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Sex + Relationships

The Forbidden ‘L’ Word!: The College Edition of Saying “I Love You” For the First Time

‘L’ is for the way you look at me…like I’m a crazy person
It’s every guy’s biggest fear – saying “I love you” for the first time only to get shut down with a blank stare and a deafening silence.  But when it comes to the “L” word, girls don’t have it that easy either.  They might be afraid to hear it, waiting forever for it to be said, or wanting to say it themselves but are too nervous that they’re going to scare the guy off!  I mean, it is college…there isn’t an “It’s Complicated” relationship status on Facebook for nothing…

When it comes to these crazy college relationships, when does saying “I love you” come into play?  Is it thrown around more to kind of dull it down and make it less “scary”?  Or does saying it carry so much significance and commitment that people try to avoid it at all costs?  Well, my little love-struck ladies, we may never know.  But Her Campus talked to some brave I-love-you-sayers and dating doctor David Coleman to help us figure it out!  But first, let’s hear from some college students about their experiences with one of the scariest four letter words.
The Surprise “I Love You”
Sometimes an “I love you” pops out of nowhere – not while watching a romantic sunset on the beach or at a fancy candlelit dinner.  In fact, rising JMU Senior, Tricia Klingenberg’s first “I love you” with two-and-a-half year boyfriend, Scott, was quite the opposite. 
“Well, actually we got in a fight and he got mad at me and when I asked him why he was getting so mad, he said ‘Well, it’s because I love you,’” Tricia explains.  I bet that argument ended quickly.
The “Duh” I Love You
Probably the most frustrating part of a close relationship in the pre-I-love-you stage is that annoying feeling when you know the other person is thinking about it.  Or you’re sharing a moment and you’re dying to say it, but the first one is so hard to pop out!  Lisa Shea, also a rising senior at JMU, confronted this situation fearlessly.
“He said he loved me on Halloween. He just looked at me and I looked back at him and I said, ‘Just say it,’ and so he did.”  What a risk taker!
The Denial “I Love You”
Samantha Platania and her now-boyfriend, Ross, were best friends in high school.  Everyone always says that marrying your best friend is the way to go, but Samantha was a little hesitant at first when Ross first expressed his feelings about her.
“He really wanted to date before I did, but I thought it would be too weird. And he was [telling me] why we should be together, but I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, and he said it wouldn’t, because he loved me.”  So, naturally, she said “I love you, too!” and jumped into his arms as fireworks went off in the background, right? Hardly.
“No you don’t!” she yelled back in response.  “For some reason I didn’t believe him!” she says.  She eventually came around and when he said it again about three whole months later, she had the right response ready.
The Premature “I Love You”
“I remember it was early, and I remember I was embarrassed about it because it was early. I was like ‘Oh my God, she’s going to think I’m crazy!’” says rising JMU Senior, Rob Specketer about his first “I love you” with girlfriend, Kim, less than a month into their relationship.  She didn’t have a response then, but they are still going strong and have since then exchanged the expression.
“I wasn’t really expecting her to say it back, because it was so early. But it was something I was feeling.”  If only all guys had such a desire to express their feelings…
The Marinated “I Love You”

However, sometimes even when you’re pretty sure that what you’re feeling is love, the first one can be so hard to say.  JMU student, Axie Blundon and one of his past girlfriends of two years let it become super obvious until they said “I love you” about three months into dating each other.
“We both knew we were in love. It was so obvious and we knew that it was coming – kind of playing a game out of not saying it while also making sure it was for real,” he says.  “And that night it just happened, it was just waiting to be said.  Staring into her eyes, I told her I love her and she responded as we began making love and we lived happily ever after…for two great years.”  Well.  That one sounds pretty close to a movie moment!
CAUTION: Traditional Gender Roles Apply…Or do they?
So, waiting for the guy to “make the first move” is a common mindset for girls.  The guy has to be the one to ask for the number, to make the first call, to come up with the first date, to propose, (hopefully with some other dates thrown in there in between), but the point is, the guy is the one who has to say, “I love you” first, too.  Or is he?  Is it acceptable for the girl to say it first?  Let’s see what some of our previous I-love-you-sayers have to say.
Tricia, do you think it’s okay for the girl to say it first?
“Uh, yeah but I wouldn’t.  I’m more traditional.  I don’t call them first….like, they need to come to me.  But I think it’s acceptable if they feel that way!”

Let’s get some guys’ perspective.  Rob, can a girl say it first?
“As long as it’s true, you know?  Because it’s stupid to say it and not mean it and it’s stupid to say it for the wrong reasons.”

In case you were just left thinking, Wait…what are the wrong reasons to say ‘I love you’?!,love doctor David Coleman is here to answer that.  “The right reason is because you feel it, mean it, and want to express your feelings to the one you love.  The wrong reason is to keep someone ‘on the hook’ as your Plan B/Lay Away option while you ‘figure things out,’” he says.
The college kids may think it’s acceptable for the girl in the relationship to pop out the “L” word first, but what does the Doctor of Love think?  He says “whichever person feels it – for real – should say it.”
However, he does offer a word of caution: “They may want to assess if the other person is ready to hear it and if they feel the same way.  There is nothing more awkward than saying ‘I love you’ to someone who didn’t see it coming, doesn’t feel the same way, or isn’t nearly in the same place emotionally,” says David Coleman.   
So there you have it, ladies.  If you feel the urge to say “I love you” before he has, you can – just proceed with caution.  And here’s a clip from another expert in case you need more reassurance.

What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me. Don’t Hurt Me. No More.)
I guess this question should have been cleared up way before all this lovey-dovey talk even started!  What does being “in love” mean anyway? 
David Coleman breaks it down nicely.  “I love my pets. I love my home.  I love my friends and family.  But I am not in love with them.”  He further explains that being “in love” means that “another person has all the qualities and characteristics you are seeking in a partner for life and your intensity toward them could not be stronger or more meaningful.”
He also lists three types of love that you must have for another person in order to be partners for life: Eros Love (physical passion), Agape Love (heartfelt love that grows stronger over time), and Philea Love (the bond shared between friends).  “When all three are optimally present, you are most likely in love,” says David Coleman.
Okay. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s move away from this intimidating “life partner” talk and focus back on the College-I-love-you, because Her Campus has discovered a few varying opinions about what it means.  For example, Tricia thinks that the expression is losing its meaning.
“I think a lot of people say it when they don’t know why they’re saying it,” she says.  “Couples our age say it so quickly now – like a week into seeing each other. They’re like, ‘Love you, bye!’ and its like, no you don’t!”
However, Samantha thinks of it a little differently.  “I feel like people say it in high school and don’t really know what they’re talking about, and I feel like people don’t say it in college because they don’t want to seem clingy or scare the person off,” she says.  “So if they do say it, they actually mean it.”

Samantha’s opinion is a little closer to love doctor, David Coleman’s.  He says that recently, he’s found that “both college men and women are being much more careful and much more selective before proclaiming their love for one another.”  This also means that when it is said, senders and recipients do not take it lightly.
“When a college guy says, ‘I love you,’ that is a big deal…[because] he also indirectly infers that they are a couple, that his intentions are real, and that he sees other men now as off limits to her,” says David Coleman.  “The words ‘I love you’ add a sense of urgency, permanence, and meaning to any relationship.”
So, there you have it, Her Campus readers.  Love is a mysterious thing.  It’s pretty weird that just three little words could carry such a heavy significance when said out loud, but let’s make sure it stays that way.  Moral of the story?  Say if when you feel it.  Just hopefully not the first time through a text message.
David Coleman, Dating Expert
Tricia Klingenberg, JMU rising senior
Samantha Platania, JMU rising senior

Lisa Shea, JMU rising senior
Rob Specketer, JMU rising senior
Axie Blundon, JMU graduate ‘10

Caitlin Hardgrove is a senior at James Madison University, concentrating in Print Journalism in the School of Media Arts and Design. In combination with her Music Industry minor, she hopes to one day write for a music magazine publication. Caitlin is also a member of JMU’s dance team, The Dukettes, and their dance club, Madison dance. She has written for the university’s bi-weekly newspaper and interned at InSight, a magazine highlighting life in Montgomery County, MD (her home town). Although her study abroad trip to Ireland last summer will be very hard to top, she hopes to live at the beach this summer after she graduates and work for Delaware Beach Life magazine.