Question:

My boyfriend of six months has told me he loves me only a handful of times. I am a person who ends most phone conversations with my best friend and my parents with "I love you." It's reassuring, nice to hear, and true.

My boyfriend does love me and demonstrates it through his actions and other words, but when we talked about it, he said he finds it more meaningful to make more specific statements, like pointing out traits that he admires about me when they come up and telling me how he feels in more specific terms.

While I accept that as a rational argument, I still have an emotional need to hear those three little words. I obviously don't want to coerce him into saying it more often than he is comfortable with, but I'm not sure how to deal with the fact that not hearing it is making me increasingly insecure about the relationship.

Answer: I'm not sure I can give you a fair answer without making two disclaimers: I don't necessarily believe there's such thing as security in a relationship when you're only six months into it - there's only security in yourself. And I'm in your boyfriend's camp on those "three little words." I believe words matter, but deeds matter more.

Meanwhile, your boyfriend has said three big words times five, which means you can reasonably conclude two things: that he does feel it and that he is willing to say it out loud. I could argue that you're taking him for granted - and devaluing his other expressions of love.

And when you ask a mate for more "I love yous" just to make you happy, you need to be just as ready to say fewer of them if that's what makes him happy. Integrity demands that accommodations go both ways.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com,

or chat with her online at noon Friday

at www.washingtonpost.com.