc. So for the ex, it was very difficult for them to normalize saying it to future partners. Not necessarily happening in this QA but perhaps could be an element. But then again, I could see the love in actions & how he was with me. If the letter writer isn’t so sure of her guys feelings without it being said – there may be truth in that.

  • Sarah

    I think you’re reading waaaaaayyyyy too much into the wedding talk. Weddings are fun. It is easy to get carried away thinking/talking about them, especially when it’s still an abstract “maybe some day” concept. Just because you two are having fun talking about a hypothetical wedding does NOT mean either of you is seriously considering marriage. A single 12 year old can fantasize about a wedding with her crush but it doesn’t mean that she is actually in position to marry that person. It’s just fun fantasy talk. But it’s messing with your head, so stop. Let the relationship progress naturally, as it sounds like everything is fine otherwise. Don’t let this confuse you. It’s early. He’s clearly having fun and thinking theoretically about the future but isn’t ready to make a lifetime commitment. Totally fair and normal given the timing and circumstances.

    • macrain

      The thing that gets me is that he asked about rings! It’s one thing to debate band vs. DJ, but when my now husband said, “go look at rings” it’s because he was going to buy the ring and propose to me. Just pointing out it’s understandable that there are pinterest boards! I did the same thing after the “pick out a ring” talk.

      • Sarah

        Oh, I would, too. I’d jump head first into planning, for sure. But I’d want a friend to point out to me that it’s premature and I need to chill.

      • Liz

        Yeah, that’s where I’d start to wonder what’s up.

      • Kyle

        I don’t know, I think ring-talk can be good values-talk! Like, “Is she the kind of person who expects a ‘three months’ salary’ ring?” or “Will he insist on giving a big diamond to demonstrate his worthiness as a provider even though she has concerns about the diamond industry?”

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Or if I want to propose to her one day, what kind of ring would she like? Oh those. Got it, cool.

      • A.

        Yup, yup, yup. That conversation is actually when I started reading APW! And lived and died for the Pre-Engaged articles for a few months, ha.

      • Amanda

        unless, it’s “what kind of ring do you like,” because i’m just learning your taste in jewelry, which i cannot fault! J always checked in past windows of stores in the beginning of our relationship, just to get a sense of my taste, out of which i’ve gotten some pretty lovely necklaces & earrings out of the deal.

  • Mrrpaderp

    It’s only been 8 months. I don’t mean that as dismissively as it sounds – two people can be totally head over heels in love at the 8 month mark – but I think you’re being too hard on someone for not being ready for the L word if it’s been less than a year.

    That said, you should tell him that the wedding talk should be put on hold right now. For him, it’s a stroll down fantasy lane. For you, it’s a matter of making Plans, which makes you insecure because your relationship isn’t there yet. I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong; it probably doesn’t even occur to him that he’s sending mixed signals. You just need to explain that there’s a difference between talking about compatibility – like wanting kids and marriage one day – versus talk about details – like plated vs. buffet – and that talking details makes it seem more real than it is right now.

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  • AMcCRead

    One thing that I’d be considering is whether or not the
    potential wedding is easier for him to talk about because he had already bought
    a ring and, probably, assumed he’d be talking a lot about weddings with his ex
    at this point. Maybe the wedding talk is a bit of a cathartic way for him to
    process any residual feelings from his last relationship and maybe even serve
    as a relationship comparison point. I don’t know if that’s right, wrong or
    otherwise but I think it makes it more understandable why he is easily engaging
    in wedding talk (and maybe even action) but not yet ready to throw out the “L”

    • LW

      I know the rings were easier to talk about because he knew all the terminology and I didn’t know anything about them (my initial answer to the ring question was “sparkly,” hence the research). I think we mostly use wedding talk as a way to evaluate our values, like I am more of the mindset that I don’t want to spend a lot of money on one day, and he’s in the camp of it’s a once in a lifetime event so get everything you really want.

  • Katherine

    It sounds like there are potentially other things going on here, but I just want to share a slightly different perspective. Growing up, my family never said the words “I love you.” We’re actually a very close family, but we express it in other ways. As a result, it’s never been a natural thing for me to say. During dating, engagement, and two years of marriage, it’s still very rare for my husband & I to use those words. So, I wouldn’t automatically take not saying “I love you” as a bad sign.

    • nyc_adw

      I totally agree with this – but from a different perspective. My boyfriend’s parents said “I love you” all of the time, but for years his father was cheating on his mother – so he doesn’t trust the words and has SUCH a hard time saying them. He shows me he loves me in a million different ways, but the words are hard, and after many years together, I’ve come to accept that.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      Exactly. I personally don’t view the words “I love you,” a willingness or readiness to say the words to mean the person is or is not committed.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I’ve read this letter and the response a few times and I’m confused. Is the issue whether boyfriend LOVES LW and is committed her and their relationship moving forward? Or is the issue that boyfriend hasn’t actually said “I love you?” Those are 2 different things and I’m trying to figure out why they’re being conflated.

    • LW

      Thanks for saying that. The issue is the saying of it
      and kind of “is that a sign of doom” that the words are a hang up for him. He’s
      wonderful and he’s always been great at being considerate and kind and showing
      me with his actions that he values me and our relationship, so I was surprised
      when he didn’t feel ready to say the “L” word, even though he’s asked me what
      kind of ring settings I like. Since I
      wrote the letter, I’ve pretty much just decided that as long as everything
      keeps going like it is now, I’m fine with it. Eventually he’ll be ready to say
      it or he won’t be, and I’ll re-evaluate that at a later date.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Got it. Ok here’s my short answer to that: No, it’s not a sign of doom.

    • honeycomehome

      I think they are being conflated (or related) because they are for the letter writer. It’s a problem for her, and if she was feeling loved I doubt she would have written the letter.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Yeah I don’t know if she doesn’t feel loved though. I guess she can answer that directly but in other comments she seems like she feels loved but was thrown off by him not saying it. That’s my take.

    • Liz

      I think, “He says he’s unwilling to say ‘I love you,'” is maybe more dramatic than “he hasn’t said it yet.” Being ready and willing to say “I love you” is a type of commitment.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I’m not sure that’s what he said though. Maybe it’s just how I’m reading the letter. I think she later comments somewhere that he said he wasn’t ready (as opposed to he didn’t know why he hadnt said it yet). I don’t think the not saying I love you is that big of a deal but if it’s important to her to hear it then that’s going to be part of their negotiation.

        • Liz

          Yeah, that’s how I read that- “not ready,” “unwilling,” whatever. Lots of folks see that not just as a communication-of-feelings thing, but also as a Next Step in a relationship.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I wanted to clarify that I’m not being dismissive of her seeing this as a big step or what have you. That’s perfectly fine. I think being ready and willing, as you say, IS a type of a commitment, I just don’t think it always is THE thing that signifies commitment or even the level of commitment. I think oftentimes people get so focused on things being presented in packaging they like, are comfortable with etc, that they don’t SEE what’s actually in front of them.

  • LW

    Hi, Letter Writer here. Liz, thanks for your response. And thank you all for the constructive comments!

    A couple notes: 1) my pinterest board is labeled “fantasy,” so I’m not going out and putting down deposits or trying on dresses! I haven’t fallen that far down the rabbit hole :) 2) After re-reading my letter (I didn’t save a copy of it when I wrote it a month ago, woops!), I realized that I’m mostly worried about his baggage with his ex and if that’s impacting our relationship/holding him back. He felt guilty for disappointing her when he didn’t propose after 6 years and her family was putting a lot of pressure on it. He told me the only reason he bought the ring is because he felt like he’d made that promise to her already by being together that long and letting them get to a place where everyone they knew took it for granted, even though the last couple of years they’d had issues and been drifting apart (understandable when you start dating young, I think).

    Now, we’re established adults so hypothetical planning has more weight on one hand, but on the other, we
    understand that things (read: people) change and sometimes relationships do, too,and that’s okay. We’re both serious about our relationship but the reason this issue came up is that I wanted to make sure he is moving in the same direction of love and marriage, which is what I want, and he is.

    Violet’s comment that “*he’s* going at two different speeds- fast on the external indicators of commitment
    and slow on the internal indicators. He’s ready to do the outward signs of a commitment, but internally he’s not emotionally ready,” is probably the heart of the matter. Some work on unpacking whatever residual baggage he’s carrying from his ex, and how it’s impacting his commitment or mindset toward our future, will
    probably make us both more comfortable.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I actually don’t think this sounds as bad as expressed in a lot of the comments. I think it would serve you well to really listen to what he’s communicating to you and to just be clear. A guy asking what type of ring you would like doesn’t mean he’s ready to propose. I have no idea why women think this. It means he’s interested in what kind of ring you would like. That’s really kind of it. A guy not saying “I love you” doesn’t mean that he doesn’t actually love you. I think if you want to know if you are on the same page, communicate that. I want this relationship to progress toward marriage. Do you want the same thing? I love you. Do you love me? I think x number of months or years is the amount of time I would be ready for these things. What about you? And so on and so forth. I think it’s perfectly acceptable and GOOD to be clear about your expectations and desires in this relationship and to communicate that. It’s also perfectly reasonable to expect the same level of communication from your boyfriend. If he’s unwilling to be honest with you and communicate then you’ve a different problem. But it sounds like you need to sit down and just have an honest conversation about your relationship that isn’t mired in fantasy weddings and a fantasy life, if that makes sense. Good luck!!!

      • gonzalesbeach

        yes!!- “if you want to know if you are on the same page, communicate that” Talking about your life /relationship goals is so important in the relationship – and with timing. Eg. I want to start having kids before I’m X age so that gives me X years, or other such examples like you gave… And you have a useful conversation. And if their goals or timing is not going to work for you, or vice versa – then that might mean making difficult decision about your future together. If the range/goals/timing works (or can be compromised) then you talk about it again later – with additional goals maybe. And talk again and again for many, many years with new and adjusted goals/timing.

        • LW

          Thanks! We did have a version of this conversation after that first talk. I basically broke down my timeline by working backwards from “If we wanted to have more than one kid, and we want to have kids before we’re X age, and we’d like to be married for more than 30 seconds before we start trying, that means getting married around X time.” This came up after the first talk because I pretty much said if you can’t see that working
          for you, I’d rather know sooner than later because having kids is really important to me. It was a great conversation to have and made me feel much more settled.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I would be clearer. I would like to be married by x time. And tell him having kids is really important. If you haven’t already.

    • JenC

      We started talking about getting married at 8 months in, 4 years later we were engaged but our talk was very much to check that we were heading in the same direction, which from your comment below seems like a similar situation that you’re in. I wanted to know that marriage with him was in my future because otherwise did I really have to think of “us” when trying to establish a career or could I basically go wherever I wanted. Also, I looked at venues and dresses before being engaged 1) I wanted to see if weddings really costed the average amount that’s thrown around and 2) it’s a wonderful source of procrastination (I’ve been checking estate agents for so much longer and we still don’t own a house).

      I know it’s easier said than done but your partner shouldn’t feel too guilty about his previous relationship. Everyone puts so much pressure on you if you’ve been dating longer than a few years because obviously you’re going to get married, so why not now? If you’re having a rough patch, it’s obviously something you should see through as there’s nothing “wrong” as some of the other comments say. Also it’s assumed you’ll have to go through rough patches in marriage, so going through rough patches in dating prepares you. I think that after your parents have given your a partner a birthday card, it’s so hard to end it when nothing is “wrong”, just missing… I know it’s not a nice position to find yourself in (on either side of that scenario) but your partner did the best that he could in a situation that probably felt pretty helpless to him. In his case, he listened to his instinct, the alternative could be that his ex is now his wife and she could be asking for a divorce after 10 months of marriage (as has happened with a couple we know who felt the pressure to get married due to how long they’d been together and religious reasons).

    • emilyg25

      It sounds like your guy might be a people pleaser and sometimes does things he doesn’t want to do because he thinks he “should.” Not a bad thing (I’m married to guy like that too). Just something you need to keep in mind. Good communication is key, especially making it easy and safe for him to say the hard things.

      Also, high five to him to backing out of that relationship. It’s so hard to stop once that momentum starts.

  • Amanda

    i had an entire alternate universe wedding on a secret pinterest board like, two years before I’d gotten engaged. It had absolutely nothing to do with J–it’s just the FLOWERS ARE SO PRETTY AND I WANTS THEM ALL. it was about as real as my board called “dream closet”–guess what, i pin a lot of givenchy gowns i can neither afford or have an occasion to wear. and now that it’s real, guess who isn’t doing flower centerpieces because of real-world money? so, if it’s about day dreaming about the aesthetically beautiful as a stress release, i personally see no harm. hell, i still pin wedding dresses i like, even though i know i would never wear them & already have mine…

    but i think a good question to ask yourself: Are you daydreaming about your wedding or being married? these are decidedly not the same thing. DJ or band, chicken or fish, is *not* the same as planning out mortgages vs. renting. and some of these “premature” questions are simply learning each others’ value systems. being on the same page about the big stuff isn’t the same as doing the big stuff as soon as you talk about it.

    • JenC

      I still look at engagement rings :) but I’ve started to quote ‘Friends’ when Monica’s engagement ring has been sold and chandler says “ugly ring, ugly ring, ugly ring”. My partner got panicked when I stopped at the most expensive jewellers in town and instead of saying “ugly ring” I said “ooo…” He pulled me away from the window pretty fast!

  • jubeee

    Sounds like the LW is confusing mutual fantasizing with planning. Its perfectly normal for couples who are getting more serious to fantasize about their future, its a fun way of getting to know one another better. I’ve had those same discussions with exes who I was never engaged to and never even in love with. At 8 months you should know if he does want to get married and have kids. Do you feel safe? Do you feel understood? These are the things that you should be thinking about right now. As for saying I love you? I agree that its very important for many us to need to hear these words. You should communicate this to him. Its not needy to have needs, being loved by our partners is important to most of us. Let him know and then its in his hands.

  • LucyJuice

    This is going to sound… elementary, but I really wish that, when I was dating and getting engaged and planning a wedding all really quickly, someone had taken me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Lucy, there is a MARRIAGE on the other side of that wedding.” So, I’m going to do that for you.

    I see no reason to walk away from the relationship, but at least recognize the wedding stuff for what it is *at this moment,* which is fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little bit of it for a while, as others have said, but don’t lose sight of the fact that on the other side of the wedding is the marriage, and you had both better be damned sure that’s what you want.

    • emmers

      Yea, I totally feel this. I’m really glad we are married, but the wedding part is soooo separate from the actual marriage. It’s this weird cultural thing, where cake toppers and matching getting-ready wraps seem SOOO important before you’re married, when really joint bank accounts and talks about insurance and who does the dishes are actually what the long game ends up being.

  • Mandi P

    Enjoy your courtship. It has only been 8 months. Get to know each other.

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  • Kara Davies

    Yep, time to slow the firetruck DOWN. He hasn’t said ILY yet, you’ve only been together a shortish while, he’s come out of a long relationship…….? No more wedding planning! Focus on the here and now, not the planning and future and wedding stuff.

  • No joke, the first time my husband said the L word was on our wedding night. Yes, we had a three-year, ending-in-marriage relationship without him ever saying he loved me until we’d already been hitched.

    The reluctance to say it COULD be a red flag, but it isn’t NECESSARILY one.

  • Erica G

    I dated a guy like this before too. Do not get too invested in the idea of a wedding until all those issues are worked through. In my case, this guy had an idea of a future that he wanted, which involved marriage, but it wasn’t necessarily with me. He later dumped me and started dating his best-friend from his childhood, and he really does LOVE her. So if he can’t say it, put the brakes on ALL wedding talk until he does and even then I would give it some time. Don’t rush things out of desire to be married, make sure its the right person!

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