These three little words can bring you closer to your companion or cause him/her to freak out.  How do you know what you feel is love?  What if you say it and they don't say it back?

For those of us who were faithful followers of the hit television show "Friends", we all learned by example that saying, "I love you" too soon can leave both people in the relationship feeling rather uncomfortable.  This happened when Emily was about to board a plane, Ross said, "I love you." and Emily responded, "Thank you!", then quickly boarded the plane.  Um. Awkward.

Emily and Ross did go on to profess love for one another only after Emily explained she was just caught off guard.  Not only did this episode remind all of us how saying those words and getting the wrong response can cause you to feel lousy, but picking the right time and place is very important.  Also, we should be willing to say the words knowing that the other person may just not be ready to say them back.  While the person may have mutual feelings about you, they may not have thought it through until the words were actually said.  On the flip side, it could also scare your companion away if he/she is not ready for love.

How do you know if the time is right?

There is no steadfast rule. You may say it after 1 month or 1 year.   Some relationship experts say about 2-3 months is a good time.  Generally, just make sure it is someone you truly love and not just attracted to based on the newness of the relationship. 

Situations possibly confused for love

  • If you are not in a good place in your life following divorce, be careful not to confuse feelings of "love" for your desire to be in another committed relationship.  Love and relationships aren't like instant oatmeal.  It takes time to find the right person for either.  
  • It's common after being in a bad marriage to find your next one very appealing.  It can seem like love, but really it's just a rebound affect. 
  • Sometimes we have feelings of closeness, admiration or physical attraction that may seem like love, but in fact, is just attributes you like in the person.
  • Finally, be cautious if the person for whom you think you love is someone who has been protective of you or helpful in some way following your divorce.  Your feelings of love can be misguided on the basis of dependency or admiration.  

It doesn't mean that any of these situations can't include love or eventuate love, but be true to yourself and feelings and don't rush things.

Taking it slow

If you are only attracted to someone based on one or two things or if it is really early in the relationship and you don't know much about your new companion, you may need to give it some time to see if this person has all of the qualities that warrant "true love".  If you move too fast and the person says he/she loves you too, then it will be a more complicated break-up if you later realize you made a mistake. 

You should be able to sense there is a love connection and genuinely enjoy time you both spend together. The feelings about being with one another should be mutual. This means you both share your feelings, laugh, talk and initiate dates and conversation.  While your love interest may have certain personality traits such as shyness or reserved behavior, you should generally know if he/she is into you.  Only you and your dating companion will be able to truly know when the time is right.

What happens if I say it accidentally?

It isn't uncommon for the words to just be said unexpectedly.  It may take both of you off guard, but generally it means one of three things.

Habitual Expression

If you have recently been in a relationship where "I love you" was said frequently, then it may be said to your new partner accidently as a habitual expression instead of truly indicating your love.  You should immediately explain to your new partner to avoid confusion that would cause the relationship to move too fast or suddenly end.

True Feelings

Sometimes when something is said unexpectedly it represents our truest feelings.  If this happens you will need to allow the person to respond and be patient if the response isn't exactly what you want.  Remember, if you were surprised by the words that came out of your mouth, your companion is likely also taken off guard.  While it's possible your love interest may feel the same way, it doesn't necessarily mean he/she is ready to say it.

I'm ready, but my dating partner isn't

If the words "I love you" were said sincerely, but your dating partner wasn't ready to say them back, you can handle it one of two ways.  You can downplay the expression, knowing that you may have feelings deeper for someone than they do you; or, you can be upfront about how you feel and what you seek.  

Honesty is always goodsmile

It is always best to be honest in order to avoid wasting each other's time.   Sometimes your partner just needs more time and is honest in telling you that.  In this case, you need to be patient to wait for the person you love to feel the same way.

If your new companion isn't interested in "love" but is only seeking a casual relationship, it's best to know now rather than waste time in a relationship that will likely not provide what you need.  Yes, sometimes people change their mind.  But, if you have been with the person long enough to know you're in love and he/she is upfront in telling you they are not seeking love, then you can only blame yourself when the relationship never develops past what it is.  

Downplaying ain't half bad eitherfoot-in-mouth

However, sometimes you may feel you love someone, but in a way, you know it's really soon to say it.  If you're in love and your partner isn't quite there yet, it may not be a bad idea to downplay it if the words slip out too soon.  You could say, "Awe you know, I love ya!", in a friendly way so that it doesn't scare your companion off.  Then give it some time until you both fall in love and/or you both know what you're feeling about each other is love.  

If the relationship starts to stall after a reasonable amount of time passes (only you can know how much time that is) you should ask your partner his/her long-term relationship goals.  If you have already discussed this and you feel your partner has not been honest about his/her original intentions, you may need to move on.  Don't wait for someone to change.  Chances are, they won't and you will just be in a dead-end relationship when you could find true love with someone who is serious about the same. 

Love is love, right?

Wrong!  Love between friends, family & romantic interests are all very different.  You may love someone dearly, but to be "in love" is different. 

Though every relationship varies, being "in love" requires a certain level of fidelity and commitment.  It usually means you want this person to exclusively be your companion.   It doesn't imply you will marry the individual, but it is a natural assumption that it could lead to that.  Only the two of you will know if marriage is right. 

When you say "I love you" or someone says it to you, it may be a good idea to clarify the intent of the words.  Despite our clarification of the differences, be sure your companion and you agree on the intent of the statement.  Don't overthink it, but you both should be clear on implications of "exclusivity and love".

With friends, family or casual romantic relationships, there isn't usually an exclusive relationship like a serious romantic couple share.   So, generally you love your friends and family members or otherwise, but you are not "in love".

Now, go out there and fall in love.  Just don't say it too soon!  And don't wait too long.   ♥


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