The feeling of a new relationship is absolutely electrifying. You want to be with your partner all the time. You’re actually smiling at couples kissing in the grocery store. Your stomach is a big bouncing knot of affection, excitement, and nervousness.
Oh, and maybe even love? Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Saying “I love you” in a fresh relationship can be three tiers of terrifying: 1) What if my partner doesn’t say “I love you” back? Will that ruin everything? 2) What if I actually don’t love my partner? Because what even is love? And how am I supposed to know if this is it? 3) What will my friends say?!
My friends and I all coincidentally entered our first relationships around the same time, and to be honest, I remember an air of judgment surrounding discussions about when everyone said, “I love you.” One friend said it after one year – way too long. One said it after a month and a half – too quick! Strangely, there was never any sort of unanimous belief that a certain couple did it just at the “right” time…it always seemed to be a little soon or a little late.
I regret that judgmental thinking, because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there is no such thing as a “right” time to say, “I love you” to your partner. I wish I could tell you there was, cause that would sure eliminate a lot of the anxiety around the whole thing. But really, the answer is tricky but simple: you say “I love you” to your partner when you feel that you love your partner.
I know that sounds vague, but when you’re in it, I think you kind of just know. I remember my “I love you” story so clearly. We were gazing into each other’s eyes (romance makes clichés feel normal, okay?) and kept reciting these words back and forth that said everything but I love you. “I like you so, so much,” I said. “I care about you so deeply,” he said. “You mean so much to me,” I said. And this went on and on while we held back what we truly wanted to say, what was about to burst out of our mouths at any moment if we finally just let ourselves stop holding it in. And so at last, he did. “I love you.” I felt like I’d lived my whole life for that moment. What an honor it was to say it back.
If you’re in a relationship and stressing about the “I love you,” don’t. There’s no wrong time. Good relationships are built on trust and vulnerability, and the confidence that your partner will accept you if you show him or her your deepest feelings. Yes, it’s a risk, but sometimes risks are worth taking. And if you feel something, or even think you feel something, you owe it to yourself to express it.
Thumbnail photo by Samuel Stratton.