As you start dating someone new and begin to develop feelings for them, the dilemma of when to say “I love you” for the first time begins to weigh on your mind. There is no right or wrong answer here, no hard-and-fast rule to determine when is a good time to lay your heart bare to someone, no framework to go on. Is saying “I love you” after two months the right way to go about it? Or is waiting 6 months a good, safe zone?
That’s probably why this question has transcended into the realm of a perennial conundrum. An idée fixe of those learning the ropes of newfound loves. Say it too soon and you risk spooking your partner completely. Wait too long, and you may miss your moment and disappoint them, even. Knowing when is the right time to say “I love you” is key to making sure your words have the right effect.
To help you solve the mystery of how to time the declaration of your feelings right, I’ve scoured books and poured over research, spoken to people — those who have crashed and burned by expressing their love at the wrong time and those who’ve hit the nail on the head — and sought insights from counseling psychologist Dhriti Bhavsar (M.Sc, Clinical Psychology), who specializes in relationship, breakup, and LGBTQ counseling. Let’s get into it, shall we?
when do you say “I love you”? Signs You’re Ready
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Addressing the question of when is an appropriate time to say “I love you” and how do you know you’re ready, Dhriti shares an example, “A girl who was in therapy with me was distraught after her relationship took a turn for the worse when she told her boyfriend she loved him, for the first time, in the middle of a big fight.
“She thought the fight could mean that things were over between them and felt compelled to tell the guy how she felt about him. However, her boyfriend didn’t see it that way. He thought she dropped the L bomb to emotionally manipulate him into staying in the relationship. That made things worse.” You see how three little words can mess up a romantic relationship if not timed right.
If you’ve been wondering, “When do you say “I love you” in a new relationship?”, you’d certainly want to avoid a situation like this. Now, this can leave you wrestling with questions like, “Is 3 months too soon to say “I love you”?” or “Can I say “I love you” after just a few dates?”
As I’ve said before, there cannot be a definitive timeline or hard and fast rules for saying “I love you” for the first time. Or even predicting how soon is too soon to say “I love you”. Dhriti says, “I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to wait a certain time before saying those three magical words. Rely on your internal compass, look within, and understand your feelings. Love is a warm, comfortable feeling that is hard to miss or overlook. It’s like a red dot on a white wall, it will draw your attention no matter how hard you try to overlook it. So, if you’re in love with someone, you’ll know.”
To help you be 100% sure of your feelings, here are some signs that you’re ready for telling someone you love them for the first time:
- You genuinely care about your partner’s happiness and well-being
- Even though it is a new relationship, you feel a deep connection with your partner
- You feel ready to take the next steps in your relationship
- You are past the infatuation stage and recognize your partner’s flaws and quirks, but that doesn’t affect the deep feelings you have for them
- You feel secure with them
- You want to be vulnerable with them, laying your heart bare to your SO and sharing things you haven’t been able to talk to anybody else about
- You want to get to know your partner just as well
- You’re confident you will be there for them through thick and thin
- You’ve taken the time to sit with your feelings and are sure what you feel for them is real love
Related Reading: Does He Love Me? 25 Signs To Tell You That He Loves You
When to say “I love you” for the first time
Wondering when to say “I love you” for the first time? Nervous about how soon is too soon to say “I love you”? Or worried that your relationship may suffer from the effects of not saying “I love you” at the right time? Well, your conundrum is not unfounded. We all know that saying “I love you” too soon can have disastrous consequences for your relationship. From “okay” to “thank you” and radio silence, the responses to an unexpected declaration of your feelings can be soul-crushing. Not to mention that the relationship, which may have been going perfectly so far, can land in limbo.
On the flip side, wait too long and the novelty of the romance may have worn off by the time you say those magical words. And then you’re left to deal with the effects of not saying “I love you” soon enough. So, it’s also important that you don’t wait so long that your partner begins to doubt your emotional availability. It all boils down to finding the right time. Here’s a guide on telling someone you love them for the first time, at the right time and place in your relationship:
1. Take the temperature of the relationship
I had a great friends-with-benefits thing going on in my early 20s. We got along like a house on fire. In addition to the strong physical attraction, there was laughter and joy in that undefined equation. Until I went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like “I love you” (insert Robbie William track). After a round of raunchy sex, we were lounging about in the hotel bed, sipping beer, when he did something adorable.
Instinctively, I leaned in to kiss him and followed it up with, “Gosh, I love you so much.” An awkward silence followed. Eventually, we both got dressed and left. I still beat myself up about it. As if struggling with feelings for my FWB wasn’t bad enough, I added insult to injury by blurting out those heavy words. Psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Mann, the author of The Relationship Fix, advises against such impulses. According to her, it’s important to take the temperature of the relationship before even entertaining this thought.
She says, “Is your relationship marked by hot-and-cold dynamics? Or is it a steady partnership that can grow into a mutual, long-term commitment? If someone is willing to be exclusive with you, or at least consider you their primary partner when monogamy is not the goal, then that’s a good signal to go on.” Dhriti adds, “To figure out when to say “I love you” for the first time, it’s vital to be mindful of where your partner is emotionally, especially if they’re are scared of commitment or still processing their emotions.”
Related Reading: 365 Reasons Why I Love You | On Field Survey 2023
2. Listen to your heart and your gut instinct
Remember what Dhriti said about the feeling of love — a big red dot on a white wall. It’s unmissable, unmistakable. “When you feel true love for someone, there is just no room for doubt. You don’t second-guess your feelings. This is where attraction or infatuation varies vastly from love. So, if you’re 100% sure about how you feel, just trust your gut instinct about saying “I love you” for the first time,” she adds.
Relationship coaches and authors Aaron and Jocelyn Freeman echo the same sentiment in their advice to couples. “When people start to strategize if it’s too soon or too late, it starts to bring an element of inauthenticity into dating. So stop thinking so much and go ahead and follow your gut instincts. Even if you are not on the same page and your partner isn’t ready to say it back, it will be freeing to share your feelings.”
Sharing her experience on how long should you wait before saying “I love you”, Kolkata-based Madhu Jaswal says, “When to say “I love you” to your boyfriend or your girlfriend for the first time? The moment your heart is at ease and the person feels like home. That’s the point when one is not only vocal about their feelings but their every action also conveys how they feel, loud and clear.”
3. Look for emotional and physical intimacy in the relationship
When is it the right time to say “I love you” to someone for the first time? Dhriti says, “Look for markers of emotional and physical intimacy in your relationship. How do you feel around your partner? When you truly love someone, your intimate moments feel like a safe space. In fact, romantic partners feel calmer and relaxed by hugging each other or being in close physical contact, this is known as emotional coregulation and is an important marker of the health of a relationship.
“This sense of safety extends to the expression of emotions as well. When you truly love someone, you can be vulnerable with them without any fear of judgment or backlash. That’s because there is an inherent faith in your partner.” When you achieve that faith and trust, you’ll no longer be scared to say “I love you” first or spend time agonizing over how soon is too soon to say “I love you”.
Related Reading: 21 Ways To Tell Someone You Love Them Without Saying It
4. When no other expression sums up your feelings, it’s time to say “I love you”
When is it the right time to say “I love you” for the first time? Well, when other expressions such as “I like you”, “I miss you”, or “I care about not you” no longer accurately sum up your feelings, it’s time to confess love. Dhriti shares an example, “A couple I know were in a long-distance relationship, and would frequently say “I miss you” to each other.
“However, somewhere down the line, the woman started feeling that “I miss you” no longer captured the depth of her feelings, and decided it was time to say “I love you”. To her delight, her partner felt the same way. If that’s how strongly you feel about your partner, you wouldn’t be scared to say “I love you” first.”
5. The fear of rejection isn’t holding you back
Is saying “I love you” too soon a red flag? How long should you wait before saying “I love you”? when is an appropriate time to say “I love you”? Is 3 months too soon to say “I love you”? One of the reasons why these doubts consume us and these questions weigh on our minds is the fear of having to deal with rejection. So, before you put yourself out there with those very, very intimidating three words, prepare for all the possibilities.
While there is no exact science to determine the right moment to confess love, your partner’s behavior, actions, and attitude can give you a pretty good idea of how they’d respond. Even so, it’s best to prepare yourself for every outcome and decide how you’d respond or where your relationship would go from here if your partner says it back, doesn’t say it back, or asks for time to respond. This can make it easier for you to get over your inhibitions and take a leap of faith,
Saying “I Love You” And Not Hearing It Back — How To Deal
No matter how much you mull over when is an appropriate time to say “I love you”, there is always a possibility — no matter how small — that your partner may not feel the same way about it. Saying “I love you” and not hearing it back from the man/woman of your dreams is not the easiest thing. Here are a few ways of dealing with the heartache and not losing faith in the beauty of romantic relationships forever:
- Communicate with your partner. They probably need some more time to reach where you are right now
- Don’t beat yourself up if they want to call off the relationship. Think of all the romantic advances you have turned down because you didn’t feel the same way. This time, it’s just the other way around
- Don’t give in to any kind of obsessive love like constantly thinking about this person, stalking them, or living with the hope that they will love you back someday
- It may look like the end of the world now but don’t let one rejection stop your life from moving at its own pace
- Don’t regret your romantic declaration for a second. There’s nothing embarrassing about being honest with your feelings
- Work out, find something that makes you happy, travel, go on dates, and seek therapy if you’re having a hard time dealing with rejection
Related Reading: 21 Ways You Are Unconsciously Saying “I Love You” To Your SO
When Is It Not Okay To Say “I Love You”?
When trying to ascertain when to say “I love you” for the first time, apart from the time you’ve been together (having been on at least five dates is a generally practiced rule of thumb), the relationship stage you’re in — for instance, are you exclusive yet? — and the moment you choose to voice your feelings also matters. Dhriti says, “Don’t just think about how long should you wait before saying “I love you” but also how and when you will say it because these things matter.
“A woman I was counseling was left perplexed when the guy she was with said “I love you” for the first time and then hung up. Once you’ve expressed your feelings, don’t run away or withdraw emotionally. Be present with your partner and cherish the moment.”
In other words, to decide when is it okay to say “I love you”, it’s important to understand when it’s not. Here are a few scenarios where you absolutely should not:
- When you’re drunk: When to say “I love you” for the first time? Definitely not when you’re six drinks down. Saying “I love you” to a new partner under the influence of alcohol should be right there with drunk texting an ex in the list of foolish behaviors that bring you nothing but regret. When you say these three words in an inebriated state, the other person doesn’t know what to make of it. The awkwardness from the moment can spill onto the relationship
- Saying “I love you” for the first time over text: Dhriti says, “Saying “I love you” for the first time over text is like breaking up over text. It’s rude and thoughtless, not to mention it takes away from the emotions.” If you’re in a long-distance relationship, saying it in person may be a luxury you don’t have, still, at the very least say it over a video call or during a virtual date
- Under pressure: Saying “I love you” because you feel pressured to is a definite red flag. Just because your partner feels a certain way and they’ve fessed up their feelings, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to say it back. The only thing worse than your feelings not being reciprocated is having someone say it when they don’t mean it. So, spare yourself and your partner that agony, and don’t blurt it out unless you truly love someone
- To elicit sex: Saying “I love you” to get your partner to agree to be sexually intimate with you is a big NO. Do not use your feelings, no matter how genuine, to coax a partner into consenting to have sex with you. It’s a form of manipulation, and them giving in to your advances won’t be very different from coerced consent
- Too soon after you start dating: Is saying “I love you” too soon a red flag? Most definitely, yes! If you didn’t know this person from before and have only been on a few dates so far, nix the idea for now. It could well be the rush of feel-good hormones in your bloodstream telling you that you love this person. So, don’t rush it. Wait until you make it past the honeymoon stage, and sit with your feelings for some time before confessing to your partner
- To keep the relationship: Dhriti says, “If you’re saying “I love you” for the first time because you’re afraid that your relationship will fall apart if you don’t, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. And that should be your cue to take a step back.”
- There is no set timeline for professing romantic love to another person. Only you can decide when the time is right
- A sense of security, wanting to take the relationship to the next level, and loving your partner despite their flaws and quirks are some signs that you’re ready to say “I love you”
- The temperature of your relationship, your gut instinct, the level of emotional and physical intimacy, and the depth of your feelings will tell you when it’s the right moment to tell your partner you love them
- Don’t say it over a drunk call or a text or under pressure just because they have said it
- Be sure that this is love, not infatuation and you are ready for a relationship with all its beauty and complexities
While you invest so much time and energy in figuring out when to say “I love you” to your girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time, also remember to keep saying it once the relationship takes off. Say it when you want to say thank you when you see the bed has been made, when small things are taken care of, when they pack or unpack your luggage, when they make you a cup of tea or give you a nice massage.
Sustaining love is often harder than falling in love, and making it a habit to express your feelings like you did when you first started dating can be the key to this sustenance. Don’t hide your affection and admiration for your one-of-a-kind partner. Out with it. And whenever you do, make sure you say it like you mean it – that’s the key to a happy relationship.
According to research and surveys, most people agree that anywhere between 3 and 5 months after you start dating is the right time to say love you to your partner for the first time. However, this timeline is not set in stone. If you feel strongly about them and are convinced that what you feel for them is pure love and not just infatuation or attraction, it’s perfectly fine to say it sooner too.
Many different everyday terms reflect your love for your partner and vice-versa. “Call me when you get home.” “Did you take your medicines?” “I missed you” are all expressions of love in their own right. But these cannot be a substitute for saying you love them for the first time. You need to say those three words to truly drive home the message of how you feel about the other person.
According to studies and surveys, some men believe it is acceptable to confess love within the first week of dating someone. That, by all measures, is too soon for any man or woman. We suggest you invest time and effort to get to know the other person as well as assess your feelings before you profess your love to someone.