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Carolyn Hax: When to stop waiting to hear those three little words


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I have been in a relationship with a guy (I’m 43 and he’s 39) for five years and he has never told me he loves me.

About two years ago or so, I asked him if he loved me and his answer was along the lines of, “What does love mean?” I almost lost it. I was like, “What do you mean, what does love mean??”

I went into the reasons I loved him, and he still couldn’t tell me he loved me.

I know he has been in love before. He told me he was in love with his past two girlfriends. I feel like a fool that I have stuck around for two more years hoping to finally hear those words.

He was badly hurt in his last relationship (she cheated on him), so there are major trust issues that we have had to endure over the past five years. I keep thinking that is why he can’t tell me he loves me. Maybe it is just time for me to move on? Is this normal??


I think it’s possible to drive yourself mad trying to figure out what “should” happen, what’s “normal,” and possible reasons you have X vs. Y, when really the only relevant question is: Am I happy in this relationship as-is, or am I waiting for something to change?

If it’s the former, yay, you can relieve yourself of the burden of Figuring It All Out.

If it’s the latter, and if you’ve clearly spelled out for him what you’re waiting for, and if you have gone a decent stretch of time without seeing any effort or progress toward the thing you’re waiting for, then it’s time to admit to yourself it’s not coming any time soon.

Then you need to ask yourself — and answer without rationalizing — “Can I be happy in this relationship without it?” If no, then it’s time to go.

Think of this as the flow chart of frustrated love.

Re: “He was badly hurt”:

Oh good God. You know, of all the times I’ve ever read this excuse, it has hardly ever been true. Why can’t people just be more honest? “I don’t feel it.” “I wish I cared for you that way, but I don’t.” What’s so difficult about this? And then why STAY in those relationships?

Anonymous 2

Also, for the sake of argument, let’s say that occasionally it does turn out to be true: If you’re still that emotionally injured by a past relationship, then what are you doing in another relationship?

Sure, yes, people will always have their Stuff, and it’s normal for each half of a couple to bring vulnerabilities to the mix. But if the needing and nurturing and stuff-related reassurances are flowing only one way, or flowing at a high volume, then it’s not a relationship, it’s a mutual dependency in which a need to be fussed over pairs up with a need to fuss.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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