They can make your year or bring your hopes and plans dribbling to a premature end. When is the right time to say ‘I love you’? When are the wrong times? And how you do you best make sure you get the only one right answer, ‘I love you too’?
Now, mid-teenage years aside, and never mind if you know, you just know, that the person you’ve just started seeing exactly fits your idea of the perfect partner, it is almost certainly – there will be exceptions – a really bad idea to say ‘I love you’ within the first weeks or months.
Why is that? Well, for starters, you’re still in the starry-eyed honeymoon period; your brain’s flooded with ‘love chemicals’, the PEA (phenylethylamine) which, like the amphetamine group of chemicals it in some ways resembles, distorts perception – your new other half is perfect, right? – and ramps up your emotional responses; you are pretty much literally ‘high’. That’s not to say, don’t enjoy this giddy romantic period. Make the absolute most of it. However, if you think of these feelings as true love – as opposed to the beginnings of true love – you are riding for a fall.
Think about how your ‘I love you’ will be heard. If someone tells you ‘I love you’ too soon, it can be hard to take seriously; there’s an unreal air about it. Your most honest reaction, hearing these words, might be to think: ‘But you don’t even know me.’ It can seem naïve or downright disrespectful. You might even be forgiven now for dropping that best behaviour approach you’ve adopted so far in the presence of your new partner to give them a healthy dose of the real you. And, to turn it around again, you don’t want to be provoking that sort of behaviour by your being the one saying ‘I love you’ before it’s time.
So when is the right time? And what do you say in the meantime? Some would say, wait as much as a year. At the very least, give it three months – so ‘I love you’ can mean ‘I’m growing to know you more and more and I love you for the person you really are’ and not ‘I love this, I love my idea of you’.
You can use the word ‘love’ meanwhile, but be careful to make sure it means what you really mean. ‘I love this feeling’ – as your new partner holds you after an evening out or begins to massage you steadily and expertly to orgasm. ‘I love your smile’ – or ‘that top’ or ‘that song you played me’, details, in other words, things you can compliment, concrete things. Here, you’re bringing the word in and enjoying the idea of love, but not overwhelming the other person by turning ‘all this’, your new romance, into him or her. Your new partner is there with you, sharing all this, the romance; he or she isn’t forced to become it.
Now, let’s say you reckon it is about time for that magical exchange of ‘I love you’s. Are you feeling really brave? Wait, perhaps, until you’re holding each other, eye to eye, and try it really quietly, hardly moving your (scrunched, smiling) lips, as if you’re reluctant to say it but you’ve just got to. Drop the ‘I’ if you like and say ‘love you’ – it can seem more familiar, still special but the sort of thing you’d say to a friend or at the end of a phone call home – and it gives you room to back off if the response isn’t: I love you too.
And by this point in your relationship, after those weeks and months of growing together, sharing the dream and really bonding, your feelings are probably a pretty accurate guide to your partner’s in any one moment you’re together. Chances are, in terms of finding the right time, you can forget about calculations; you’ll just know it.