When to say ‘I love you’ for the first time to a new partner? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, no hard-and-fast rule to determine when is a good time to lay your heart bare to someone, no framework to go on. 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. Wait too long, and you may miss your moment. 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 – both who have crashed and burned by saying ‘I love you’ at the wrong time and those who’ve hit the nail on the head – and delved into psychological patterns. Let’s get into it, shall we?
What Does Research Say On When To Say ‘I Love You’
Your new relationship anxiety can shoot through the roof when you’re constantly worrying about when to say ‘I love you’ to your boyfriend or girlfriend. In such a situation, turning to science-backed research and psychological studies for answers can be oddly comforting.
For instance, if you’ve been together for close to six months and neither of you has said ‘I love you’ yet, it can leave you feeling restless and uncertain about the future of your relationship. In these circumstances, chancing upon research that indicates that it’s perfectly okay to wait six months before saying ‘I love you’ can be all the reassurance you need. Right?
So, take heart in what research says about when to say ‘I love you’ for the first time. According to a study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, men start contemplating confessing their love to a new partner about 97 days or nearly three months into the relationship whereas women take about 149 days or roughly five months to get there. Some men also think it’s acceptable to say ‘I love you’ one month into a relationship whereas most women place the acceptable timeframe in the ballpark of six months.
Another survey conducted in the UK to establish when is it okay to say ‘I love you’ also projects similar timeframes. According to the results, most people believed that it’s normal to say ‘I love you’ after almost five months (144 days, to be precise) to being together. Some women respondents also believed it’s acceptable to express your feelings in the first three months of the relationship. In contrast, some men thought professing love within a week of a new relationship was totally acceptable too.
This explains why men tend to say ‘I love you’ before women more often than not. The survey also indicates that for most, saying ‘I love you’ comes after sleeping together or making the relationship official on social media, in the natural order of relationship stages. Based on statistics and data from different resources, the takeaway is unambiguous: the average time to say ‘I love you’ is between three to five months.
To that person waiting to hear the three magical words six months into the relationship, I say, hang in there. They’re in the offing.
Related Reading: The 12 Stages Of Relationship Development – Explained
When To Say ‘I Love You’ For The First Time
We all know that saying ‘I love you’ too soon can have disastrous consequences. 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 ‘I love you’. That takes the sheen out of the expression. So, I understand your need to time it right.
When to say ‘I love you’ in a teenage relationship? When to say ‘I love you’ in a long-distance relationship? Where to say ‘I love you’ for the first time? How to say ‘I love you’ to someone you’ve been dating? These are all valid questions, and I’ll address them all for you.
Here’s a guide on when to say ‘I love you’ so you never get turned down:
Related Reading: 365 Reasons Why I Love You | On Field Survey 2021
Take the temperature of the relationship
I had a great friends-with-benefits thing going in my early 20s. We got along like a house on fire, the sex was mind-blowing, 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 raunchy round of 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 ‘I love you’.
Psychotherapist Dr Jenn Mann, the author of The Relationship Fix, advises against such impulses. When to say ‘I love you’ in a teenage relationship or an adult one? According to her, it’s important to take the temperature of the relationship before even entertaining this thought. Is your relationship marked by hot-and-cold dynamics? Or is it a steady partnership that can grow into a mutual, long-term commitment?
Offering a more specific answer to when to say ‘I love you’ for the first time, she says, “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.”
Listen to your heart
To the question of when is the right time to say ‘I love you’, Jae Rajesh, a former Commander of the Indian Navy and currently a yoga and wellness coach, says, “Say it when and because you feel it in you. Love is an emotion. It cannot be planned. Nor is it permanent to make it a contracted emotion, that once it’s declared is bound to remain. So, say it when you’re actually feeling it. Else it’s just romantic manipulation of the other person.”
Relationship coaches and authors Aaron and Jocelyn Freeman echo the same sentiment in their advice to couples. According to them, saying ‘I love you’ the moment you really feel it will make you be seen as respectable and authentic, especially in a time when more and more people are playing games. “When people start to strategize if it’s too soon or too late, it starts to bring an element of inauthenticity into dating. Even if the other partner isn’t ready to say it back, it will feel freeing to share your feelings,” they have been quoted as saying.
On similar lines, Kolkata-based Madhu Jaswal says, “When to say ‘I love you’ 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.”
Related Reading: 21 Ways To Tell Someone You Love Them Without Saying It
Free yourself from fear of rejection
Business consultant Kritagya Daarshanik says, “Have I ever regretted expressing my love? Never ever! And I am talking about bizarre, even awkward, situations here. For instance, professing my feelings to a friend when she opened up to me about her new relationship. This led to my first parallel/fallback kind of a relationship – friends with (lots of) benefits – perhaps the most mature equation I ever had.
“Then, there were instances of hearing ‘I’ll get back to you on this’ in response to ‘I love you’, saying it to a crush in the middle of writing an exam, and of course, plenty of drunk texts of remnant love to erstwhile. The list goes on…
“I believe one should wear the heart on the sleeve and not worry about what chaos would follow and express love at the first instance of the heart showing the inclination to do so. Would there be beds of roses? No. Would there always be a happily ever after? Not necessarily. Is reciprocation guaranteed? Hell, no! Will you make a fool of yourself? In all probability. Would it be worth it? I guarantee.”
This, I think, is the most liberating advice, especially if you’re confused about when to say ‘I love you’ in a teenage relationship. That’s because, in that phase of life, others’ opinions matter to us more than ever before or after. If your declaration of love isn’t met with the expected reaction, it can not only be crushing in the moment but can impede your ability to say ‘I love you’ in the future too (yes, I speak from experience when I say this. Sigh!).
When Is It Okay To Say ‘I love you’?
Heena Singhal says, “I’m very impetuous. I said it the second time we met because I was delirious about all the attention and thrill. And he said he didn’t love me just yet. Took his own sweet time. I don’t it regret a bit.”
When trying to ascertain when to say ‘I love you’, apart from the time you’ve spent together, the relationship stage you’re in – for instance, are you exclusive yet? – and the moment you choose to voice your feelings also matter. Not everyone may be as fortunate as Heena to have the person you’re in love with reciprocate their feelings eventually if not immediately.
To decipher when is it okay to say ‘I love you’, it’s important to understand when it’s not. Here are a few scenarios:
- Too soon: We’ve already established when is the right time to say ‘I love you’ – 3 to 5 months after you’ve been together. Sure, this is not set in stone. If you strongly feel you’re in love with your partner and see signs they may be in love with you too, this timeline can be altered. Even so, saying ‘I love you’ within the first few days of dating or a couple of weeks into the relationship may still be too soon
- When you’re drunk: Saying ‘I love you’ to a new partner for the first time 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 ‘I love you’ 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
- Over text: This one is especially for all of you out there wondering when to say ‘I love you’ 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. Saying ‘I love you’ for the first time over text is a bad idea because it just blunts the impact of your feelings
- Under pressure: Yes, not hearing ‘I love you’ back can be heartbreaking. But 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 not hearing ‘I love you’ back is having someone say it when they don’t mean it. So, spare yourself and your partner that agony
- To elicit sex: When is the right time to say ‘I love you’? When you want them to say yes to sex is definitely not it. 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
To bring things home, GeetArsh Kaur, communication coach and founder of The Skill School, says, “There is no right time or wrong time to say ‘I love you’. Love is a feeling. If you feel the feeling, express it.”
“While you invest so much time and energy in figuring out when to say ‘I love you’ to your boyfriend or girlfriend 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 head or a leg 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,” she adds.
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 love and not just infatuation or attraction, it’s perfectly okay to say it sooner too.
There are many different everyday terms that 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 ‘I love you’ 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 say ‘I love you’ within the first week of dating someone. That, by all measures, is too soon for a man to say ‘I love 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.