I've always imagined challenging a new partner to a countdown, at the end of which we both blurt out what we've been wanting to say for weeks: "I love you!" But figuring out how to tell your partner you love them doesn't mean you know exactly when to say "I love you" for the first time. Ideally, it would be nice if both you and your partner could lock eyes and have one of those silent conversations, like Lily and Marshall did on How I Met Your Mother. You know, the kind of intimate connection between two people who don't need to say a word to each other because they just know. It'd be nice, but it'd also be unrealistic.
I spoke with relationship expert and host of the breakup BOOST podcast Trina Leckie about when it's OK to say "I love you" for the first time in a new relationship, and she explained that we can't all have what Lily and Marshall had. OK, she didn't exactly put it like that, but she did say, "Every relationship and every connection is different, so there is no right answer or cookie-cutter formula."
There is a wrong answer, though. Just because more than 50 percent of people wait to say "I love you" until after the three-month mark, according to a recent survey, doesn't mean you have to do the same. If you think that you and your partner should say "I love you" to each other simply because you've been dating for three months, a year, or however long you've decided is long enough to get to that point, Leckie says that's not really the best way to approach it. "Once you start setting time rules on it, the moment loses its authenticity," she tells Elite Daily.
Instead, you should consider these two important questions before dropping the L-bomb.
Do You Feel Ready To Say "I Love You" To Your Partner?
You never want to say "I love you" to someone else before you're ready. Not only will you be hurting their feelings by lying to them, but you'll also be putting way too much pressure on yourself to live up to your lie.
"I think the best thing to do when it comes to this is not to overthink it," says Leckie. "If you feel like you want to scream it from the rooftops, that's a good indication of a good time to say it because it shows how excited you are to tell that person [and everyone else] how you feel about them."
Rather than tying this relationship milestone to others, like agreeing to say it once you've met each other's families or once you've started staying over at their place more than three times a week, Leckie's suggestion relies more on instinct.
Even if you're a private person who would never want to shout even the most mundane personal tidbits from your bedroom window (I get you), there are other ways your intuition can help you out. For example, if the spontaneous thought of your partner brings a bright smile to your face several times throughout the day, or you constantly look forward to the next time you get to see them, you might be ready to take the plunge.
Does Your Partner Feel Ready To Say "I Love You" To You?
Once you've decided that you're ready to say "I love you," the next challenge is figuring out if your partner feels the same way. No one wants to say "I love you" to someone who doesn't say it back.
Luckily, Leckie points out that, if your partner loves you, you can always tell by the way they treat you, which is especially important to remember in this instance. Sometimes, saying "I love you" doesn't necessarily mean they do, so you really shouldn't base your entire relationship on your and your partner's ability to have this verbal exchange. Someone who loves you will always consider your needs, appreciate you for who you are, and respect your opinions. It should be obvious that they enjoy spending time with you and that they have pictured a future with you in it.
For Leckie, though, knowing that the other person loves you back isn't always a prerequisite for opening up about your own feelings. "I don’t think people should only tell someone this if they feel as though they are guaranteed to hear it back," she says. "It takes courage to show your feelings, and the world needs more courage!"
She's right. Telling someone you love them shouldn't be a transaction. You shouldn't say it simply because you expect to hear it in return. If you love someone and you're ready to share that with them, you should be allowed to do so without worrying about placing too much pressure on them or scaring them away.
If your relationship is as serious as you think it is, they'll join you eventually.
This post was originally published on March 8, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 19, 2019.