Dear Dr. Wes and Jenny: I broke up with my boyfriend three weeks ago yesterday because I didn't think I loved him anymore. I just got off the phone with him, and as I hung up I said, "I love you," which is what we always did. But I haven't said it for three weeks. Is it possible that I do still love him, or do you think it may just be out of habit? We had been dating for 15 months.
-- 17-year-old girl
Jenny: Fifteen months is a long time for a relationship in high school. I assume that over that time you two have become very close friends and you still feel that connection with him. Whether it is love or not I cannot truly tell; only you can determine that. What I can tell you is that the connection that you have grown to know with him is still there. Three weeks of being apart compared to 15 months together doesn't seem like a long time, and old habits are heard to break.
My question to you is when you said "I love you" did it feel the same as saying, "How are you?" or "Hello" -- just another polite habit? Or when you said it, was it something you meant? You need to ask yourself what love means to you and make a list of its qualities. After you complete your list, see if the way you feel towards your ex-boyfriend is the same as what you have described.
Love can mean so many things in today's society, and some think that as soon as the passion leaves from a relationship you are out of love. So you need to figure out if that is the way you perceive love. High school relationships are meant to prepare you for your relationships in the future; they are meant for you to learn. I think right now in the relationship with you and your ex, you need to figure out what your definition of love is to know if you are in it or not.
Wes: First of all, I believe we need to learn to choose whom we love -- not fall into love like it's a hole in the yard we hadn't expected to find. So you are on the right track in considering this a decision. The length of this relationship is itself a mixed bag. On one hand, I am always happy to see kids commit themselves to healthy long-term dating relationships at a time when casual hooking-up is far too common. On the other, you are young and still in early exploration of how love fits into your life. That exploration may actually be limited by long-term exclusive dating, even if this relationship was an important stepping-stone in the process.
Many adults still get the "puppy love" idea that young romance isn't important, which is a good way to shut down any conversation with teenagers about their love life. Jenny's right: Love relationships are at the core of how adolescents get ready for adulthood because they give you the practice you need for a lifetime of healthy coupling. That doesn't diminish your relationship with your boyfriend. It makes it more special.
So do you still love him? There is no doubt that any 15-month relationship will eventually change from explosive passion to something else. If the relationship has moved toward something that is boring, predictable and lifeless, then, love him or not, it may have run its course. You are not married. You have not made a serious commitment to work through all the problems and incompatibilities you may face.
But if a relationship instead becomes comfortable and familiar, offering you security and a sense of unity rather than wild passion and intrigue, then you have simply discovered a more mature aspect of love. Here's the bottom line: Everyone needs to practice two things over the course of his or her dating life, exclusivity and exploration. You've done the first, and apparently succeeded at it. Now you have to decide if it is time to do the second, and in making that decision, your love for this guy will only be one thing to consider. If you choose to date him again, do it honestly and without reservation. If you choose to explore, do that the same way.