When you love someone, it’s a feeling that’s hard to quantify. Biologically, there are different stages of love linked to feedback pathways in your brain, but there’s also a sense of intimacy, trust, and commitment that makes it uniquely difficult to define. This is why so many people use the “L” word differently, and why it’s so hard to tell when you’ve crossed over from infatuation to true love.
Some experts believe there are three biologically defined stages of love, while others suggest there are more than seven emotionally based phases. But it’s important to remember that love isn’t just an emotional feeling, but a choice. That’s why if you are thinking about saying the “L” word, it’s important to assess your relationship before making that decision.
You’ll have days, maybe even weeks, where you won’t feel that gushy love. It’s okay, and it’s normal! That doesn’t mean you don’t love that person, but it does mean you are assessing the current state of your partnership and determining whether or not you’re ready to say those magic words.
Saying the “L” word in a romantic context typically implies a desire for increased commitment, and that’s not a bad thing! But you want to make sure that both parties are on the same page when it comes to what that means for your relationship. This is why it’s so important to evaluate your feelings and theirs before saying the “L” word — it can be very hurtful if you do it too soon.
In the early stages of a relationship, it’s completely acceptable to go from interest to infatuation and even crushes (though, let’s be real, those are pretty scary times for your heart). But if you find yourself saying “I love you” without that same spark of passion, or you’re doing it just as a cliché, it may be time to slow things down a bit.
Ultimately, you need to love yourself enough to know that if you aren’t in the right place with your partner for this milestone, then you don’t need to say those magical words at all. Love isn’t always as cinematic as it might seem, but rather crawls into the dungeons of reality with you and builds connection, presence, and trust over time. It’s when your partner hears you coughing in the bathroom in the middle of the night and drops their sun-drenched vacation plans to sit by your side, and it’s that kind of love that truly matters.
This article was originally published on February 4, 2019.
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This article was updated for clarity and accuracy on March 7, 2020.
For more on this topic, read 10 Things To Know Before You Say “I Love You”