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So there I was, feeling a certain sensation in my stomach and in my heart that was telling me that my boyfriend at the time was someone I was in love with. It was the first time I had ever said those three words to a man of the opposite sex who wasn’t my daddy or brothers, and actually meant it. While spending quality time together, I decided that I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and after around eight months of being together, I finally expressed my full feelings to him. However, the look on his face, a mix of surprise and worry, let me know that he didn’t feel the same, but that was okay. While it definitely would have been nice to have our exchange of “I Love Yous” be like something out of a movie where we say it one after the other and live happily ever after, at the time, I was also mentally prepared for the fact that he might not be ready to say it. It was his first “serious” relationship, so I could understand if he felt like he wasn’t there yet, or was unsure of his feelings. Therefore, I smiled and told him, “No pressure, I just wanted to let you know how I feel, but you don’t have to say anything if you’re not ready.” I could tell a weight was lifted off of his shoulders, and after a few seconds, he replied to my declaration of love with a “Thanks.” A hug and kiss probably would have been more fitting, but it was fine. Well, it was fine at that moment at least.

But as an eight-month relationship turned into more than a year and a half, I became annoyed by the “Thank You.” Conversations would come to a close and I would feel so inclined to say “I Love You,” but there was that “Thank You” once again. While it was all right for a little while, we were at a stage in our relationship where I felt that if he wasn’t saying it by now, he probably wasn’t going to say it in the future. And hey, a sistah can’t put two years in a relationship where someone can only say they care for you A LOT as consolation. The more I said it as the relationship went on and the more time that passed without me hearing it back began to hurt my feelings a great deal, and before I knew it, the relationship went downhill and finally off the cliff.

At the time, it was almost like payback for my past false use of those three words. I had a boyfriend before the one who wouldn’t say “I Love You,” who told me that he was in love with me after only a few months of dating. Though I didn’t feel the same way, always one trying not to hurt other people’s feelings if I can avoid it, I said it back, not even knowing what the words really and truly meant. After my conscious ate at me for weeks and weeks, I sat this ex-boyfriend down and told him that I really wasn’t in love with him at all, and the feelings I was hoping to avoid hurting were very visible on his face. So after my boyfriend at the time gave me a “thanks” for every “I love you” my heart spewed out, I felt as though I was getting my just dues, and that I had played myself by saying how I felt first. I quietly told myself that I wouldn’t do such a thing again.

In the relationship I’m in now though, while definitely not perfect, I have found a happiness that I haven’t had in a very long time. Once again I felt the same feelings I had with the previous boyfriend, yet stronger. But because of all the drama and the sense of rejection that came from that situation for me, I decided to keep my mouth closed. I didn’t want to be that girl who cared more about a boyfriend than he did for me, so I tried my best to play it cool, even when he was going all out for me with his romantic gestures. But there’s something about being in love that causes a physical reaction. As I said before, it’s almost like you can feel something in your stomach, like the pressure of holding in valuable, if not earth-shattering information is causing you to want to blurt out how you feel. And if that’s not enough, aside from cheesing at the mere mention of the person you love or bringing them up in conversations they have nothing to do with, it’s often an epiphany that comes after something big. Like them coming to your home in the early hours of the morning on a Wednesday to rescue you by helping you look for a mouse in your apartment and calm your tears and panic (the last boyfriend couldn’t even help a sistah out at 9 p.m. when I saw my first roach in my apartment crawling by my bed, SMH). I had all these thoughts and emotions and feelings in my brain and body and was doing my damnedest to hold them all in. After feeling like a sucker the first time, I did my best to keep my feelings to myself the second time around.

And then one day, while sitting and talking with my boyfriend, he smiled at me and then randomly said out of the blue that he loved me. “I haven’t said those words to anyone in a really long time.” The declaration was a total surprise to me, as I had wondered how he was feeling about “us” for a while.  And when he said it, I happily said “I love you too!” with such emotion, it was as if the fools at Publishers Clearing House came to my door. It was reciprocated love, something that in all my relationships beforehand, I had not experienced. The weight I took off my own shoulders by finally speaking with my heart was one of the best feelings in the world.

As with most relationships, I learned from such a situation that you can’t let past pain and mishaps from relationships keep you from enjoying life and love to the fullest. Having my “I Love You” continuously smiled at and avoided like I was asking when my ring was coming made me feel like a fool, and it definitely held me back from fully opening up and expressing myself to the new man in my life. However, I won’t let it hold me back any further.

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