When you love someone, you want them to know it. You’re not trying to make them feel obligated or pressured, but you do want to ensure that they know how much you care about them. It’s a little bit of a tricky balance, though. On the one hand, it’s important to let them know how you feel as early as possible so they can make their own decisions about what they want in the relationship.
However, on the other hand, if you confess your feelings too soon, you may risk derailing a relationship that’s on an otherwise progressive track. Plus, it’s also likely to give the impression that you’re desperate for commitment (which could lead your partner to believe you only love them for sex).
It’s hard to pin down exactly how long it takes to fall in love and tell your partner “I love you.” Some couples feel ready to drop the L-bomb after just a few dates, while others might not be quite there until after years together. It all depends on the individual, but a lot of it comes down to time spent together and situations that show you’re growing closer as a couple.
You also have to factor in the cultural differences around how people say “I love you.” For instance, it’s not as guarded a phrase in France, says dating coach Adeline Breon, while in Iran, saying it can be seen as a formal step toward marriage. And in some countries, such as South Korea, older generations didn’t use the phrase at all, writes Stephen Epstein for Victoria University of Wellington.
But no matter the cultural context, most experts agree that there isn’t a specific amount of time before you can say those three magic words. Instead, it’s based on the evolution of the relationship and signs that indicate you’re moving from infatuation to true love.
In addition to these factors, you also have to consider how you feel about your partner, which may influence when you’re ready to say it. Love isn’t always cinematic, but it can be as simple as your partner hearing you cough from the bathroom and jumping out of bed to bring you water. Or when they drop their sun-drenched vacation plans to spend time with you because of a sick parent.
Love is more significant and sacrificing than hot sex, and it’s a choice you make every day. “If you choose to cultivate your love and nurture it through the rough patches, it can last a lifetime,” says Mann.
Despite the myths and stereotypes, it is possible to find real love in this world—and that’s something worth celebrating. So next time you see someone you love, take a moment to let them know. And don’t let the fear of getting it wrong keep you from telling them how you feel. They deserve it.