The Right Time: How To Know When To Say “I Love You”

By Abigail Boyd|Updated April 1, 2022

Saying I love you is always a huge step in a relationship, a turning point. These words hold so much meaning and power. If you've been dating someone for a while and you're having strong feelings for them, you're probably wondering if you should reveal this to them. But how do you know when the time is right? Is there such a thing as saying it too soon? If you're looking for advice on saying “I love you” for the first time, then you're probably asking yourself many questions. Who says it first? What if I end up saying “I love you” too soon? What if the other person doesn't say it back? If you've been searching around for answers to these queries, you've probably been overwhelmed by different opinions.

Exchanging these words with a special person for the first time can be one of the most memorable moments of your life. If said at the wrong time, however, saying “I love you,” and not hearing it back could hurt a relationship.

How Soon Is Too Soon to Say I Love You?

If you have invested a lot of time and energy into your relationship, you may be worried about saying I love you too early on. You've probably been experiencing strong feelings for a while before you began to build up the courage to express them. Maybe you've had to stop the words from spilling out of your mouth for fear of finding out that the other person doesn't feel the same way.

No matter what dating advice guidebooks propose, there is no specific timeline for when to say those three little words. There is a lot of advice out there, and much of it conflicting. Are you supposed to wait until after you've had a certain number of dates? What even qualifies as a date anymore, anyway? Is staying in and watching a movie a date? Is it bad to say it after sex?

The timing of when you say "I love you" is important, but it doesn't depend on these outside factors. Instead, it's about the flow of your specific relationship. Saying I love you prematurely can make the other person feel pressured or unsure if you truly love the real them.

In most cases, it's usually best to refrain from talking about your feelings within the first few weeks of dating. Even if you feel like stating that you love the other person this early on, there's no rush, and you should allow your feelings to have the chance to expand and grow before sharing them.

How to Know It's Really Love

Another important aspect to remember is to make sure it's actually love you're feeling. How do you know if it's real love or just strong feelings or attraction? Really search your heart. Loving someone isn't just about desiring them or enjoying their positive qualities. You need to see the whole person and still love them despite—or even because of—their human flaws.

Strong feelings can abound when you're first dating someone, partially due to neurochemicals that are associated with attraction, including dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals literally make us high on attraction, which can trick us into thinking it's love we're feeling. You may feel compelled to declare your undying love for the other person before that's really the case, especially if this is your first serious relationship.

Take some time to consider if what you're feeling is really love or just a strong attraction. You'll want to be sure when the time comes.

Know When You Are Ready

You may never get to a point where you don't feel at least a little vulnerable and anxious putting your true feelings out there. That's okay and normal. You'll know when to say I love you when you're clear about your feelings and can picture a future with the other person. It will be a feeling in your gut when you think about the other person and where your relationship is headed. It's a good idea to allow this feeling to germinate for a few weeks before you speak it out loud. If it's love, it's only going to get stronger, so there's no rush to say it immediately.

Knowing Your Partner Is Ready

When you're sure that you're ready to share your feelings, you need to consider where your partner is to know if they're ready to receive them. Have you had an open discussion about where you both see the relationship going? Are you clear about his or her expectations? Sometimes, a person can go into a relationship wanting something casual, but when feelings develop, their desires change.

However, what if the person you love has expressed recently that they don't want anything serious, they're still dating other people, or you have another reason to believe they're not ready? If this is the case, then you'll want to have a discussion with them about where the two of you stand before you decide whether it's time to reveal your feelings. Don't assume you can change their mind just because you've begun to care about them. This can backfire and lead to you getting hurt.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This phrase is so common for a reason: it's true. With real love, what you do matters exponentially more than what you say. This applies not only to you but to the other person, as well. Do they show you that they care about you in little ways, like bringing you lunch out of the blue or messaging you because they miss you? These actions can add up and give you an idea if the other person's feelings match yours. When someone constantly says, "I love you," then it's obvious how they feel—but that's rarely the case.

Say “I Love You”for the First Time

Putting your feelings into words can be an act of bravery, especially if you've been hurt before. Who should say I love you first? There's no hard and fast rule, despite what advice you may have read or gotten from your friends. If you're really feeling like it's time to confess your love for the other person and think they feel the same way, then go ahead and let them know how you feel. Don't agonize over the right moment.

It is usually best to say it for the first time in person, although you might dream of calling just to say I love you. Talking in person is not only more intimate, it allows you to clearly gauge the other person's reaction. Make sure you choose a time when you're both in a relaxed mood to let them know how you feel.

If You Don't Hear It Back

If all goes well, the person you declare your feelings to will reciprocate. However, what if they don't say anything back? This can be a very awkward situation if your words are met with silence or a muttered "thank you." Or worse, if your love interest tells you they don't feel the same way.

It doesn't have to be a nightmare, though. The conversation should not just end there. If they're not ready to say it back, then you need to have the difficult discussion of where the relationship stands. Maybe they do care, but they're just not ready to speak those words. That's okay. You can still continue working together to get to the same level.

After the First Time

Let's say that you took the step to say, “I love you,” and it was wellreceived. How do you proceed from there? Be mindful about saying it too much. Even if your feelings for the other person are strong, you don't want to overwhelm them. Every time you say,“I love you,” it shouldn't feel casual, but should be because you truly mean it.

What to Say When Someone Says “I Love You”

What if the person you're seeing says "I love you" first? Ideally, you would consider what to say before this happens. But what if it happens when you're unprepared? Really evaluate your feelings.

When wondering when to say I love you, know that you shouldn't ever say I love you if you don't feel it. That's not fair to you or the other person; and once you say it, you can't take it back. If you're not ready to echo the words, there are other ways to respond. Make sure to tell the other person that you care about them. This can be a very vulnerable situation for both of you, but the more honest you are now, the better the outcome.

Know that if your feelings don't match up, this may affect the relationship. You can only do your part to handle the situation delicately. If the other person is hurt enough to want to end the relationship, that's not something you can change.

Navigating Intimate Conversations With BetterHelp

Studies have shown that online therapy can be effective in managing the self-consciousness, embarrassment, or nervousness that may arise out of social anxiety and similar mental health issues. For example, in a study published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed medical journal, researchers concluded that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective in helping decrease symptoms of social anxiety. The study found that CBT methodsfostered a significant improvement, particularly because they were coupled with text therapy. This is in line with an increasingly large amount of evidence pointing to online CBT as a way of efficiently treating a wide range of mental health concerns.

If you’re unsure of when to say I love you, online therapy can help. Unlike with most traditional therapy sources, through online platforms, you’ll be able to access mental health resources from the comfort of your home (or anywhere you have an internet connection). With BetterHelp, you’ll be able to message your counselor any time, day or night. So, when you’re having trouble expressing yourself to your partner, have a question about something, or just want to chat, you can send a message, and your therapist will get back to you as soon as they can. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp’s licensed mental health professionals, from those who’ve learned to more thoroughly express their emotions.

Counselor Reviews

“Yolanda has a soothing presence and voice. She listens with her whole being and offers wisdom in a way that feels very accessible and simple. Her insights are reflected objectively and kindly. I appreciate all of the practical communication skills and life organization she has helped me with, and I thought I was pretty good with this to begin with! Excellent counselor, excellent human being.” 

“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He’s not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”


Dealing with love and relationships can be difficult sometimes, especially if you have a history of heartbreak. Speaking with a therapist can help you process your feelings and adopt effective communication skills that will serve you in your current and future relationships. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to a mental health professional today. 

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