Love you can be a powerful statement, but only if it’s meant as an expression of commitment. It’s not something that should be thrown around as easily as “I like you.”
And yet, many people struggle with knowing exactly when it’s appropriate to say the word—especially since everyone’s experiences are different. Some may be ready to confess after just a few dates, while others might not feel it until months down the line. And that’s completely normal.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone will be able to reciprocate your feelings, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It could simply be that they’re not in the same place with you, or maybe they’ve never felt that way before and are unsure how to express it.
Psychologists and researchers are split on what exactly love is. Some consider it a primary emotion that’s distinct from other emotions such as fear or anger, while others argue that it’s more of an essential biological drive. But regardless of its definition, most people agree that it takes time to build connection and trust before you’re ready to tell someone you love them.
So what’s the secret to knowing when it’s time? While everyone’s experience is unique, some experts suggest that it’s important to gauge how much intimacy you have with your partner and to take note of how often they use words such as “love,” “affection,” and “heart.”
Additionally, it’s a good idea to think about whether you’re able to spend more than just a few hours or days with your loved one without feeling overwhelmed or needing to escape. This is an indication that you are not only able to be intimate with this person, but that you really love them.
Jenn Mann, a psychotherapist and host of VH1’s Couples Therapy With Dr. Jenn and author of The Relationship Fix, says that if you’re feeling a strong emotional attachment to the person you’re with, it’s usually time to say those three little words. She adds that men typically say the phrase first because of cultural expectations that they take the lead in relationships.
She also suggests that you keep in mind that passionate love is characterized by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, increased heart rate) while companionate love is affection and a sense of closeness not necessarily accompanied by physical sensations. And that’s OK, because a person who truly loves you will be patient and understand your needs and won’t pressure you to tell them that they feel the same way. They’ll respect your desire for a certain amount of commitment before you decide to share your feelings. They’ll wait until you’re ready to be vulnerable, and they’ll give you time to grow. And that’s what true love is all about. It’s not always cinematic, but it’s still a beautiful thing to witness.