Falling in love really is a journey. There are stages, uphill climbs, breezy trails, slippery slopes and everything in between.
When you say "I love you" for the first time, it has a very different meaning than when you say it one year into the relationship (or even past that point).
You’re growing together, you’re encountering new situations on both an individual and couple level and, thus, the definition of "I love you" evolves with your relationship.
However you say it (through tears or through laughter), wherever you say it (after a good romp or first thing in the morning), and whenever you say it (three months or three years) one thing is always constant: There is some type of love present.
Here’s what it all means:
Three Months: This is fun / I like where this is going
In the grand scheme of a long-term relationship, three months is fast. When you say "I love you" at this time, it's like saying I love this novelty in my life -- like I love this season's new handbag.
It might go out of style, but it feels like it will last forever. Let's be real though, you've had diets last longer than this point.
Maybe you blurted it out by accident or maybe you were caught up in the moment. It might not be the kind of love you have for people who've been in your life forever, but it still feels different and special.
Four Months: I'm ready to try weird sex stuff with you
You're trusting of your partner now and ready to try new moves in the bedroom that you wouldn't be comfortable doing with someone whom you didn't love. You are gradually opening up more of yourself to this person and feel rewarded doing so.
"I love you" is "I want you to take me out of my comfort zone." S/he makes you feel secure enough to sexually explore and express your desires.
Five Months: You're Important
It's nearing the end of the Honeymoon Phase and you both have loved the time spent vacationing together. "I love you" at this stage means "You're important to my life" and now we're carving out a more permanent place for you in it.
There's still the bit of uncertainty behind it -- will my heart be broken? Does s/he feel the same? Anything under six months can be fleeting, which makes this "I love you" even more exciting.
Six Months: We’re great together
You two are infatuated with each other. You love the funny Instagrams s/he tags you in. You love the thoughtful emails s/he sends containing "of interest" articles.
"I love you" means more than it seemed to just a mere three months ago; you're saying, I love the way you make me feel and the person I am with you.
This "I love you," therefore, is still somewhat selfish. You're learning about someone else, but also yourself in the process. And you love this newer, better version.
Seven Months: It's ours
Loving someone is like moving to a new city -- the more time that passes, the stronger your feelings grow.
Whether it’s playfully thrown out during a silly moment or softly whispered cuddled under the covers, when you say "I love you" at this stage, you really mean, what's yours is mine and mine is yours.
No longer are you keeping track of who last paid for dinner. No longer are you making plans without the other person in mind. This is a shared "I love you," like everything else in your relationship.
Eight Months: I hate fighting with you
You had your first big, blowout fight and afterwards came the "I love yous" and the realization that you’re committed to caring for this person -- not arguing with him/her. This "I love you" isn’t about who won, it’s recognizing you don’t want to lose him/her.
It brings you two closer. You both understand that disputes will happen, you’ll inevitably take different sides, but this love is strong enough to bring you back together. It’s an "I love you" with “through thick and thin” tacked on.
Nine Months: You’re my best friend
At this point, being together feels more natural than being apart. The "I love you" is more serious now; even if it’s said through fits of laughter or text message, there’s real weight behind the words.
You don’t just mean, "You are an amazing person"; you also mean, "You are my best friend."
It’s the kind of "I love you" that goes deeper beyond what this person can offer you or what you can offer him/her. You’re already there. Now, you love your partner as if there weren’t a time in which you didn’t.
One Year: You are my world
...And you can’t picture what it would be like without this person in it. Your lives are fully intertwined. This "I love you" is more permanent. There isn’t a question about who feels it more. You don’t have to worry that you’re falling too hard.
You are safe. You are comfortable. Now when you say "I love you," it feels like home.
One Year, Five Months: We’re in this together
Your partner's pains are your pains. His/her wins are your wins, too. Despite maintaining individual lives, yours isn’t complete without knowing everything about the other person’s. You’ll make sacrifices for each other because you love each other.
Love is a good enough reason and explanation for your actions. Holding each other closely, wrapped up in more than just each other’s arms, when you’re saying "I love you" you’re really saying, “You’re not alone.”
Two Years: I’m thinking about our future
Your love story is no longer limited to how you met and all the past events, now it’s including what you hope for in the future. You say "I love you" to indicate "I love what we are, and I’m going to love what is to come."
You are confident that as long as you’re together, what lies ahead can’t be that scary.
This "I love you" means you want more. You want to build more than just a relationship together. You want to push each other to new levels and you’re ready to accept the challenge.
It feels much more distant from when you said “I love you” at month six. You’re in a new place now -- a place of sincerity and respect.
~Three Years, Moving In Together: I will marry you
You’re taking the next step and so is the meaning of “I love you.” You’re not simply implying that your heart swells when they are around. You’re not stating a kind of compliment.
You’re expressing that you want to make it permanent. You want to share everything from address to last names. You want to be the last person they ever say the words to.
In fact, “I love you” doesn’t do it justice. It’s too much about yourself and what this other person does for you. A better expression would be, “You, I love” because that’s what you really mean.
~Four Years, Marriage: Indescribable
You use words to encapsulate an abstract feeling, but now they just seem like words. The real meaning lies within your heart, your every fiber of being. And that can’t be translated.