The Hook Up: 12-21-2011

When is OK to say “I love you” in a relationship? My girlfriend and I are both in high school (cheers, baby dykes) and we’ve been dating for around a month and a half now, and I really have no idea at what the big “I love you” should happen. She managed to ask me out before I asked her, so I’d like to be the first one to say I love you, but I don’t want it to be too soon. Help!

Anna says: Date three is when you drop the L bomb. Date five is when you start to become interchangeable to each other’s friends, aka The Merge. Date nine is when you buy a medium-sized dog and name it after an unappreciated and overlooked female revolutionary from the 19th century, or a member of Le Tigre. So, you know, you’re way behind! Better get on that “I love you” business pronto.

In all seriousness, you should tell someone you love them when you mean it. It’s a simple rubric. I know that a lot of heft gets thrown behind these three little words, and if you’ve ever said it first only to get a tepid “thanks” in reply, then I understand your anxiety. There have been a few occasions when someone said it to me, but I wasn’t quite there, so instead of lying or saying thanks, my strategy was to interrogate them. Really? How long have you felt this way? What is love, anyway? Are you gonna finish those fries? Both people saw right through my little diversion, nor do I necessarily recommend it as a “strategy,” but it did help to spark conversation.

Whatever you do, don’t do it out of a weird obligation to be “first.” Dating’s not a barter system (actually, it kind of is, but out of simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s not). Just because your gal asked you out, doesn’t mean you have to break the next milestone. It’s dating, not Monopoly.

Saying I love you doesn’t have to mark a huge change in your relationship. It doesn’t mean an increased level of commitment or loss of freedom or that you’re on your way to purchasing matching grave plots. It is simply a means of expressing your feelings to someone else. You should be stoked to say it, regardless of whether they feel comfortable saying it back. Are you? Then do it. And be grateful you have someone to say it to in the first place.

On the weekend, my girlfriend and I slept together for my first time. All was good afterwards, and I left and did the two-hour drive home. When I got home, I sent her a message saying that I was safe and that my mum was complaining (she doesn’t know about our relationship and I would probably be thrown out if she did), but it was worth it. No reply. An hour later, I sent her a Facebook message saying something completely different (funnily enough about this website) and got no reply. I waited an hour to check again and got nothing, but she’d been all over Facebook.

I then sent a phone message, “Hey, I’m sorry if you don’t want to talk but what’s wrong?” I sent two others, each an hour later, just because it made me nervous. I finally got one back saying, “I’m sorry but I was so tired that I went to bed (at 8 pm?). I just need to think. I’m still talking to you, sorry that your life’s sh—y (referring to my mother).”

I then just sent one back, “OK, that’s all good. It’s just that you were all over fb and you didn’t drop me a line, just got a bit scared. Life’s not sh—y, I’m dealing with it, so don’t be sorry.” I received nothing back, and that was a few days ago. Am I overreacting? Should I step back a bit?

Anna says: You sent her six messages in one night? Erm, yes, you need to back off. I know it’s hard to resist the urge to communicate with someone who’s not being as responsive as we’d like, especially since we now have about 8,000 mediums in which to overshare, but you went a little Single White Female on your girlfriend this time around. Was this the first time either of you had sex with a lady period? Or just the first time with each other? Either way, assuming nothing horrific or emotionally scarring occurred during the sex, (e.g. tears, blood, “I keep finding glitter in hard to reach places”) I don’t think you need to worry about your girlfriend taking a night off from communicating with you.

That said, it seems like you viewed the sex as kind of a big deal, as in you could get kicked out of your house if your mom found out, and maybe you needed to process things with her a little more before driving back to your house. (The long-distance element is probably not helping the situation either). If that’s the case, then you need to communicate that directly with her, rather than say sending her an AfterEllen link and hoping she’ll respond to that. Be honest and upfront about your concerns or fears. If you need to talk, then say so. It’s not unreasonable to ask for a little reassurance from our partners, even if it makes us feel needy or insecure. It’s much harder to ignore that kind of request than a simple, “Hey, I’m home safe,” you know?

Obviously more time has elapsed since you wrote this letter, so hopefully things between you two have normalized. If they haven’t, if you find that she’s being more evasive now and less responsive, then definitely have a talk with her. But going forward, try not to mistake someone’s silence for judgment. I know it’s hard. I’ve spent probably a third of my life agonizing over waiting for someone’s response. If I’m not immediately attended to, then obviously it’s because they hate me and I have terrible hair. We all do this, to an extent. Once you realize that freaking out about waiting is not productive, it’s easier to mute those crazy-making voices. Stay strong, next time. She’ll respond eventually.

My ex-girlfriend broke up with me about a year and a half ago. It was a huge shock, something I wasn’t expecting. I haven’t dated anyone since. I really haven’t put myself out there at all. Well, I’ve actually started talking to this one girl. She is great, and totally not what I normally go for.

The problem is I am terrified of starting something with her. I think it’s partly me not wanting to get hurt again and partly me still not over my ex, which all my friends tell me I seriously need to do. I know I need to, but I don’t want to use this new girl to do that in case it doesn’t work out and I hurt her. She’s a sweetheart and I’d feel awful for leading her on. My emotions are all over the place and I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Anna says: I say give it a shot. You’re letting your fear dictate your future. Go out on a date with this new girl. See how you feel afterward. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. But at least you’ll have taken one step forward. That’s all it is. Just one step. Don’t look at it as one step toward leading this girl down a path of inevitable pain. We all get hurt and hurt each other. That doesn’t mean we should all stop trying to love each other, too. So take a deep breath, and take a chance. You just might surprise yourself.

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com.

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