Dear Carolyn • I was thrown/hurt/confused recently when my boyfriend of two years told me he's never really been in love and isn't sure what it's supposed to feel like. He then tried to exempt me, but initially he said it as a blanket response to my asking why he never says, "I love you." He has said it, but always when I've said it first. We're 31 and 32. I didn't know how to respond. I didn't want to make him feel bad since he was clearly emotional when he told me, so I just comforted him. I guess I'm the first girlfriend he's talked to about this. We're actually pretty good otherwise and I'm not looking for a ring. But I'm also not very good at gauging when it's time to admit this isn't OK, and it hurts to think about breaking up since I do love him. Any advice?
Confused and Sad
Dear Confused and Sad • Boom. No wonder you both ran for cover. As a final response to his confession, though, I don't recommend the running or the cover. That's because the only good outcome for both of you is to get on the right course, be it together tightly, together loosely or heading your separate ways. And the best way to find that right course is to dig out what your boyfriend was trying to say before he lost his nerve. Even if he's not entirely sure, your willingness to raise this topic without flinching will remove for him the "I'm afraid to hurt her feelings" obstacle, the one that keeps relationships going well past their expiration dates. You know you're stuck at "pretty good," or you wouldn't have pressed him on the "I love you" thing. So, walk toward what scares you and see whether your boyfriend needs a confidant or an out. Two caveats: 1) His confession could be more manipulation than honesty. I don't think anyone has to strain to imagine a tortured-looking character saying in a soft voice, eyes on the horizon, "I don't think I've ever loved before. (Shifts gaze to the ground.) I'm not sure what it feels like." 2) Even if it's bona fide, it's not the most promising truth ever shared. The big unflinching discussion could turn out just to be a one-hour postponement of the inevitable breakup. But it could also plant the seed for the intimacy you're lacking.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.