The first time I told a guy I loved him, I was 19. He was a sweet kid but very wrong for me. Passionate about beer bongs, didn’t like to sit still, had a knack for making innocuous expressions sexual. I was pretty sure we were going to get married.
One day we were laying on his bed and I was overcome with the desire to tell him I loved him. It had been about three months since we’d put a name on us, which I privately deemed long enough, and “Dancing in the Moonlight” was playing in the background. After concluding the song would work for our imminent first dance, I cupped my shaky hand around his right ear and did it.
“I’m in love with you,” I whispered, five-year-old style.
“I love you, too,” he said, throwing me for a loop with the format change.
I remember a deep thrill running through me. I couldn’t wait to say it again. We stayed together for another year and a half, barring a two-month break he initiated due to, “loving me too much and not being ready.”
The next time I fell in love, the declaration of this fact wasn’t so different. About three months into defining it, I told him I loved him and he said it back. We were so excited and in love. He was much older than me, a comedian on Twitter (we met at a Tweetup, isn’t that hip?); our feelings for each other must have been at least partially powered by the drama of our unlikely bond. My entire family almost disowned me for dating him and we broke up six months later.
The third time I fell in love, I said it first again, around six weeks into making it official. We were laying on a dock when it occurred to me (I’m such a mush), and then sitting on my bed when it made its way out of my mouth. He said it back right away and we were giddy. Our new love felt so urgent, and then it morphed, over many years, into something different, much deeper. And then we let it go.
I’m such a freak for love. I fall fast, which I think is a nice thing. But when I think back on each of my first I love yous, I can’t help but feel a little cynical. Now that I’m older, a little love-worn and years into my habit of intellectualizing the charm out of everything, I’m not sure I’ll ever be quick to say it again.
The politics of “I love you” — what a terrible way to put it — came up in the Man Repeller office the other day. We started recalling our first times and most recent times and the stories were hilarious and touching, really. And each came with its own unique form of baggage — obligation, awkwardness, unintended pressure. Maybe it’s unavoidable, the nifty little combo-pack of thrill and nerve that accompany the words.
When have you said “I love you?” Did you feel like a kid with stars in your eyes? Like a sensible adult? If you said it too fast, did that cheapen it? If you waited too long, was that weird? How soon is too soon? I HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS. Impart your wisdom below, please.
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.