In a New Relationship -- When to Drop the L-Bomb

Tracy Stengel

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Telling someone you love them for the first time can be goose-bump-scary. I mean, so many things can go wrong. If you say it too soon, will you scare them away? What if, God forbid, they don’t say it back? How do you know what time is the right time?

Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

According to one survey, over half of the men and women polled said they waited three or more months to drop the L-bomb.

*Gulp!* Three months?

That’s longer than most of my long-term relationships. (Kidding. Sort of.)

When NOT to say the four-letter L-word

Before we get to the part about when to say, “I love you,” for the first time, let’s go over some instances where it would be a terrible idea:

  • While breaking up — You’ve dated a couple times and now you’re being told it’s over. Now isn’t the time to blurt out your proclamation of love. It won’t save the fledgling relationship and it certainly won’t save your dignity.
  • During sex — Emotions are spewing and so are some other things. When all your synapses are firing and dopamine is releasing, don’t allow your orgasm to speak for your heart. Especially if there is any indication your partner thinks of this roll in the sack as a hit-and-run.
  • At a funeral — Loss amplifies our feelings and that’s okay. What’s not okay is trying to take your relationship to the next level when there is a corpse in the room. Ick!
  • In a public display — Don’t do a cheesy announcement on the D.J.’s microphone at the local brewery. When you say, “I love you,” for the first time, give it the respect that special moment deserves.
  • Through a text — Instead of texting: I love you, text: I am a sniveling coward.
  • When you’re wasted — No one is going to take you seriously when you’re trashed. Besides, if they don’t say it back, you might become an emotional basket case. Maybe even ugly-cry. If they do say it back, you might not even remember. Yikes!

How will you know when it’s the right time?

My husband told me he loved me after our second date. I told him soon after. In our defense, we had known each other for twenty-five years and had secret crushes on each other. It wasn’t like we were serving up our hearts to strangers. Even so, we were both surprised how quickly our relationship progressed — as if we were making up for lost time.

Health.com asked a couple of relationship experts to give their advice on when to wear your heart on your sleeve. They recommended the following three guidelines:

Try to wait a minimum of 3 months

There’s that pesky mention of waiting three months. (Is this some rule I’ve never heard of?)

Rebekah Montgomery, Ph.D., concedes every couple is different and that if you’re like Sam and I and after the second date you feel like your chest is going to explode if you don’t say it, then say it!

But, she says, it’s more than likely the couple isn’t ready. It takes time for love to develop — at least three months.

If you think you feel it beforehand, it’s probably lust, infatuation, idealization, or chemistry.

Montgomery says to have romantic love you must share a myriad of experiences. This means experiencing the joy and excitement ubiquitous in all new romances but also going through trying times. It’s hard to know if you love someone when you haven’t seen them stressed, vulnerable, or outside their comfort zone.

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Have your thoughts shifted from “me” to “we?”

If the two of you are still together after some turbulent times and have begun scheduling your lives around each other, Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., considers it a good sign. If you are both feeling more at ease revealing your vulnerabilities and weaknesses, even better.

When you constantly think about the other person, and you value the person for all of their strengths and faults, it is likely love.

Wait until you don’t care if they say it back

This is my favorite piece of advice.

Too often, people (I have been guilty of this) say, “I love you,” during a time they need to feel loved, nurtured, and secure. This just causes hurt feelings. First of all, it’s a lie. Secondly, the pressure to live up to the lie is a burden that can’t be borne for long. It usually ends in disaster. (Ask me how I know this.)

Or when someone says, “I love you,” for the first time, the other person may feel obligated to return the sentiment. (Yep. I’m guilty of this, too.) Again, it’s not true and exhausting to maintain the façade.

I’d like to report that love happens when you lock eyes with someone you’ve been dating for a while and you both are filled with a feeling so powerful it combusts at the same time and you both say those three little words in unison like a beautifully orchestrated orgasm. And then you are both all starry-eyed and twitter-pated, ready to live happily ever after.

Whoa! I need to slow my roll!

Rebekah Montgomery, Ph.D., says the key is waiting until you don’t need them to respond.

You want to feel good sharing how you feel, even if your partner isn’t quite ready to reciprocate. It’s unrealistic to expect that two different people would experience the same exact emotions with the same exact timing. It’s about navigating the natural differences in timing.
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In conclusion

Baring your feelings can be petrifying, but if you try to take things slow and let time and shared experiences form a bond between you and your partner, it will be easier. Enjoy the present and try not to rush into a commitment before you both are ready.

I’ve learned that saying, “I love you,” means different things to different people. Clarify whether you are saying, “You are so much fun, I just adore you!” or “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Express yourself when you are at a point in the relationship that you have a strong sense of self and aren’t seeking validation, love, or security.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who says it first or who says it the most. What matters is the growth of your relationship.

Love is a beautiful thing. Protect it. Nurture it. Cherish it.

I wish you all an abundance of it.

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI
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