What’s too soon, and when do you know you’ve waited too long? When do feelings of lust, like, and compassion magically transform into feelings of love?
Contrary to popular Hollywood-induced belief, dropping the L bomb doesn’t always come with a side order of flowers, candy, or violins. It also doesn’t always result in the loss of virginity, or a hand in marriage, but that doesn’t make telling someone you love them any less significant, not to mention nerve-wracking.
In order to reel in the millions of emotions, variables and questions that go along with telling someone you’re in love with them, most of us tend to obsess over just one aspect: timing. What’s too soon, and when do you know you’ve waited too long? When do feelings of lust, like, and compassion magically transform into feelings of love? Without any rules or regulations, the concept of there being a perfect time to say “I love you” has become just that—a concept, not a designated relationship checkpoint with a concrete time frame.
When I ask my friends about their experiences using the L word for the first time, specifically when they thought it was appropriate, the majority of their answers supported my “concept” theory. The most common response I got was “when you feel it” and a reluctance to expand. A handful of people, however, were able to describe what they meant.
“You say it when you feel it, but you should be saying it when you mean it,” said one guy I talked the matter over with. “Don’t just say it because it sounds good, or because you want to. Wait until you know it’s really real.” Another guy I posed the question to, a much younger one I might add, responded that while saying I love you as soon as you feel it is important, you also need to check in with yourself and make sure that feeling of love wasn’t just lust. “Don’t get wrapped up in beauty or sex,” he warned.
The females I talked to were equally concerned about determining the legitimacy of their love before declaring it aloud, but at least one lady had a tactic for doing. While the guys I talked to preferred a personal introspective approach, my friend Maya chose a more interactive option: talking it out. Prior to exchanging those three words with her boyfriend of two months, Maya had a conversation with him about the word love in general. “I wanted to know what him saying, “I love you” to me would mean,” she said. “When I say, “I love you,” it means I appreciate both the good and the bad in someone; I support that person unconditionally and I am devoted to them. It’s fine with me if that’s not what his “I love you” means, but I didn’t want to have to assume or expect anything.” Maya acknowledges two months might seem like a short amount of time to fall in love, but since both her and her boyfriend communicated about exactly what their love meant, time was a non-issue.
As for me, I have told all three of my boyfriends that I loved them. Each time was uniquely its own, but it’s really the first time that I remember the most clearly. Perhaps it was because it was the only time I said it first, perhaps it was because it was my first love; I’m just not sure. Ok, truth? It’s probably the bizarre circumstances, not the person, which makes me remember that first time so vividly.
I told my first boyfriend I loved him for the first time in the middle of a fight. As usual, he was feeling conflicted about staying in the relationship, and, as usual, I was letting him throw a temper tantrum about it. It was the same monologue every time: his psychotic family screwed him up, he wasn’t good enough for me, and I should probably walk away now before he infected me with his poison. Yes, I do believe he used the word poison.
I’d been listening his pity-party speech from the beginning, but even his flair for drama couldn’t prevent me from falling in love with him about three months in. Rather than tell him as soon as I felt it, though, I chose to keep my feelings to myself. As childish as his freak-outs were, I took them seriously; I believed him when he said he considered himself unlovable. If I told him I loved him, I was scared that he would be the one walking away, not me. I spit the three words into my fist, and I vowed to keep them balled up there for as long as I could—about six months, as it turned out.
“Well, I love you,” I announced, my voice sharper than I knew it could be. “And you’re going to have to deal with that.” That was exactly how I said it. That was how, in middle of a screaming argument, I finally told my boyfriend that I loved him.
When I finally did let the sweaty words go free, I was too angry to even wonder what his response would be. I was too angry to realize what I was saying. It was one of those moments only people who have truly been in love can understand. I was split in two: one part of me wanted to pummel my boyfriend to the floor and sit on his hands until he promised to stop victimizing himself on such a regular basis, and the other part of me wanted to hold him tight, tight enough that I could slip inside of him and remove whatever it was that was making him hurt so bad. Since I couldn’t do either, I did both: I told him I loved him, and that he would have to deal with it.
I used to look back and laugh that my first experience saying I love you was in middle of a fight, but thinking about it now, I can’t imagine a more organic, genuine way of expressing an emotion that intense. It might sound strange, but for me, it was the perfect time to say I love you.