Does Saying “I Love You” First Feel Different From Hearing It? An Expert Explains

If you're in the midst of a blossoming relationship, your feelings are probably evolving from low-key lust to full-on love. You might even be getting close to exchanging "I love you's" with your bae. When those three little words are on the horizon, you may be wondering which one of you will say it first. So, does saying "I love you" first feel different than hearing your partner say it first?

Maybe in past relationships, you've always been on the receiving end of the inaugural ILY. This can make anyone feel extra special, even if you reciprocate with a declaration of love immediately after. So, what's the difference between the two? Does it matter who says "I love you" first in a relationship? Is there any reason to hold out and wait for your boo to spill the beans before you do?

To help me figure out if saying "I love you" first feels any different from hearing it said to you, I talked to a relationship expert. According to Dr. Maryanne Comaroto, PhD, a psychologist and radio host of Real Time Relationships, "saying 'I love you' can mean different things under different circumstances. Where you say it, how you say it, and to whom you say it all make a difference." It sounds to me like timing is everything whether you're the first one to say it or not. "When you say it for the first time and really mean it, it is generally understood as a big deal," she adds.

Dr. Comaroto explains that when it comes to "who says it first, this can certainly affect a person uniquely. For some, it can be a particularly vulnerable act, especially if you are uncertain if your partner feels similarly." Even if you're pretty sure your SO has the same heart eyes for you as you have for them, there's always a risk that comes with saying ILY first because you may not get the response you want or expect. You might also worry that your partner will feel pressured to say it back regardless of their true feelings. This is where a lot of people freeze up or overthink telling their partner how they feel.

Stocksy / Lumina

Sometimes, holding in your feelings can be super tough. If your love for your partner is bursting at the seems, "saying it first might feel like an emancipating declaration and maybe even a relief," Dr. Comaroto says. If you feel like you can't take it any longer and want to get your feelings out, there's nothing wrong with being the first one in your relationship to say "I love you."

However, Dr. Comaroto says that sometimes, an urge to tell someone you love them may be sparked by a feeling of panic or fear of losing your person. If you're "saying it prematurely in the hopes of getting someone to want you, sleep with you, or make you feel less lonely," you may want to rethink your timing and save it for a later time when you feel like you and your partner are more on the same page.

The difference between the feeling that comes with saying "I love you" first versus having it said to you can really depend on the situation, as well as your unique relationship. "While being on the receiving end may seem less daunting, it can be just as stressful or liberating," Dr. Comaroto says. "You may be thrilled that someone you love had the courage to pronounce it first, or conversely, [you] may wish they did not feel so strongly because you simply don't love them back."

If you're considering dropping the L-bomb first, you might be apprehensive thinking it implies that you're more into your partner than they are into you. Dr. Comaroto tells Elite Daily that "for some, it's a power thing." At the beginning of a relationship, it may feel like one of you is more smitten than the other. This is completely normal, and as the relationship progresses, it will likely change, and continue to ebb and flow. Some of the trepidation surrounding saying "I love you" first may come from not wanting to lose the upper hand in your relationship. It's a vulnerable move, and vulnerability can make us feel uncomfortable and scared. "Trust is essential for any lasting relationship, and it's built when we share our vulnerability," she adds.

Stocksy / Guille Faingold

No matter who says "I love you" first in a relationship, Dr. Comaroto says that in the end, "it's about intention. If your intention is to express to someone that you care feel deeply about them and feel love for them ... it won't matter so much who said what first or who is more into whom." If your relationship is heading into the serious zone, you'll have to show your vulnerable side sooner than later. Telling someone how you feel doesn't mean you're being extra, it only means that you're willing to wear your heart on your sleeve. She adds that "if you are not comfortable being vulnerable in a relationship," it could lead to trouble down the road. Vulnerability is the glue that holds a relationship together, and communication is key to being vulnerable. Of course, it's totally understandable to be nervous about being open with your feelings. In fact, it's completely normal. Just keep in mind that healthy relationships are all about a balance of giving and receiving.

"When we say 'I love you' or hear it for the first time, we usually feel a kind of warmth and deep acknowledgment in our soul regardless of being the giver or receiver," Dr. Comaroto concludes. If you're considering beating your partner to the punch on this one, I personally say go for it. You never know— your SO could be feeling the same way, and you'll be over the moon when they say it back. Vulnerability will take you far when it comes to a lasting relationship, and there's no greater feeling than requited love. There's no shame in the love game!