You know the one I mean: the question most men of all ages, in all ages, have dreaded.
“Do you love me?” and various variations on that theme.
We want to answer it in a way that will reassure and please our partner, but are always afraid of somehow making a mess of it. Paradoxically, it’s this very wish to say the “right” thing that can mean we give the “wrong” answer. Or at least one that seems so riven with insincerity, because it’s coming from our thinking-head, rather than our feeling-heart, that we’ll wish we’d responded with a passionately felt kiss instead.
Which, come to think of it, could be the best possible answer for some women. But she may be the type of woman who needs words—and check out Gary Chapman’s Love Languages site to understand that people have a range of ways to instinctively express, and experience, caring, such as physical touch, acts of love, gifts or sharing time, etc.
Assuming you already asked yourself whether you actually want the woman you’re with (and not just someone to want you!), it’s often best to sidestep the Love question and reflect on where it may be coming from in her; from what you know about her, what insecurity or anxiety may she be feeling about you and why? Why is she asking me now? Have I not been paying attention to her or communicating with her as much as I might? Have I been preoccupied, or taking her for granted? Have I even been at all hostile toward her or resenting her, possibly for some subconscious reason?
If any of these behaviors ring true, and I want to move forward, in myself and in the relationship, I have to understand where they come from. Do I feel in my heart that she’s not the right woman for me, but I haven’t been brave enough to admit that to myself? If that’s the case, all I can do that’s worthy of respect is leave her as kindly, and as quickly as possible, and not waste anymore of her time with someone who only thinks she’s “good enough” or second best. This kind of dishonesty comes out sooner or later in a way that is much worse than the short-term pain that leaving might bring, when she realizes that she’s been consciously or unconsciously—it won’t really matter to her—deceived.
If, after reflection, I think maybe I’ve been forgetful and distracted, which easily happens to all men and is eminently forgivable, I don’t bother about saying those “three little words.” I focus instead, on changing my behavior in ways which will make her feel loved (and if I’m not sure what those are, I just ask her!) and to trust myself enough to let herself fully love me in return. This can bring all kinds of lovely mutual benefits!
Say the things you think she needs to hear—but only if they’re true for you…lying in this context will backfire badly if your actions don’t match your words. If being with her is the most important thing in your life; you don’t want it to end, can’t imagine why it would, and if it did that would be a tragedy for you—tell her all that. It might seem risky because it would be more painful if she rejected you. But that will be nothing like the pain of realizing that you lost her because you didn’t tell her how you felt.
If you’ve been paying attention to what kind of things upset her and shown willingness to go out from the metaphorical tent of your relationship in the middle of a storm to reset the pegs, repair any broken guy ropes and make you both safe, she already knows she can trust and respect you, and is probably already showing she loves you in many unspoken ways. Which you’re hopefully able to see, although, we can all be blind to the love being shown us, sometimes.
Or, is it because of insecurities that are getting in the way of me fully loving her and committing to the relationship?
Does she feel threatening to me or make me nervous in any way? These are immensely difficult emotions for any man to admit, especially to his partner, so they often get buried where they can do the most damage. The truth is that, for all kinds of understandable reasons—poor parenting, childhood trauma, and early disastrous sexual experiences—many men harbor feelings of anxiety in relation to their woman, or women in general, although a “macho mask” often hides this.
Men who cannot accept these feelings may “work them out” in relationships, where they can feel safe and in control, because an imbalance of power, or they may punish themselves by being a victim. The truth is, admitting to and sharing feelings of fear about intimacy does not make a man weak; it makes him human and worthy of respect. When I’ve been able to confess any such fears to my partner she’s always reassured me about what seems to her to be my bravery in being open. The other bonus is that, having shared what may feel like a dirty little secret, those fearful feelings usually disappear and I’m able to more confidently approach her, which brings a smile to both of our faces!
So if “the impossible question” has made you aware of any secret or seemingly shameful feelings you may have about intimacy, this is a chance to let them out into the light where they can evaporate. Remember, you’re not alone; and most women see clearly that all men have these feelings, even when we imagine that we’re covering them up. Their main interest is whether we’re brave enough to admit to them or not. Burying them will NOT make them go away!
I do believe that the “L word” is over valued as a kind of “word-drug” to make things better; and like any drug it becomes less effective with regular use. So, use it cautiously, and save it for very special occasions (I’m thinking probably naked and horizontal) so that its potentially magical power can still work for you in the best possible way!
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