When to say “I love you” to someone you have recently started dating? 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. 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 – both who have crashed and burned by expressing their love 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 Is too soon 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 and a good place to start.
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 drop the ‘L’ bomb one month into a relationship whereas most women place the acceptable time frame 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 time frames. According to the results, most people believed that it’s normal to declare your love after almost five months (144 days, to be precise) of being together. Some women respondents also believed it’s acceptable when people share their 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. The survey mentioned also indicates that most people feel ready to say the ‘L’ word after sleeping together or making the relationship official on social media, in keeping with the natural order of relationship stages.
Based on statistics and data from different resources, the takeaway is unambiguous: the average time frame of confession after you fall in love 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.
Signs it’s too soon to Confess your feelings
You are on your third date, drinking wine at a fancy restaurant. You slowly sink into your partner’s ocean-blue eyes and can’t stop yourself from blurting “I think I am falling in love with you”. Assuming they don’t turn you down right then and there, as the relationship evolves, new sides to your partner’s personality may emerge. You realize your opinions couldn’t be diametrically opposed and things are not working the way you expected. Because love alone is never enough to sustain any relationship.
Now, this is one of the many scenarios we are focusing on as it clarifies the consequences of not thinking through the question of when to say “I love you”. The timeline we shared earlier is not set in stone. Every couple bond at their own pace and eventually find their unique rhythm. If you strongly feel a deep connection with your partner and see clear signs they may be in love with you too, what’s too soon for most people could be the right time for you to fess up your feelings.
But to be on the safer side and be sure you understand the differences between infatuation and love and are not making any hasty decisions, it’s important to give yourself and the relationship some time. Here are some of the inevitable signs your relationship is too young to drop the ‘L’ bomb:
- You have hardly spent time together or had any meaningful conversations to build intimacy and an emotional connection
- Your relationship is still in the rosy honeymoon phase and you haven’t overcome difficult times together yet
- You don’t know anything about them – their childhood, family background, passions in life, past relationships, likes, and dislikes, or any major red flag
- You practically have no idea how they feel about you
- You are saying it just because the sex is great and you don’t want to miss out on that action
- Or, you haven’t slept together yet
- You are coming out of a serious relationship and trying to fill the void with affection from a new partner
- You are quite uncertain about your future plans and not aware of theirs
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
“I want to say “I love you” but it’s too early!” Well, your dilemma 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. 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 when to say “I love you” so you never get turned down:
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. 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.
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.”
Related Reading: 365 Reasons Why I Love You | On Field Survey 2021
2. Listen to your heart and your gut instinct
Jae Rajesh, a former Commander of the Indian Navy and currently a yoga and wellness coach, shares a related story with our readers, “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 declared, it’s bound to remain. So, say it when you actually feel it. Else it’s just plain 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, professing your love the moment you really feel it will make you be seen as respectable and authentic, especially at a time when more and more people are playing games. Here is what they advise:
“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.”
On similar lines, 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.”
Related Reading: 21 Ways To Tell Someone You Love Them Without Saying It
3. Free yourself from fear of rejection or you might miss your chance
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. 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. Because, in that phase of life, others’ opinions matter to us more than ever, which is why the thought, “What if I get shot down when I say I love you?”, could creep into your life and restrain you from expressing your feelings fully.
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
When Is It Not Okay To Say “I love you”?
Heena Singhal says, “When is too soon to say “I love you”? I can only speak for myself and I’m very impetuous in this regard. 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. Despite that, I don’t regret it a bit. I’m honestly just glad it was never too late to say that I loved him in my case.”
When trying to ascertain when to say “I love you”, apart from the time you’ve been 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 decide when is it okay to say “I love you”, it’s important to understand when it’s not. You don’t want to be running around with the anxiety about “I want to say I love you but it’s too early. So should I?” Here are a few scenarios where you absolutely should not:
- When you’re drunk: When to say “I love you” to your girlfriend/boyfriend? When you’re six drinks down is definitely not the best time. 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 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
- Over text: This one is especially for all of you out there wondering how to tell someone you love them 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” over text for the first time is a bad idea because it just blunts the impact of your feelings
- Under pressure: 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: 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. Whether it’s after a few weeks, 2 months, or 6, it really should not matter that much as long as you are being honest about your feelings.”
Related Reading: 21 Ways You Are Unconsciously Saying “I Love You” To Your SO
Should women say ‘I love you’ first?
Oh yes, for ages patriarchy has been feeding us false images of men and their chivalry. When Taylor Swift said, “I should’ve known/That I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale…”, we should have figured it all out. It’s 2022 for crying out loud. How long are women supposed to wait for their Mr. Perfect to come riding on a ‘white horse’ and profess their love on one knee? Isn’t it high time for you to write your own fairy tale love story?
A Reddit user says, “I was raised thinking that a girl should always wait for the guy to say it first, but it got to a point where I knew I loved him, and why should he not know? Everyone wants to feel loved. It became quite simple after I realized that. I knew he wasn’t quite ready to say it yet so I didn’t want him to feel pressured when I said “I love you”, but I just wanted him to be aware of my feelings.”
Irrespective of your gender, that is the most mature way of handling this situation. A recent international study reveals that men are more likely to make romantic declarations before women. However, we, at Bonobology, believe and preach that women should break free of the age-old gender stereotypes and be unapologetic about expressing their feelings. If it feels like real love to you, go ahead – say it first!
“Am I ready for a relationship?” Take this quiz to find out
All said and done, it all boils down to one thing – are you all set to get into a committed relationship? We are not saying just because you have confessed your love, you are tied down with this person for the rest of your life. But it, by all means, indicates something more than a casual relationship.
Remember, there’s a difference between saying you love someone and showing it. These three words of love and passion invite a bundle of relationship responsibilities. And if you are not 100% in, maybe you should ponder the question of when to say “I love you” a little longer. Right now you should ask yourself how to know you love someone instead of how to tell someone you love them, and this quiz will help you reach a conclusion:
- Are you perfectly content and happy being on your own? Yes/No
- Think of your top priority in life. Can you allow another person to replace that or at least demand equal importance? Yes/No
- Are you okay with apologizing sometimes when it’s not your fault? Yes/No
- Do you see a future with the person you think you love? Yes/No
- “I am done exploring the field. I need a stable relationship with someone I can count on” – do you relate to this feeling? Yes/No
- Do you still stalk your ex or secretly cry over them at night? Yes/No
- Are you afraid your partner may not like you once they get to know the ‘real’ you? Yes/No
- Are you hesitant in letting your guard down and sharing your life with another person? Yes/No
- Do you find difficulty in trusting your romantic partners? Yes/No
- “I don’t know him/her in person but I fell in love with them because they are gorgeous!” – does this hold true for you? Yes/No
If you got at least 3 yeses in the first part and 3 nos in the second, we have good news for you. Congratulations, it’s the perfect moment for you to take the leap and say the ‘L’ word. We wish you all the luck in the world!
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 head or a leg massage.
- There is no prescribed timeline for a romantic declaration, although research says 3-5 months into a relationship is a good time to profess your love
- It’s too soon to say you are in love if you barely know the person or haven’t developed any emotional connection with them
- Listen to your heart and gut instinct but also try to apprehend their feelings for you
- It’s okay to say the ‘L’ word first no matter what your gender is
- 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
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.
This article has been updated in November 2022
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.
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 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.