Hearing those three little words before you’re ready can be nerve-wracking and certainly puts you on the spot. Not being ready to say ‘I love you’ back doesn’t mean you’re not falling for the person. Rather, it just means you need more time to process your feelings, and that’s totally okay. If he really loves you, then he’ll be understanding and will give you the time you need. The hard part comes in figuring out what to say in the moments after he drops the L-bomb. Consider saying one of these sweet replies that will let him know you care without having to say you love him before you feel completely ready to do so.
Tell him you’re starting to fall.
If you feel as though you’re starting to fall in love with him, but just need a bit more time, be direct about it. Not only will he appreciate your honesty, but the fact that you said you’re beginning to fall should be enough to assure him that your feelings are mutually strong.
Say “I love a lot of things about you.”
Try reminding him of all the things you know you love about him, whether it’s his humor, good looks, or personality. He can’t get too upset at you for not returning his “I love you” when you’re showering him with compliments. It’ll make him see how strong your feelings are without needing to directly say that three-word phrase.
Tell him how you feel about him.
You may not be ready to say “I love you” yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have strong feelings for him. Verbalize your thoughts. Let him know that you think the world of him. Say something along the lines of, “I never get tired of being with you,” “You mean more to me every single day,” or even, “Nothing makes me happier than when you’re happy.”
Plant a huge kiss on him.
They say that actions speak louder than words. So, if you want to express your feelings for him in little to no words, then consider just leaning in for a big kiss. He’ll likely be caught off-guard by your boldness, thereby taking away the momentary pressure to return the “I love you.”
Quote your favorite movie.
You want to think of something to say that the two of you will look fondly on for the duration of your relationship. After all, the first time you say “I love you” in a relationship is memorable, no matter who said it or how it goes. Consider making the moment special by quoting a romantic line from your favorite movie together. Try “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” from The Notebook, or “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you,” from The Fault In Our Stars. The opportunities are endless!
Tell him you’ve never felt this way before.
Even though you may not be ready to say those three words, it’s important to let him know how special he makes you feel. Respond with something like, “I’ve never felt this way about a person before and I’m falling for you.” There’s no need to say “I love you” explicitly with a response like this. But make sure you say it only if you truly feel that no one has made you feel this way before.
Admit if you’re afraid or nervous.
Maybe a past heartache is holding you back from saying those words or you’ve never experienced such intense feelings for a person. It’s okay to admit to him that you’re scared by your feelings or are overwhelmed. If he truly loves you, he’ll be understanding and supportive. But proceed with caution – don’t directly bring up a past relationship when your significant other has just dropped the L-bomb. Be vague but also clear enough that he knows it’s not him that’s the problem.
Say something witty.
A good joke always breaks the ice, so try lightening the mood by saying something witty or sarcastic. Say something sassy like, “I’d fall in love with me, too, if I got to stare at my face all day.” He’ll appreciate your humor but will hopefully realize it’s a way to deflect from the topic at hand, signifying you’re not ready to say it back to him just yet.
Tell him you need more time.
Most people hate it when others beat around the bush, so sometimes it’s best to be direct. If you take this approach, make sure to phrase it delicately. You want him to still feel valued and reassured. Say something along the lines of, “I want you to know how much I care about you, but I still need more time before I feel ready to say those words back to you.
Admit you don’t know what to say.
There’s no shame in owning up to this. If you’re at a loss for words and are freezing up, tell him. It’s okay to say something like “Sorry, I screwed that up,” so long as you’re apologizing for not knowing how to respond and not for simply not being ready to say “I love you.”
Remember – just because someone says they love you doesn’t mean you owe them anything. You should stay true to your feelings and pick a response that’s appropriate based on where you want the relationship to go. But no good ever came of saying ‘I love you’ before you felt ready.
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