Should I Say I Love You First?

When you find yourself in that moment of intimacy, whether gazing into your lover’s eyes over a lovely dinner or lying on your back gasping for breath after just having performed acts naked that Olympic gymnasts couldn’t do with a gold medal on the line, there is a temptation to say it. You know the phrase, the one that topples empires, creates relationships, and changes lives forever—“I love you.”

There are risks with saying “I love you” with no prompting. Those few seconds when you’re waiting for the “I love you” response can be the longest and most terrifying of your life. Depending on what that response is, it can make you angry, depressed, or insane. Ain’t love grand?

Do You Mean It?

Before you go dropping an “I love you” on somebody, you first need to ask yourself if you actually mean it. As much as you enjoy a good pizza, you probably don’t really love the pizza guy who arrives right at halftime during the Superbowl, so don’t say it.

When you’re talking to someone who may actually be in love with you, you need to be especially careful. Saying “I love you” to them without meaning it is about the cruelest thing you could ever do to them, short of maybe offering to sell them a surefire system to make money from home. In either case, it will end badly, probably with crying and smashed furniture and restraining orders. Again, ain’t love grand?

What is the Most Likely Response?

Before a poker player buys in at a table, he or she always “reads the room,” meaning they look over their opponents and size them up to see what kind of a threat they are. That’s pretty much what you need to do before you say “I love you” to someone. You need to study, evaluate, learn their “tells” and tendencies, and get a good read on them.

The reason for the research is that there are so many potential responses to “I love you.” Of course you’re hoping for the reciprocal assertion of love, but that is one of the very few ways it can go well. Beyond a loving response, probably the best you can hope for is the cryptic “Thank you” or “I know.” It only gets worse from there.

About the worst response you’re like to get is “Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my bedroom,” but there are a few other bad ones, as well. Phrases like “You mean as a friend, right?” and “We need to talk” will certainly give even the most ardent admirer nightmares. You should gather all the information you can about the recipient of your affection and be reasonably confident that the response will be positive before you go putting your heart out there to be stepped on and obliterated.

Is the Timing Appropriate?

A lot of success in life depends on timing. Selling snow cones on the day of the biggest blizzard in your city’s history is not going to lead you to early retirement, for instance. The same goes with an “I love you.” Telling your precious flower that you love her while she’s in the more active moments of the stomach flu is not going to do much for either of you.

The timing of the “I love you” will go a long way toward determining the response. If your partner is under a lot of stress, or grieving, or trying to build up some anger prior to participating in a steel cage MMA fight, you may not get the tender, loving response you’re hoping for. There can be other issues, too—for instance if it’s very loud in the place where you’re saying it, the only response may be “What?” or a polite nod.

How will this Affect the power Dynamics in the Relationship?

A wise woman once advised that the key to happiness was to marry someone who loves you more than you love them. It’s kind of implied that the first person to say “I love you” is the one who is more in love, and that means they may be on the losing end of the relationship.

There is a constant power struggle in most relationships, from who hangs up first to who gets the side of the bed furthest from the closet monster. Whoever caves in first on the “I love you” may be putting themselves in a position to get dumped on for the rest of the relationship.

Saying “I love you” is supposed to be a special moment in a relationship, and it can be. It can also lead to awkwardness, embarrassment, and special guest appearances on daytime talk shows. You need to be absolutely sure that the person, the time, and the situation are right before you decide to say “I love you” first.