“Even if you feel like pouring your heart out to her, don’t say the “L” word too soon or she’ll show you another “L” word: leave.”

The Question

Hi Dating Nerd,

I really want to say I love you to my girlfriend. We’ve been dating for three and a half months now, and the feelings she gives me — I know that’s love. I’ve never felt like this about anyone before, and I want to show it to her. But I’m worried I’ll screw it up or it’ll be a turn-off or something. Usually the woman says “I love you” first, no? Should I say it if she hasn’t? I think she might — she responds to all my texts and told me she wants us to be exclusive. I don’t want to ruin this by bringing my feelings into it too soon. What do I do?

– Love Shy

The Answer

Hi Love Shy,

Yes. Go ahead and say “I love you” first. Don’t worry about it — it’s not a big deal. You don’t need a romantic gift like flowers and chocolate, and you don’t need a lot of planning. You can just blurt it out when the moment is right. It’s three words. You can do this. You say at least three words all the time. Why wouldn’t you say these ones? Don’t be a coward.

Well, there are actually a couple of arguments against my advice, which I will viciously defeat, each in turn, because that’s my job — being right about your love life.

Some dudes are hesitant to say “I love you” before their partner does because they’ve been taught that real men don’t show their emotions. That there’s a certain magnetism in being a flinty-eyed stoic who reveals little. Mystery is conjured by an unsmiling, muscular male, and chicks dig mystery. If you don’t give your affection out easy, the theory says, people will work harder for your affection.

Is this true? Well, yes. Many people want affection and will work harder for yours if you they don’t have it. Should this affect your decision to say “I love you?”

Absolutely not. Because, really, who wants to live that way? Who wants to silently smother all of their emotions so you might get a small charisma boost? Presumably, if you’re asking me this question, you’re not an ice-veined introvert: You’re someone who’s making an active effort to hide their feelings, not someone who doesn’t have many of them.

Imagine this nightmare scenario. You just had amazing sex with someone you could see spending your life with — a really, really good woman, someone who makes you want to stick around. Now you’re lying in her bedroom together. She’s propped up on her elbow, and her face is gently lit up by the streetlight shining through the window. The air smells like a mix of your favorite perfume and the nice bottle of Riesling you’re now drinking together, the glasses refreshingly cool in your hand. She’s looking at you expectantly as if she expects you to say something.

And you really want to — you really love her. You’re sure of it.

So you keep your mouth shut so you can win a few man points? Are you serious? If that’s being a real man, I don’t care for it. I’d rather be a fake man who says what he means.

Look, it’s totally possible that if you’re constantly thinking about how to maintain complicated power games in your relationships, you’ll be able to inspire a certain kind of servile devotion in people. But if you’re the kind of guy who wants to spend his whole life carefully toying with the people who love him, then this is not the advice column for you. Not only does that lifestyle seem a little evil to me, it seems tiring, frankly. Who has the mental energy?

By the way, this is a rule that applies to more or less any emotion that you experience in a relationship. If you’re feeling something strongly, you should probably just say it — not recklessly, but not shyly. Assertively. Otherwise you’ll just be a roiling bag of feelings all the time. Everyone gets angry at their girlfriends, because every girlfriend is annoying at some point. You’re presented with two choices: Air your grievances, or slowly let them corrode your soul until you hate your girlfriend, your life, and, well, everything. Or, in a different scenario, you’ll be filled with compliments that could her happy, because you don’t say a word, because that’s supposedly not what Men Do.

Moreover, if you act emotionless to get your way, you won’t be remembered by your exes as a great guy with whom things didn’t work out. You’ll be remembered as a manipulative jerk, because that’s what you were. This will be bad for your reputation. Again, if you want to go through life like that, fine. But it seems pretty silly to me.

You might offer another counter-argument: That there are women who will be turned off by any spontaneous display of affection whatsoever — women for whom stony, masculine silence is the ultimate turn-on. Yes. And this is a minority, whom you probably don’t want to date, unless you enjoy projecting quiet scorn all the time. But you emailed me to tell me you want to tell her. So that tells me something right there.

OK. Now counter-argument three is that she might tell you she doesn’t love you back. You might put your tender heart out on the line and get it shattered.

And my response to this is simple. So what? You’re afraid that she doesn’t love you? Man up. Seriously. If you’re at a stage in your dating life where you’re worried that your partner doesn’t really love you, but you’re not emotionally strong enough to risk ending the illusion that she might, your real problem is that you’re a baby. You should want to know if you’re dealing with unrequited love, because it’s a terrible place to be in, and you should get out of there. Men who labor in unrequited love suffer from back problems because their heads are constantly slumped in shame. Something unseemly probably happens to their testicles. (Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor.)

Literally billions of people all over the world have said “I love you” before, many before their partners did. Simple mathematics tells you that many of these people went on to have nice relationships, complete with houses, anniversaries, screaming little children. So just suck it up and do it.

building a mystery

So how do you plan to create that sense of mystery that she requires in order to fall for you, if you tell her how much you love her right away? You can’t. So don’t tell her you love her too soon and she’ll love you more and sooner than you think. And by the way, don’t attempt to verify this fact with women because, more often than not, they will deny it and will only confuse you even more.

Brett, you’ve got to understand that a sure-fire way to sabotage a potentially great relationship is to come on heavy verbally. Don’t reveal too much about yourself too soon, and don’t let her know that your Interest Level [degree of love] in her is higher than Bill Gates’ net worth. When you do that, you’re being the opposite of a Challenge [allowing the woman to chase you]. And women, above all, want a guy who is a mystery, even though they will never admit it.

light and fluffy

For the first sixty days, self-disclosure about your feelings toward the girl whom you’re dating should be strictly rationed. Besides, it takes at least two months to begin to know someone well enough to have any real sense as to whether they are lifetime partner material, or just someone to party with.

Before those critical sixty days have passed, keep it light and keep her laughing. As one of our great modern philosophers, Cindy Lauper once said, “Girls just want to have fun,” and there’s more practical wisdom in that than you know. You’ve got to save the whole, “Wow, you really are my soul mate,” conversation for way down the line, and let her be the one to bring it up because it is always better for both of you if she thinks that it is her idea to begin with.

comfort zone

Brett, your problem is that you allowed yourself to get too comfortable way too soon. And worse, you let her know that you were overjoyed to be with her. But, if her Interest Level is still above 50%, we can save this relationship by backing off slightly. So no more “I love yous” for a while; cut down your dates with her to once a week; and don’t talk to her on the phone unless you’re making a date. Start thinking like a guy, not a gal, and stop worrying about where the relationship is going. Instead, relax and allow Challenge to work its magic. Your job is to always keep it light and fun, and lay off the heavy subjects.

Listen, Brett, two things happen in a relationship; you either break up, or worse, you get married. The System says that all breakups are never mutual. One person always dumps the other, and 90% of the time the woman dumps the man or drives him nuts until he dumps her (she gets him to do her dirty work). Then we hear the excuse, “It didn’t work out,” which, in Womanese, means: “He turned me off, lowered my Interest Level, and then I dropped him like the bad habit that he was.”

Remember guys, until she will rob banks for you, do not come on strong. If you cannot learn to control your mouth, forget women and join a monastery.