When is it too early to say “I love you”?

DG reader Mike asks:

How long into a relationship is it healthy to say I love you?  Is it 2, 3, 6 months? I’m always told I’m doing it to early. I say it when I feel it.  However when the relationship ends my women friends tell me I’ve said it too early. I’ve also had women tell me they love me before I feel it’s appropriate. Is there a time frame I don’t know about?

Dear Mike:

No, there is no time frame. But I do think a month or two is a tad early because you are still in the infatuation stage and really don’t know the other person. It takes months to uncover who someone really is, and it can take a lot longer if s/he is good at keeping on a mask or being who they think you want them to be. So you can say, “I adore you” or  “I care about you” but the “L” word is so charged, I avoid using it until I really feel it – and it seems the other is feeling it too.

We make those words mean so much, like “I will stand by you and work out any hiccups,” “I have no interest in anyone else,” or other vows of long-term commitment. However, those three words really mean none of those things. Men have told me they love me, then broken up with me soon thereafter. My ex-husband told me he still loved me after he left me. He wasn’t trying to reconcile, just trying to assure me (I think) that his decision wasn’t out of hatred of me. It can be confusing to hear the words that we take to mean so much and see actions that don’t reinforce our interpretation. That’s why it’s important to use them sparingly until you are in a solid relationship.

Yesterday a man with whom I’ve been communicating online and on the phone for a few weeks told me he was in love with me. I thought it was sweet, but I also know until one has met and spent considerable time together, he can only believe he is in love with the person he thinks me to be. But it is highly unlikely he is in love with the real me. I’ve learned the words can be uttered when you are feeling connectedness, fondness or infatuation, but not true love. You have to know someone to feel that depth of emotion.

I explored other issues around too-soon “I love yous” in “When he tells you he loves you.”


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9 responses to “When is it too early to say “I love you”?”

  1. Robert Avatar

    Love is an easy word to say, and unfortunately is used too prematurely. In early stages o a relationship, love is used inlieu of simply, I have feelings for you! Love takes time to grow and needs nurturing to take hold.

  2. Catherine Avatar

    Oh these little dynamite words. I use them quite sparingly even with close friends and family. Hell, my cat rarely hears “I love you”, and he gives it back to me every day through cuddles and kisses! In my experience, these are some of the most overused words in the English language. They may be overused in other languages, but because I don’t speak any other languages, I can’t say for sure.

    I Love You is loaded… it is used to manipulate, and for good as well as for bad. The problem is when someone says those words, you don’t know at the time, which type they are… good or bad. Usually you don’t know for a long long time. Even from family members, they can come with strings attached.

    I have taken to listening, holding the words and not letting them mean anything until I can figure out why they were offered. This takes a lot of analyizing and no quick response on my part. My usual response is “thank you”. Rarely, a “I love you too”. Yes, it is cautious, but I have learned the hard way, to guard my heart and love very carefully, they are easily bruised, and take a long to heal when trampled upon.

  3. LuckyatCards Avatar

    Sometimes you don’t want to say it because you know the other person doesn’t feel that way, and a declaration of love in that situation creates an imbalance and possible tension.

    I agree though — don’t say it lightly, and don’t say it after only a couple of months, especially if that is two months of weekly dates. It’s infatuation still at that point.

  4. Patricia Avatar

    I struggled with this early on in my current relationship (now 5 months.) I danced around the issue, fearing to say that “L” word, because it was so loaded. I finally just told him. And he didn’t say it back. Yes, that made me feel strange and vulnerable. And yet, it was freeing to be truthful and honest and to just let myself love because I wanted to. And we talked about it. We still do.

    I think the problem is that we don’t have enough words in the English language to convey the different levels and types of “love.” When I told him I was “in love” with him, we both knew that it was the infatuation type of love. I admitted it freely. We use other terms– I care about you, I want to be with you, etc. And when I tell him I love him, I explain that I understand it is too soon to know if that’s the “committed for life” kind of love. But I got tired of avoiding the word. So I use it.

    He, on the other hand, will not say it. I understand why, and we’ve talked about that too. (He was hurt very deeply by a past relationship.) He points out that his behavior towards me shows how he feels, and I agree that it does. He doesn’t mind that I say I love him, and he enjoys being loved. Now and then I probe the issue, and he says to give him time. Meanwhile, I know that when I do finally hear that word from him, it will mean a great deal.

    Does that make my love less valued, or my expressions of it cheap? I don’t think so. I am being true to myself. We both know and agree that feelings change, and that what you say is less important than how you act, and that the true test will come over time. Neither of us has an “agenda.” Neither of us are searching for a spouse, and we simply enjoy each other and let the relationship grow and develop. If it doesn’t work out in the end, was the time wasted? I don’t think so. If the time comes that we part, I don’t think I will be hurt more because I said the “L” word and he didn’t.

  5. Gula Avatar

    I think women and men understand and express thier love in different ways. Most of my boyfriends had emailed, mailed or told their friends about love towards me. I prefer men who say “I Love You” after several months at least, because I believe that is the true feeling they have.
    If you hurry them or say that phrase first, they do not appreciate most of the times. I know, we are women and we are so emotional and want the whole world to know about our feelings, but if we think extra weeks or month our feeling turn out to be wrong. So from the time you discover yourself that you are in love with some, to the time you should say it some time should pass.
    Maybe I’m wrong, who knows?

  6. Liz Avatar

    When I feel strong about somebody, I usually tell them, no matter what their reply is, even if it is nothing. My words are usually something like “I’m crazy about you.” I always remember something that Leo Buscaglia said in one of his books. It was something like this – you love to love, not to get anything in return or it is not truly love. I do not hold back as I feel this limits me as a person. Regret is one feeling I never want to have. So when I feel it, I say it.

  7. Chani Avatar

    In a culture where people use the word “love” to describe how they feel about ice cream, I really wouldn’t take it too seriously. 🙂


  8. MaryAnn Avatar

    I’ve been in a relationship with a man for about 16 months. This has been, thus far, in my adulthood, the most balanced, respectful relationship I’ve ever been in. After about 6 months, I told him I loved him. He has never used those exact words. He will say he cares for me, does not want to be with anybody else, that he is very attached to me. For me, it’s an expression of “feelings”. For him, it’s a “level”. It would mean that he’s ready to take the relationship to new heights (ie: move in together, etc.). My boyfriend appreciates the words spoken to him but will not just say them. All his life he’s seen people that are all lovey dovey, saying “I love you” and split up a few months later. He’s always said, “If 2 people are meant to spend the rest of their lives together, why rush things… because you’ll always be there for each other anyways”. I appreciate that when he is ready to say it, he will really mean it. So, for now, I’m enjoying the time I spend with him. We are very close, occasinally speak of a possible future together, & most of all, he is wonderful with my children. Do I wish he would say it?! Of course. There might come a day when I will reevaluate the relationship to ensure that it is truly moving forward. For now, he shows me how much he cares in everything he does & says. I feel more love than I ever did before with any one who told me they “loved me”. Where are those guys, now?

  9. MaryAnn Avatar

    I must say, be true to yourself. As an adult, you hope that you learn from the past relationships. I believe that the word has so many meanings & it depends on the interpretation. I know in my case, my boyfriend & I have a totally different “dictionary”. I’m also a person who would be willing to jump right into it. This relationship is good for me. I’m not skipping any steps & enjoying the journey!