Dear Miss Osage,
My boyfriend told me he loved me last night – and it freaked me out! I just froze and couldn’t say anything back. I think we’re still ok. But what’s wrong with me?
Deer in Headlights, age 15
~ ~ ~
Ah, yes. The power and impact of love. Thank you for bringing this to me. First, there is Nothing wrong with you. It was just a potent moment that inspired something big for you.
There are so many things I would need to ask to understand what is going on here. But let’s start with some basics of communication.
1. Timing. Every message has its right time and place. If this message came too early in your relationship, it may have been a case of poor timing. When people – young people especially – are unsure of how to be, they might internalize other’s expectations and act from that place. What do I mean by that? They are doing what they think other people think they are supposed to do. You know what I’m talking about?
In this stage – puberty, middle/high school, early years of romance – there is a lot of concern about ‘doing it right’. So kids will naturally look for clues in how to act to achieve that ‘right’ status. This can often backfire.
While it’s perfectly normal to seek guidance and orientation, acting from a sense of pressure will always be less effective than acting from what is truly existing within. He may truly love you. Still, given that it was Valentine’s Day (and there are a lot of messages via media for men to create ‘romance’ on that night), it’s possible the expression was forced for the sake of the occasion.
What did your body feel? Did you reel back and feel dizzy? Was it more of a sinking in the stomach? The body is always a first guide in discerning important messages.
Our bodies are very intelligent and often let us know when we sense something is off. There’s a good chance you sensed something awry, and you are now trying to make sense of that here. Bravo for continually down the path of understanding…
So, maybe the timing for you two was a little premature – and you sensed this.
2. Association. Of course, a big inner reaction always begs the question, “What did this bring up for you?”. This is personal business. Do you have any associations with the concept of “love” that might inspire such a reaction? Again, this can all be perfectly normal. It’s just an opportunity to look over your history and ask soul-searching questions… When you think of love, what comes to mind? If you like to write, you might try a ‘free association’. Write the word “Love” at the top of a page and then write down all of the random words that come to mind.
Just let your hand move and then, look over what you have when you’re done. See if you can do this with a kind gaze. Imagine an all-loving grandparent or protective figure reviewing the list with you, bringing nothing but acceptance. What do you see?
If your list includes some painful words, it may be time to tend to those. If it contains ideas about commitment and/or obligation that you’re not ready for, you can address these too. Is there something connected to love that you are uneasy about right now?
Because we’re all so imperfect – and we love deeply anyway – love can sometimes be associated with pain. Connections that were severed for a variety of reasons can leave a feeling of aversion (backing away from) the concept or idea of love. The response can keep us from very sense of connection we seek.
It’s helpful to think of all of this in timing as well. If you had a recent painful experience with someone you loved (a friend, parent, relative, even a pet), the idea of love may bring up self-protective urges. It’s ok. It just means you still need time, and care, to tend to this wound before love can feel safe and exciting for you again.
Everyone deserves to move forward in their own time. So, there’s another possibility.
3. Authenticity. Lastly, I have to put in a word for authenticity. This is the quality of being fully honest and true about who you are, where you stand, and what you feel. It can be hard. Sometimes authenticity can feel risky, especially when your friends are so important to you.
Here’s something to keep in mind – people can always sense when someone is not being authentic.
If a person is trying to ‘be’ something or even to act like they ‘feel’ something that isn’t truly there, others always know it. On a deep level, we can pick this up. In some ways, this is the great personal challenge of these years – tuning in to what is true for you, and combining it with the courage to represent that truth with all people, all the time.
Self-acceptance is a huge asset in forming quality relationships. Consider that you and your friends/boyfriend are all on this courageous path together. Have compassion – but also insist on authenticity in yourself and others.
When the time is right, and you’ve looked into this reaction for yourself, you can talk to your boyfriend about it. It sounds like you need clarity. It may be that you need clarity from him (“So, I appreciate you saying that, but it felt weird because we don’t really know each other yet… What’s going on?”). Or, it may be that clarity comes from reviewing personal exercises in point #2 (“I had a big reaction to you saying that, because I’m still feeling pain about [my last breakup/my dad dying/my best friend leaving town/etc]. I care about you too, and just need to go a little more slowly in the emotional commitment thing”).
It will all smooth out. Again, authenticity means being honest with your boyfriend, and insisting on honesty from him. This is the heart of what really satisfies us. So, strive to meet each other there, when you are both ready.
Love is resilient. It can surely endure an awkward moment if that’s what you both want. You both might even laugh about it down the line. Love is powerful, and it can evoke big reactions in anyone. You are well on your way now to navigating all of this with ease and strength.
Best of luck ~