How to respond when you are not ready to say I Love You

Yikes. The L-word. 

Said at the right time – and to the right person – it can be the most beautiful word. But what do you do when your partner drops the L-bomb, but you don’t feel the same way?

Whilst it might feel like a nightmare situation, this doesn’t have to signal the end of your relationship. Yes it’s unfortunate, and definitely awkward. But we’re humans. And though our complex emotions don’t always align at exactly the same time, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

Here’s how to respond if you’re not ready to say “I love you”.

Photographer: Lauren White

Acknowledge it

Even if inside you’re feeling 50 shades of awkward, it’s really important that you acknowledge how nice it is that they feel that way. The fact that it’s not reciprocated isn’t important at this point. Your partner put themselves in an extremely emotionally vulnerable position, and that took guts. So it’s important not to make them feel embarrassed, or like they did something wrong.

Tell your partner how much you appreciate that they feel that way about you, and let them know how flattered and special you feel. 

Don’t succumb to pressure

Whatever you do, don’t be fooled into thinking that the kindest thing to do is just say “I love you, too”, if that’s not what you’re really feeling.

You can try something like, “I feel so lucky to be with you, and I can’t wait to see how our relationship evolves. Know that I care about you very much, but I need a little more time to say those words.”

What’s important is that your partner feels valued and reassured, so tread sensitively their emotions.

Don’t feel guilty

Even though your partner might be feeling a little sheepish, don’t apologize. You can be sensitive without apologizing for your feelings. After all, you’re showing the utmost respect for them by not saying something you don’t mean. 

If your partner responds angrily, accept that this has nothing to do with you. This kind of emotional response is a sign of a bruised ego (and a level of emotional immaturity). 

If you get an angry response, simply say, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I feel I owe you the respect of being honest. Perhaps it’s best that we take a few minutes apart to cool off, and then talk about this again when emotions aren’t running so high.”

Photographer: Kelsie Bowman

Make sure they know you’re still a team

Just because you’re not ready to say those three words now doesn’t mean you won’t ever be. 

Your partner needs to know that this relationship is going somewhere, and even though they got there quicker than you, you’re still headed in the same direction. They want to know if you’re in this for reals or not. If not, then the kindest thing is to walk away. If, on the other hand, you are – then now’s the time to let them know.

Don’t say thank you

Oh jeez. Just don’t. 

It’s easy for those two words to pop out when you don’t know what else to say, but it’s going to make them feel 100% friend-zoned. A moment of silence to gather your thoughts is better than something that will make them feel stupid.

Act normal afterwards

Whatever you do, be sure to call yourself into check if you find yourself acting awkwardly after the deed. 

They are probably already feeling pretty uncomfortable, and will be hyper sensitive if you are acting distant. So just be the same as you have always been. Whether this makes or breaks you is down to you – it won’t be awkward unless you make it so.

Photographer: Theresa Sherron

Be honest with yourself

If there is any doubt in your mind that you have a future with your person, then now’s the time to admit it to yourself. 

It’s totally ok to not reciprocate loving feelings. It’s not ok to string someone along if you’re likely never going to feel that way. Take a moment to think about how you really feel. Maybe this situation will force you to reflect on something that you didn’t realise you felt (both good and bad). Ultimately you owe it to both of you to be honest if you think that the reluctance to say “I love you” isn’t a temporary thing.

Even though it might feel uncomfortable, not being ready to say “I love you” can actually be a really positive step for a blossoming relationship. Take it as it comes, be yourself, and trust your intuition.