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 but my girlfriends are telling me the guy should say it first. Help? —YOLO
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 come across as indiscriminate and desperate. 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).
Likewise there are no rules about when men and women fall in love, or who “should” be the one to feel comfortable enough to say it first. However, studies of heterosexual relationships show that men tend to confess love first and also feel happier when receiving confessions. 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 are a few things to consider before you hire the sky writer.
1. Your Commitment
Are you in a committed relationship? That is a sign that you are both on the same page which bodes well for the “I love you.”
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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 just seeing the good in each other. Have you worked through conflicts, seen each other through rough times, and survived a little stress together? These can give you an accurate view of your partner and help you figure out if this really is love.
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.
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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 she investing in the relationship with her time, energy and resources?
If after thinking through these five issues, 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.
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