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Making the decision to tell someone you love them for the first time can feel like a big deal—because it is! Professing your love is vulnerable, exciting, and a milestone in any relationship, so if you’re thinking about saying it to your significant other, here’s what relationship experts want you to know about making it meaningful.
How to know you’re in love.
Everyone experiences love differently, so the truth is, we can’t tell you for sure whether you’re in love—but we can give you some signs that indicate you are. As psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P., tells mbg, “For some, it’s a slow burn that develops over time, and for others, it may feel more quick like that ‘aha’ moment. Love does not grow at the same pace for everyone.”
According to relationship therapist Ken Page, LCSW, the very question of how to know when you’re in love is a profound and rich question of self-discovery. He notes that it’s important to get clear on the kind of love you’re really experiencing. “Is it infatuation? Is it healthy love? Is it love that can inspire and last? Love is a rich combination of eros, which includes the erotic, romantic, and sexual—and also the warmth and beauty of companionship and care,” he says.
Here’s our full guide to what true love really feels like, and below, you’ll find a quick list of common signs of love:
- You feel you want to share even the smallest details with the person.
- You look forward to sharing the moments about your day or your longer history and want to hear details about your person’s too.
- You want to share your world with them.
- You want to hear their thoughts and understand their emotions better.
- You look forward to continuing to experience life with them.
- When you are falling in love, you miss the person and experience a warm feeling when you think about them.
- You accept all parts of them, including the quirky and the messy.
- You make them a priority in your life.
- You care about their needs and their happiness as you care about your own.
- You can see a future with them and think about them in your long-term life plans.
- There’s a feeling of newness and aliveness that comes with the love.
- There’s an ache and a longing for the presence of the other person.
Just as we all experience love differently, the question of when to say “I love you” will vary from relationship to relationship. What really counts is that your feelings are true and that you’re saying it for the right reasons.
If you’re curious about the average timeline, however, some research has found men typically take about three months to say “I love you,” while women take a bit longer, at about five months.
In general, though, Page says it’s usually best to wait until you feel you really know someone—and accept them as they are.
“There is no precise time when to say I love you, [and it’s about] being attuned to when you really feel that way and expressing it at the time that you are sure about how you feel,” Spinelli explains, adding to be sure you’re not dealing with infatuation, feeling obligated to say it, or otherwise doing it with ulterior motives. “Truly loving someone is when you really accept them and see them in your future in a realistic way,” she notes.
25 ways to tell someone you love them.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
Whether you want to simply come out with those three words, express your love nonverbally, or show them you love them through your actions, here are 25 ways to tell (or show) someone you love them, according to Page and Spinelli.
- “I love you.”
- “My feelings for you are deepening, and I am starting to fall in love with you.”
- “You mean the world to me, and I appreciate you in my life.”
- “I can’t imagine you not being in my life.”
- “I want to share more and more of my life with you every day.”
- “You are so special to me, and I treasure you and our relationship.”
- “I appreciate who you are so much.”
- “Seeing you happy makes me happy.”
- “You inspire me to be my best self.”
- “I’m so excited for our future together.”
- “You make my life so much better.”
- Read them a beautiful love poem.
- Write a love letter.
- Loving eye contact
- Send them a love song or curate a love song playlist
- Physical touch or affection, such as a prolonged hug
- Do the things they love together with them
- Spend quality time together
- Send them flowers that are symbolic in meaning
- Cook their favorite dishes
- Show up for them with support during stressful times
- Practice active listening
- Show appreciation for their quirks
- Take care of a hard task for them
- Give them something personal as a gift
Obviously, saying “I love you” for the first time can be a bit nerve-wracking, but according to Page, this is a good thing. “You do not need to wait for [nervousness] to go away before you say you’re in love, or before you proclaim your love. In fact, having those feelings and still proclaiming it makes the experience for the other person that much more moving,” he says, adding that anxiousness and fear actually often fuel eros and romance.
While it might be tempting to blurt out that you’re in love over a few drinks, Page suggests reeling it in and waiting to say it until you’re sober. Not only do you want to have a clear head when you say it, but ideally, you’d want them to have a clear head too. Plus, he notes, “There’s a cheapening of the first declaration of love if it happens when you’re intoxicated—your partner is probably going to wait and see if you’re going to say the same thing when you’re stone-cold sober.”
3. Don’t do it expecting a certain response.
And lastly, don’t say “I love you” if you just want to hear it back from them, and don’t be disheartened if they don’t say it back right away, either. For some people who are more emotionally reserved, hearing “I love you” from their partner first can help prepare them to say it back when they’re ready.
Page also advises not fishing to see if the other person expresses their love first. “Don’t ask them if they love you before you tell them—that is neither brave nor vulnerable,” he says, adding that your own willingness to be brave and vulnerable is a gift to your significant other and the relationship as a whole.
Being in love is exciting, scary, and super vulnerable, and professing that love is no different. Whether you opt to come right out and say it or tell them with your actions at first rather than your words, try not to stress too much about the logistics or verbiage. Just enjoy the ride.
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