Before you say those three words in the heat of the moment, really think about what you're doing.
Sometimes, being in love is like open heart surgery. From putting yourself out there to giving up control of your own heart—trusting that there's a lifeline waiting for you at the end of the tunnel—falling for someone so wholeheartedly can be really intense. There's a certain beauty in loving someone with so much abandon that you want to muster up the courage to tell them. To be able to say 'I love you' and actually mean it? Wow.
But sometimes, we're so consumed by our feelings that we jump the gun and stumble without really thinking about just how much everything will change at the utterance of those three little words. And I get it. I do. After years of dancing around each other, my ex and I got so caught up in the heat of the moment that we pressured ourselves into saying something that we weren't even sure we meant at the time (I did; he didn't). Instead of bringing our relationship to the next level, everything got awkward real fast.
When Adam and I first started seeing each other, I'd just gotten out of a long relationship that left me a bit skeptical of love (and honestly, emotionally scarred). As we had already spoken about everything in our past, I thought that he understood the effect that relationship had on me and would be completely honest with me. That's what made it hurt when he took those words for granted, apologetically backing down when I told him not to say it if he wasn't serious. If only we'd both taken a second to really think about what we were getting ourselves into, things would probably be different between us—Writing quick posts on each other's Facebook walls for birthdays and holidays wouldn't be our only form of contact. At the time, I don't think he realized that he loved me but wasn't in love with me. Even now, we're still stuck in this sad stage of us trying to figure out what went wrong. A few years apart and we're still dancing.
Nowadays, these important words are carelessly thrown around as if they don't have any weight, as if they're not a big deal. Honestly, they've lost their meaning. Although Adam and I never slept together, I do believe that when you throw sex into the equation, the distinction between love and lust can get even messier. In a study conducted by Cornell University, it was found that "having sex early (defined here as within a month of dating) was related to poorer relationship outcomes for men and women". Essentially, there is a correlation between rushing into a relationship and having sex before you are both emotionally ready. However, if you are both on the same page for what this connection between you means and aren't banking on the hope that sex will change your relationship status, that's a different story.
The point that I'm trying to make is that you shouldn't bury your relationship under expectations before it really begins. Before you say anything to your boyfriend or girlfriend, make sure that you've thought it through and are certain about how you feel. This may sound mundane but it is such a vital thing to understand before taking that big step. That doesn't mean that you need to be able to explain in explicit detail why you feel the way you do.
Because you don't need to. I didn't have a reason for loving him other than the fact that I just did, without any hesitation. That being said, what I'm trying to say is that if you're just starting out as a couple, give yourself some time to really get to know each other. There's no official time frame for falling in love; don't feel like you have to say it so quickly because it's something your partner wants to hear. Love is not about trying to prove something. It isn't a competition. It's about taking a leap of faith and putting your heart in your partner's hands, saying that you're ready for commitment and emotional intimacy without expecting a grand confession in return. If your significant other really cares about you and the relationship, he or she will respect that. If not, at least you'll know where you stand.
Don't ever let yourself be so afraid to lose someone that you don't give yourself a chance to really understand your feelings before voicing them. When he told me he loved me, it was because he thought it was the right thing to do, that it came along with being in a relationship (and he was scared of losing me down the line). And I said it back. The only difference was that I meant it.
I still mean it.