When Do You Say “I Love You”?

A few nights ago, while spending time with this special guy that was in my life for a little while now, the thought “I love you” appeared in my mind.

It wasn’t the first time this thought crept in. It popped into my head a few times since we got together some 9 months ago. But I have never said these words to him.

Why are we hesitant to say “I love you” to someone for the first time? And why, when the relationship has been established, some people still struggle saying these words while others say them so often that they almost seem deprived of any meaning?

The main issue lies in the meaning of these words.

Do you actually know what “I love you” mean?

Not many of us do.

Love is an abstract word that can describe many feelings, all categorized under one umbrella – love – at least in the English language.

The love which we feel when we say “I love watermelon” is probably not the same love that we feel when we say “I love my children”.

The love which we feel when we say “I love you” for the first few times to a new romantic partner is most probably not the same love which we feel towards the same partner after we’ve been together for many years.

And if we are not too sure of the meaning of “I love you” – it makes it so much harder to say it for the first time to someone. Because, frankly, we have no clue what they think it means.

What do you mean when you say “I love you“?

This is a very subjective issue. Each of us has a different understanding and a different expectation when we say and hear those words.

I know what these words mean to me.

When these words jump into my awareness for the first few times in the context of a new romantic partner, there is no mistake. For me, it means that something they just did, or something they just said, made me feel so close to them that for a moment there, the barrier between us dropped. For a moment, sheer admiration and appreciation for their presence in my life, made the intimate connection between us so strong that my mind simply stopped on its tracks and the only thought that remained was “I love you“.

It doesn’t mean that I want to spend the rest of my life with them. It doesn’t mean that I need them to promise me the universe. It doesn’t even mean that I will have another moment like this again. But it does mean, that I feel a deep connection to them right now.

And if I choose to say “I love you” to them out loud, I make sure that they understand what it means to me.

Also, if someone says “I love you” to me for the first time, I ask them what they meant by that. I received some interesting answers with a few partners and friends in the past.

Saying “I love you” in a long-term relationship could be slightly different.

Some people enjoy saying it a lot, and/or hearing it a lot. Some don’t.

The meaning of the words “I love you” might be different for you now than what they meant at the beginning of the relationship.

For me personally, at this stage, “I love you” means that I don’t take you for granted. That I see the effort you put into our lives together. That I’m happy that we chose to be together.

But is it really important to say it?

In his best seller book the 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that people show their love in 5 distinct ways:

  1. Words of affirmation;
  2. Acts of service;
  3. Receiving gifts;
  4. Quality time;
  5. Physical touch.

And usually, the people that say “I love you” fall under the first category.

In a long-term relationship, it’s good to identify which love language you naturally tend to use, and which love language your partner prefers.

So even if you’re not the type that says “I love you” regularly, if you know that your partner appreciates that, you might want to say it to them more often than your personal preference. After all, if you do appreciate them being in your life, it’s a really good idea to let your partner be aware of that. And the best way to do so is by using the language that they themselves relate to most.

The key here is that you still need to really cherish and respect your partner. Don’t say it just to make them feel better – say it because you acknowledge that your life with them is rewarding.

If you asked my personal preference, I would say words of affirmation that have a more tangible meaning. I would say “Thank you for being in my life” or something similar. And the words “I love you“? I would only say these if they pop up in my head again, like they do occasionally at the beginning of the relationship. Not as a habit instead of saying something else.

But this is my own preference, and yours might be different altogether.

I invite you to think about the meaning of the words “I love you“: what does it mean to you when you say it to your partner? And I invite you to ask your partner what it means to them. Next time you say “I love you“, and next time they say it, perhaps delve into a conversation about what you actually meant by these words.