I have never said "I love you" first in a relationship. As someone who has learned to play it close to the chest in regards to her emotions, even if I'm feeling it I won't dare say it first. If I'm not feeling it and a partner says it first, then I get awkward and squeamish, immediately opting to the change the subject: "How about those Red Sox?" A question I can't even answer myself, but sometimes it's just better to go off on a subject you don't know much about than stare awkwardly into your partner's eyes waiting for the right words to come into your head, so you can spill them so eloquently out of your mouth. But often times, at least in my experience, the words never come.
"Responding to your partner saying 'I love you' before you're ready can be tricky," author and relationship expert, Susan Winter, tells Bustle. "[That is] if you don't feel for them what they feel for you."
Although in a couple of those instances, I just wasn't there yet, emotionally speaking, for the most part, that feeling never came. But no matter whether the emotion of love ever came or not, the fact remains that when your partner tells you they love you before you're ready, you need to tread lightly.
Here are seven ways to respond when your partner says "I love you" before you're ready.
1. Explain Your Feelings
According to Winter, if you're on your way to falling in love with your partner, but they just got there first, explain your feelings to them. "Tell them the depth of your feelings, in detail," says Winter. "Include the ways in which they make you happy and add value to your life. If you can't yet say 'I love you,' then it's best to describe the growing emotional connection you're feeling your mate. This provides security, as it shows you're both moving in the same direction."
2. Be Kind
It's takes serious guts to tell someone that you love them before they say it to you. Because of this, you have to be kind, you need to be kind. Maybe your instinct is to thank them, because why not? Or maybe, like me, it's easier to deflect, but don't do it. Both scenarios can come off belittling and passive aggressive, even if that's not your intention. So don't jump in with an answer immediately. Instead, pause and choose your words wisely.
3. Hear Them Out
Once your partner says that they love you and you come back with a difference answer, you better believe that this isn't where the conversation ends. If your partner wants to tell you all the reasons why they love you or even further justify their feelings for you, let them. This is their moment, so don't take it away from them.
4. Be Diplomatic
If you're not feeling it and you don't think you ever well, then Winter suggests you be diplomatic about it. "If you don't love them (and feel that's not a possibility in the future), you've got to diplomatically let your partner know that you're not on the same page," says Winter. In other words, approach it the way President Obama would — with dignity, grace, and tact.
5. Be Open
There may be a chance that you don't even know how you feel about this person. In fact, maybe you were only lukewarm until they said the big "L" word. If that's the case, be open to what this turn of events could mean for your relationship. Just because you didn't feel one way an hour ago, doesn't mean you can't feel differently an hour from now.
6. Be Honest
As Winter points out, no matter how you're feeling about the situation, you need to be honest. If you know that loving them is in the cards, then say it. If you know, in your heart of hearts, it's just not going to happen, tell them that, too. It won't be even remotely easy for either one of you, but when it comes to times in your life when you should absolutely be honest, this is definitely one of them.
7. Talk About What This Means
Because this conversation is going to open doors that you may not be ready to walk through, you need to talk about what it means. Not what love means, but what it means for your partner to be in love and for you to not be in love yet (or ever). Can your relationship work if you're not in the same spot emotionally?
"If this information has revealed a fatal flaw in your connection," says Winter, "it's best for both of you to move on."
Falling in love is a risk. Even more so is saying the words out loud because you immediately make yourself vulnerable — which isn't a bad thing. But if you're the one who's on the receiving end of those words, you still need to realize just how heavy a moment it is for you partner and be there for them, as you would in any other situation.