It’s awkward. Out of the blue they’ve said those three words and you don’t know what to do. It’s a tough situation but it happens more often than you might think.
So, how can you navigate it when someone you’re not actually dating tells you they love you?
Well, there’s a few things to think about here. First of all, most people will want to find a way to respond that hurts the other person as little as possible, right? By telling you how they feel they have opened themselves up to you and we really don’t want to take that trust and stomp all over it. We have to be kind, compassionate, but still very clear.
Secondly, you need to consider how you feel about them. After all, if the feeling is mutual then that’s problem solved and a happy ending. If not, then things get a bit trickier.
Let’s breakdown some of the ways this situation can go.
They say they love you but you don’t feel the same
Let’s start with the most awkward way things can go down. Someone who you’re not dating says they love you and you just don’t feel the same way about them at all. What do you do?
Firstly, some safety announcements. If the person is a complete stranger or is making you feel uncomfortable, it’s perfectly acceptable to brush them off and make a quick exit. If you feel like you’re in danger, try to get help or make your way to a safe space as soon as possible. In situations like this, the top consideration should always be your comfort and safety, not the other person’s feelings.
However, if the person is a friend or acquaintance, then you might want to be a little more gentle about letting them down. After all, you like this person, just not in that way, so you want to try and avoid ruining the relationship entirely if you can avoid it.
Start by showing appreciation for their feelings and, more importantly, the fact that they told you. By being gracious about the situation, even if you have to let them down, you’ll at least avoid making them feel stupid for saying anything in the first place. Besides, being told that someone loves you, provided it’s done respectfully and with good intentions, is usually meant as a complement. Recognise the bravery it took for them to tell you before letting them down, and hopefully that boost will help them through the disappointment.
Secondly, be as kind as possible when explaining that you don’t feel the same. Tell them how you do feel about them (you like them as a friend or colleague, etc.) but be very clear that you don’t feel romantically interested in them. It can be difficult to walk the line between kind and clear, but it is important to be direct so that nobody has a chance to get the wrong idea, as that will just lead to more hurt feelings later down the line.
Let them process
Be aware that sometimes it won’t be possible to preserve friendships no matter how nice you are when letting someone down. People deal with getting rejected in different ways. Some people will be fine and your friendship may be almost unaffected, whereas others may need to take some time away from you or even cut ties completely. The best thing to do in those situations is to just leave people to deal with their feelings however they see fit, even if you don’t like it.
They say they love you but you don’t know how you feel
This is by far the trickiest situation because the opportunities for misunderstandings are ample. Your best bet here is to just be as honest as you possibly can, even if you don’t really know how you feel yourself.
Truth be told, this kind of dilemma can go any one of a million ways, but trying to articulate as well as possible how you feel will at least give the other person all the information they need before you both make a decision about how to move forward.
A good middle ground between rejecting someone and professing your love for them is to suggest a simple date and taking things slow while you figure out how you feel. The best way to decide if you have feelings for a person is usually to spend time with them, so take this opportunity to do that. Just remember to always be as open and clear as possible about how you feel and where you think you are in your relationship. Conversations like that might not be the most fun things in the world, but they will help avoid misunderstandings and drawn-out issues as time goes by.
You’re allowed to take time to figure out your feelings, and provided you make a compassionate effort to take into account the other persons feelings too, it’s a journey of discovery that can be incredibly useful and enlightening for both of you. Communication is key, so just keep those channels open and you should be ok.
They say they love you and you love them back
Lucky you! Turns out the feeling is mutual and you’re about to find yourself in a scene from a Hollywood rom-com. As such, the response for this one is nice and simple.
Tell them how you feel and see where the relationship takes you. We hope you’re very happy together.
(Just remember that communication is still key, even when you both feel the same way).
There’s no one right way
As with all things romance, there are no hard and fast rules that can never be broken or strayed from. The truth is that different people need different things from their relationships, both platonic and romantic, and so dealing with situations like those described above will require slightly different approaches for different people.
But, in general, the headlines stay the same. Stay safe, show appreciation, and be kind.