When Is The Right Time To Say “I Love You”?

Three little words that feel like they could change your life: I love you. Saying “I love you” is a big and universally scary step in any romantic relationship, making it that much more crucial to get your timing right. And confessing your feelings is like Goldilocks: there’s a risk of saying “I love you” too soon or too late, and it can be hard to judge the “just right” time. Here are some signs you’re ready to drop those three words.

  1. When the relationship feels safe It may go against the movie version of exciting yet tumultuous love, but it’s best to hold off saying “I love you” until your relationship feels safe and stable. When you feel secure with your partner and don’t lie awake at night questioning your relationship, you know you’re ready to tell them you love them.
  2. When you’re okay with them not saying it back Love should never be used to manipulate someone. But sometimes, people say “I love you” to love-bomb another person into saying it back or trying to force them into being more invested in the relationship. Don’t use the L-word when you hope to change the other person’s feelings or behaviors towards you. And skip confessing your feelings for the first time during a big fight. Instead, save it for a fun date or intimate moment instead.
  3. When you know it’s actually love When you’re overtaken by butterflies in your stomach, you may think you’re ready to say “I love you.” But don’t mix up love with infatuation. Don’t rush into proclaiming your love when you’re actually in lust. With time, you may discover your feelings will fade.
  4. When you’ve spent meaningful quality time together Especially with online dating, it’s easier than ever to fall in love with a projection of someone, without actually knowing them. Spend plenty of quality time together first to make sure your feelings check out. Don’t focus on the flattering photos or the charming dating app profile. Make sure you have several concrete examples of who they are, how well you mesh, and what feelings come up when you’re together.
  5. When you’re ready to challenge your fears Saying “I love you,” especially if you say it before your partner, can be super scary. You might be facing a fear of rejection or even a fear of commitment when you think of saying those words. If you know that you love the person you’re dating, but you’re scared of the outcome, face your fears and say “I love you.” You’ll likely feel a lot stronger and more courageous after you do.
  6. When their body language says they love you too If you’re still worried about how your partner might react when you say “I love you,” look to their body language for hints revealing how they feel. Sometimes you don’t need words to know if someone’s truly into you. How they move and gesture can say a lot about what they think of you, even before they’ve used the L-word. Look for signs that your partner is comfortable and paying attention to you when you’re together.
  7. When you feel inauthentic for not saying it If you feel like you just need to let it out, like you’re holding in a big secret or acting fake, it’s probably time to reveal your feelings. Be honest, and say what’s on your mind. If you don’t, it might slip out accidentally when you least expect it.
  8. When you’re talking about the future If you’re already talking about the future together, it’s time to get clear with them about how you feel. Don’t get too invested in a future with someone who you can’t be honest with and vice versa. And if you say “I love you” and they don’t say it back, it’s a brutal but necessary awakening that they may just be fantasizing about the future, without any real intention behind it. Avoid fast-forwarding to the future when you haven’t discussed how you feel in the present.
  9. When you want to The right time to say “I love you” is different for everyone, and you should only say it when you really want to. Don’t say it because you feel like you must to make your partner happy or maintain the relationship. If you don’t mean it or aren’t yet sure of your feelings, it’s okay to not say it. There’s no need to rush into using the L-word. In fact, for hetero couples, there’s typically a two-week difference between when men and women feel comfortable saying ‘I love you,’ with women requiring 15 more days on average than their male partners. And in the case that you are the one who’s ready to say it first, accept if the other person doesn’t return those three words right away. It’s better to let them be honest and real, rather than making them feel bad for not being ready.
Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo