How Soon is Too Soon to Say ‘I Love You’?
How Soon is Too Soon to Say I Love You Man Repeller-01

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.

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  • Charlotte

    I wanted to say ‘I love you’ to someone I’d only known / was seeing for 2 months, both because of and despite that he was leaving to go back to the US, which is where he was from. I suspected I was falling in love with him after about 6 weeks (I fall fast too). However I was so conflicted with the idea of telling him, as I was nervous about the act of doing so, and knew it would most likely complicate things. In the end I chose not to. Even though I knew he cared about me, I was content not to express it verbally, as we had been ‘saying’ the words to each other in other ways. We chat often now, over Whatsapp and Skype, and have even been writing letters. I don’t know what this means, but I still think I made the right choice by not saying it, even though I sometimes wonder how it might have changed things if I had.

  • Isabella

    I’ve said I love you to 3 different people. I’ve been in love.. maybe once? maybe not at all? I cant even be sure.
    As a teen I would feel pressure to say it back once it was said to me. Is anyone else like that?
    I am now boyfriend-less for 5 years so I dont even remember what its like to say it. well other then to myself 😉

    • streats

      I think it’s fascinating the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. I’ve read countless descriptions of the difference but I still don’t really know what I think myself. I have bad associations with declarations of “I’m in love with you” after more than one friend has made the admission to me (which was unreciprocated). But I also have one positive but kind of sad association with it too – during a drawn-out breakup (we lived together, so it was a whole moving out “process”) he said to me “I’m still head over heels in love with you”. It was really nice to hear but also sad because it didn’t change him leaving. That said I think “I love you” can be said almost too easily or too casually. And I think people have different definitions of it too. So it’s tough to know if someone says it, if it’s as Earth-shattering of an admission to them as it might be for you. I had a friend who told me she’d never been in love, even though she’d been engaged. I was like, what?! How?!

      • Meg Joong

        i created a distinction in my head where being “IN love” with someone is wanting them in proximity to you. whereas “loving someone” can be at a distance, and some sort of quiet selflessness to it. how sustainable is being “in love” and truly, earth-shatteringly in-love with someone and be completely okay with being apart from them?

        • doublecurl

          totally agree- I think loving someone is more of a selfless, quiter thing that doesn’t require reciprocation as much as being IN love

  • I’ve only said it to two guys, and I regret neither time. The first time it was after a couple of months right before we left for college, almost as a desperate “we must stay together because we love each other so much” thing. The second time it just slipped from his mouth as I was making him laugh, and I reciprocated. It was after about three months, but it was so us. It’s been almost five years, and I’m still more likely to tell him I love him while laughing than any other time.

    In a world that seems to be missing it so much, I would rather have my love known and not reciprocated than hide it because of fear. We have no time for fear.

  • KK

    The first time someone said it to me was over AIM when I was 15 (spoiler: we did not end up together). Fast-forward 13 years and I’ve said it to 4 people and really only meant it with 2.

    My husband and I said it after 8 weeks together. I recognized that it was fast and ridiculous, but also it was true ¯_(ツ)_/¯. I don’t think anyone should have to worry about there being “rules.” Listen your heart-brain!

  • streats

    The first time was with my first boyfriend when I was 17. I said it first, maybe a month in, and I think he said it back right away. Looking back, while I didn’t not mean it, I do think I was motivated to say it sooner because tbh I wanted to have sex (I was a virgin, he wasn’t, and he’d told me previously that he didn’t want to until he “had my heart”. Sounded sweet at the time, now I think it’s kinda creepy and possessive). We were together for about a year and a half before I moved away for college. We tried the long-distance thing but it did not go well.

    The second time, age 21, I was in another long-distance relationship, with a 29-year-old. About a month in, he said it first, via text; it got autocorrected to “I ducking love you” which I think made me see him as all the more adorable and vulnerable. I said it back right away, but I don’t remember if it had crossed my mind until that point (although I was definitely smitten). We were together for about 2 and a half years, which included living together.

    Right now I find myself in 👏🏻Yet 👏🏻Another👏🏻Fucking👏🏻Long👏🏻Distance👏🏻Romance (seriously what is my deal) that’s as yet undefined as anything in particular; it’s a courtship that’s gone on for a few years, only seeing each other randomly every few months. At first I thought it was just a really intense crush (intensified by the brevity of our encounters and the whirlwind nature of it all) but recently I realised that I’ve been feeling this way for at least a year and that I’ve been telling myself for at least a year that “next time I see him” I’ll know for sure. It’s the first time as an adult I’ve really been faced with this vulnerability that genuinely scared me rather than excites me. As a 17- and 21-year-old I leapt into it. As a 30-year-old I’m terrified to allow myself to believe that this isn’t just an infatuation that I’m indulging in privately in my head. It’s such a different experience when you’re not actually in a relationship the person but feel like you can’t keep the words from tumbling out of your mouth much longer.

  • My bf and I said our “I love you’s” after a fight in which we were both feeling jealousy. We had been more-than-friends for a year and realized that we really wanted to be together. The fight was dramatic, the consequent exchange of “I love you” was all we needed. My number 1 advice is: when you feel it, just say it.

  • Adrianna

    My boyfriend said it to me first a week after we got into an official Facebook-status relationship. (Can you tell I was in college during the late 2000s?) We were 23. We had been hanging out and talking daily for about a month. I told him that I loved him too, because I did. The realization wasn’t dramatic or cinematic. It was all very easy.

    We still say it regularly five years later, but “words of affirmation” are not either of our love languages. It’s a blanket statement for “You are right for me. We have a deep history together. I like your company right now.”

  • Meg Joong

    the first time a guy said he loved me, we were 15 and on the phone with each other for our “nightly calls” i pretended that i didn’t hear him and he kept saying it over and over again. he thinks i tricked him but i was in denial (not a good sign for a lasting relationship)

    the second time, i said it to a guy first. by accident. i think i somehow knew for a few weeks before because whenever i saw him the zombies cover of “Can’t Nobody Love You” would play in my head. and then one day he did something medium-level stupid and i said “don’t worry, we still love you” – the we being me and his cat and he paused. the end of that relationship still makes me feel sad in my heart through to my fingers.

    i am still in the process of going over that end, and i somehow am afraid that saying it made him think that our relationship needed to be more serious or something of that sort and that caused him to freak out a little and that’s okay. but like, did he also resent his cat loving him?

    • This frustrates me so much on a philosophical level!! Love is always good and it’s beautiful and it’s nice to know that someone knows and cares about you. But if the timing isn’t right or it isn’t from the right person, it’s such a turn off or so uncomfortable! And it’s not fair! Let me love you!!! haha

      • Meg Joong

        sorry to incite frustration! but yea, like somehow maybe the love is not right if you feel like you should have held back? or that in of itself should be some sort of love-rightness litmus test.

  • Natalie

    My current boyfriend told me he loved me about a month and a half into us dating. I was shocked and thought he was drunk, and did not respond. It felt so soon! The next few months unfolded and I assumed he must not have remembered, as it didn’t come up again. Until finally, three months later after agonizing over “saying it first”, I finally said it, and when he responded he sounded relieved.
    It wasn’t until much later that I found out he actually HADN’T been too drunk, DID remember saying it first, and thought that me dragging it out for another three months was torturous. And for like two of those months I was just stalling because I “wasn’t sure he was ready to hear it”.
    Ahhhhh, love.

  • My first relationship (this is terrible that I can’t remember, but) I either felt it after one month but waited til 3, or felt it after 3 months and waited til 6. Either way, my friends advised me it was too early. I tried slipping it in like ‘ahahaha I love you’ or ‘okayloveyoubye!,’ but when I finally told him for real when we were cuddling he said it back. It was nice but I still wondered if he meant it at that time.

  • Abby

    I’ve said it a lot in my life, but the most recent (and last) first time saying “I love you” was to my husband on our 7th date. Apparently his friends thought I was nuts when he told them about it later. A few years later we worked the story into our wedding ceremony.

  • padutchchick

    I am old and I have said it several times. The only one I truly regret is my second ex-husband, whom I did not love, but due to self esteem issues on my part got swept up in the whole romantic nonsense. The most recent was to a troubled soul 13 years ago who took my breath away. I said it after a couple of weeks (yes, I am an old person but never acquired that kind of wisdom). He said it back, but later I could see how difficult the whole concept and maintenance of love was for him. We kept going until 2015, when his life circumstances made it even more difficult to sustain a relationship. I still love him, tragically, and I know he cares deeply for me (love is probably too burdensome). So time will tell now. I am not keen on saying it to anyone else, ever, really, as now even with my fat post-menopausal self I am picky and uninterested in massive amounts of baggage.

  • Car

    I have a pretty bad track record with this. The first time someone told me he loved me, we had been together for a little less than two months knowing that he had to go back to England in another few weeks, so when he said it I was terrified and IGNORED HIM (he said it in person…) which is probably the worst possible thing I could have done. I spent the next couple weeks panicking and then finally worked up the courage to say it and apologized for ignoring it.
    The next time, a guy I had been dating “exclusively” for like a month said it to me and I said it back probably mostly cause I was traumatized from my previous experience lol. Aaaand then he cheated on me like 2 days later.
    With my current boyfriend, I wanted to say it after like three months but hesitated for several reasons, and he finally said it first DURING SEX which I’m still kinda mad about. Does anyone else feel like that doesn’t really count for a first time?! He thought it was “romantic” ugh

  • estheresther

    I LOVE A BLIND ITEM and I absolutely need to know who Twitter guy is

    • Sarah Saladino

      Agreed! Plz share the handle ASAP.

  • Aydan

    I remember saying it to my last long term ex bf. We were laying in bed–maybe two months in, maybe a bit less and I remember squeezing him and saying it. I just felt so so so good in that moment. I had never said it first to someone before (let alone seriously). He’s an ex now and I’m def better off without him, but I’ll forever consider him one of the great loves of my life!

  • kaitlin davis

    I’ve only just said I love you to someone that I really do love and he didn’t say it back but Im glad I said it because I don’t want to have regrets

  • Emily Legges

    I am a generous “I love you”-er and sometimes it makes me cringe but it just come out when I’m around people who make me giddy… family, friends, I love them all.

    That being said, the first time I said I love you to my now-husband I was 18, drunk and in the dirtiest bar in the town we live in and we’d only been dating 2 months… it just tumbled out of my mouth and I was mortified and ran away, but I meant it and I wasn’t going to take it back and, thinking back, I don’t regret it.

    7 years later he brought it up on our wedding day…

  • Kay

    sometimes life is almost literary- with my husband the first I love you was like foreshadowing of an aspect of our relationship that I had to keep relearning the hard way for the first 2 years of marriage. I looked deep into his eyes and said I’m falling in love with you, and he said I’m going to marry you (???!!!). Which was a shocker, and I wish I had taken note that love doesn’t always come back to you the way that you gave it. I get it now, and I’m so grateful for it but man that was a tough nut to crack for a while.

  • libs

    My last boyfriend told me he loved me after a terrible party, when he was

    drunk and I was uncomfortable, stood outside the house looking at the stars and waiting for a lift home. I didn’t reply because he was drunk and I thought he didn’t mean it, he got upset for me not saying it back, and it was a completely absurd situation where I felt like I had to say I love you to placate him, not because I meant it. We later said it and meant it, I think.

    I say I love you all the time to my friends and it’s no big deal, but ~romantically~ it is, probably because most people only want to love/be loved romantically by one person at once, so it feels like a much bigger deal than professing love for friends, who I can love deeply but also widely.

    There’s this Julie Byrne song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, Sleepwalker. ‘Before you, had I ever known love, or had I only known misuse of the power another had over me?’ and reading thru these comments/hearing stories from my friends, that seems like such a common thing … which honestly hurts my heart, but at the same time, I like the sentiment that there is still hope I can go on to love/be loved better than before.

  • My current boyfriend (in tandem with my most recent ex) have really forced me to think about the concept of love and the words “I love you” because my current bf doesn’t outright say the words “I love you” to me, but he shows me in actions constantly and I *feel* more loved than I did with my ex, who was constantly *saying* he loved me and never acting like it. Which is all to say, I realize now that it’s more about the feeling than the phrase itself.

  • Shevaun

    I said it for the first time when my boyfriend (now husband) and I had been dating for like…six months. We were 21 (me) and 19 (him) but we were both HELLA inexperienced, and we were laying on his bed and I stuttered out an “You’re an idiot and I love you” (classic afraid-to-say-it-straight technique). And then he said it back, and now we shout it at each other on the reg and have been together for seven years. Bing bang boom.

    We had never said it to anyone else before. I’d only ever had one boyfriend before him, and that dude told me he loved me after 1 month but I was not into it and we broke up 1 month later. My husband has only been with me.

    I think it’s a thing you should say when you feel it, but I was lucky in that me and my husbu were both on our way there and were both pretty young and free from baggage/cynicism etc. From what I hear, people progress toward that point at different rates. It can make it scary.

  • Justyna

    I’ve said it twice so far and each time was a mistake that I managed to remove from the memory (incl. how and when I said it). SUCCESS!

  • Mar

    I’ve said I love you to two people. The first was my ex who told me in a text message- I pretended to not see it, and waited until he told me in person to say it back. I did not ever really feel loved in that relationship- more of a toxic hold over me. I said it to my current bf first, after 3 or 4 months. We were laying on his bed and I couldn’t hold it in any longer! He said it right back and it’s still the best feeling.

  • Whitney Colon

    I’ve said it twice and meant it twice. The first time we were 15 a few months into “talking” an he said it while as we were hanging up from our nightly calls. And I said it back. I had the hugest smile and I could hear the smile and relief in his response. It ended up being a pretty toxic relationship and ended later that year. We actually got back together after we both graduated college and that time it felt more mature. Not as desperate, or passionate, or hormone driven as in high school. But we had serious communication issues and trust issues and didn’t want the same things, so alas, it ended. My now boyfriend and I were long distance for the first 6 months of our relationship. Only a few states apart but still pretty far for us. I said it first this time while we were laughing laying in bed and he was about to take the bus back home. I was immediately ashamed and wouldn’t repeat what I said. And he didn’t respond until I dropped him off at the bus station where he says “Whitney Colon I love you”. It was relieving. I didn’t know if I meant it when I said it but slowly I realized that I did love him. My brain was just in denial from past hurt. This love was not hormone driven or desperate. It just felt right. And easy. 3 months after the exchange I moved to NYC to be with him and 2 years later I still consider it to be the best decision I’ve ever made. I still love my ex. But I absolutely do not want to be with him. I feel like love doesn’t just go away, it changes and evolves into different forms. I had someone love me who I was not in love with. He was my best friend and I tried to make a relationship work because it made sense but I learned the hard way that love doesn’t make sense. Eventually I had to break up with him and I lost my best friend. Something I still regret. Be careful who you say it to and don’t feel responsible to someone to make it work. That’s not love, that’s pity.

  • pterridactyl

    The last (& only) time I said “I love you” my ex responded with “thanks”. A couple of months later when it was my birthday he even wrote thanks in my card, in lieu of love. We broke up a couple of weeks after.

    Now I realise I didn’t love him, or myself. I was in a very self destructive phase, had pushed away my closest friends and have dived into a relationship with someone who had plenty of his own issues to deal with.

    I never regret saying those words to him; they changed the dynamic of our relationship and made us both realise things weren’t quite working out the way they should.

  • Emily

    Oh my god. I’ve never commented on MR before, but I had to share my cringe-y story.

    I started dating my boyfriend while interning in NYC last summer. When I moved back out to CA, we decided to do long distance. I had already started falling for him and, as in my past relationships, was super determined to wait until he said it first to tell him I loved him. But one day about a month after I left the city, we were on the phone and hanging up and I heard him say ‘love you.’ I was shocked, but I had been starting to feel I loved him and didn’t want to not say it back in case he really said it.. so I said, ‘love you too.’ We hung up. I registered that was a very weird first time saying it, but was still kind of giddy. Then he texted me, “what did you say? I didn’t hear you.” I thought he was joking and wanted me to say it again.. so I called him and said “I said, I love you too.” He went DEAD silent, before telling me he hadn’t said I love you.

    Basically, it was horrible and I wanted to die/break up with him except I was IN LOVE WITH HIM DANG IT. He ended up telling me he loved me a few weeks later (in person), and we’re still together and very much in love now — but it did kinda ruin our first ‘I love you’ for me. And my play-it-cool strategy!