When Should You Say 'I Love You'?
Yes, saying it too soon can backfire.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I have been dating my guy for four months. I know with total certainty that I love him. I think he loves me too. I really want to say it — you only live once, right? I told my girlfriends and they insist the guy should say it first....it feels like an outdated rule, but I don't want to screw things up by saying it too soon, either. Help. —Scared
You are right, you only live once — but you also only have one shot at a first “I love you.” I am a big believer in vulnerability, but a premature “I love you” can end up backfiring. If you say it too early, sometimes the other person feels like you don’t really know them well enough to actually be in love with them. So much of the early stages of falling for someone is about projection (or seeing yourself reflected back in them), dopamine (that sexy romance high), and, later, oxytocin (which is literally referred to as the love hormone, and we get hits of it from our partners and babies too). Each of these can trick us into feeling in love, but to truly be in love requires knowing someone, flaws and all. There’s no concrete timeline in which this happens. Maybe you got there in four months — but he might not have (more on that later).
There are no rules about when men and women fall in love, or who “should” be the one to say it first. However, studies of heterosexual relationships show that men tend to confess love first. Men take on average 88 days to confess their love to a partner whereas women, on average, take 134 days. As for rushing into it: 39 percent of men say I love you within the first month of dating, compared to 23 percent of women who do. More than one study has found that men tend to fall faster than women, and women wait longer to declare their feelings. Of course, these are generalizations, and you’ll have to decide where you fit on that spectrum.
Here, a few things to consider before you confess your love.
1. Your Commitment
While when to say I love you will depend on your unique relationship, discussing your commitment to each other is a crucial box to check off first. So, if you haven't already, make sure you've clearly DTR and are on the same page about what you both want longterm.
2. Feeling Pressure
Even if it is self-imposed, feeling pressure to express this is a problem. All too often I see people in my practice who feel the need to hear or say those three words (for example before having sex). You’re an adult, you can have sex either way! Don’t say it — or push someone else to — if the feeling isn’t legit.
3. Beware the Honeymoon Phase
The honeymoon stage can last from the first six months to two years of a relationship. Be sure you’re out of yours, and not only seeing the good in each other. Have you worked through conflicts, seen each other through rough times, and survived a little stress together? This can give you an accurate view of your partner and help you figure out if this really is love or just infatuation.
4. Say it Selflessly
You should not say I love you if you are counting on hearing it back. Share these feelings to make your partner feel, well, loved. If even part of you is considering saying it just to hear it, that may lead to disappointment. Like a client of mine once discovered, it sucks to declare your love and get a “thank you” in return.
5. Read the Room
Knowing your partner feels the same way already is a great sign that you can go for it. Have you been introduced to his parents, siblings, or close friends? Do you leave a toothbrush at each other’s place? Is he or she investing in the relationship with her time, energy, and resources? If after thinking it over carefully, you decide that you are ready to shoot your shot, then mazel.
One more thing: Choose your locale wisely. You may want to consider doing it in a private place where the two of you can enjoy the moment without eavesdroppers, interruption, or distraction. That’ll also soften the blow if you still get an “aw, thanks” in return.