I just called to say “I love you”


Graphics by Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia

Rachel Fernandez, Managing Editor

Jesse Stellwagon was in his college dorm room with his girlfriend of three months, Laura, when he first said it.

“I had a long night of, uh, liquidation, and she was sitting there, probably taking care of me,” Stellwagon said. “And I looked at her and I was just like, ‘I love you. I don’t expect you to say it right now but that’s how I feel.’ And she kind of just looked at me like, ‘ok.’”

Stellwagon remembers saying it for a few more months before she eventually said “I love you” back to him. They continued to date for 11 years and got married over a year ago.

Saying “I love you” in a romantic relationship is considered a big step with both people involved often scared to be the first one to verbally express their feelings. The phrase is typically associated with commitment and the desire for it to be reciprocated, but having that expectation could pull you out of a moment.

“It’s usually better to say it when you’re feeling it but with the expectation that they might not be necessarily feeling it back in that direct moment as well and not necessarily demanding it,” said Michael Maloney, a Chicago-based therapist who works closely with couples. “So just in that moment it doesn’t need to be forever, but saying ‘in this moment I feel connected to you.’”

Saying the phrase is a way of verbalizing the love you’re feeling, but Maloney finds it important to look at other ways in which people express their love.

“The ‘I love you’s can be taken as behavior,” Maloney said. “It can be literally saying ‘I love you’ before you part ways, a kiss or hug or some sort of physical interaction when you come back together. Finding those ways to feel connected.”

Ultimately, Maloney emphasizes the importance of relating to one another.

“You feel really connected to the one that you love, then that feeling of love sort of hits your body and you feel attached to that person,” Maloney said.

Expressing emotions certainly puts a person in a position of vulnerability. We can’t decide what to feel and what not to feel, so sharing these emotions is admitting to something you have no control over. This can be daunting in relationships, especially with a feeling as powerful as love.

“Some people are just able to be vulnerable faster than other people and I think,” Sarah Bessonney, 22, said. “If you’re ready to be vulnerable and share that piece of yourself, then I think you should go right ahead, and if you love someone and you’re not ready to be vulnerable yet, then listen to that too.”

Although she felt it sooner, Bessonny waited almost a month to the day for her boyfriend Curtis Green to tell her he loved her.

“I knew that if I said it, it was going to be too much too soon for him because it was so intense already and we hadn’t been dating for that long,” Bessonny said.

She and Green started dating when they were in high school and he was her first boyfriend. After spending years in a relationship, part of which was long-distance, the two of them became engaged about a year and a half ago.

“I definitely knew that I loved him before he knew that he loved me,” Bessonny said. “We both agree about that now even as an engaged couple.”

“I love you” is more of a moment than a lifelong feeling. Nothing is forcing you to love a person forever, and nothing is forcing the other person to love you back. My advice? Take the feeling as it comes, and if you want to say it, say it.

That being said, emotions are scary, and telling someone how you feel is especially terrifying given the arbitrary expectations we tend to have. So I get it. I get why people are scared. But you should do it, and so should I.

Here, I’ll start:

I love you!