Dear Harlan: I’m a senior in college and in a new relationship. My girlfriend has a history of unhealthy relationships. All of the people she has dated or loved have hurt her. We’ve been together for three months now. She wanted to move slowly, and I am OK with that. We have been going slowly physically. The problem is that I made a mistake: I told her that I was falling in love with her. I said the words “I love you.” She didn’t say the words back, and told me to slow down. She has started to pull away from me. She doesn’t return texts or call me back. I don’t want to lose this relationship. Should I fight or give her room?— In Between
Dear In Between: Hearing the words “I love you” is the equivalent of her hearing “Now I’m going to hurt you.” Falling in love has not worked out very well for her. Don’t fight it. Fighting her is what she expects. Give her room to process this – lots of room. Give her several rooms, long hallways, a big yard, a basement, a second floor and a four-car garage. Give her more room than any man has given her before. Keep loving her. Here’s the catch: Don’t attach requirements with the love. Loving her means giving her permission to not love you back the same way or at the same time. Offer the kind of love she has never experienced before. It’s a love based on giving without taking. Instead of pressuring her to give you something she’s not ready to offer at this moment, make it clear that you don’t expect anything. Send her a text or write her a note. Let her know that you are patient and comfortable to give her the time and space she needs. Make it safe for her to reach out to you when she feels comfortable. And leave it at that. You didn’t do anything wrong. You shared your feelings and trusted someone who has a very hard time trusting.