They're just three little words, but they mean a LOT.
Saying "I love you" is hard.
It's not because those three words are particularly difficult when tripping across the tongue.
I mean, the whole sentence is literally just three syllables.
So why does it leave us in such an utter panic, making it feel like butterflies are clog dancing on our bowels?
Because when you open yourself up enough to say "I love you" for the first time, you're opening yourself up to the potential to be hurt.
There will seldom be another moment where you feel as vulnerable as you do when you tell someone that you love them for the first time.
We can't magically remove all of the nervous anxiety that comes with telling someone you love them for the first time, but we CAN make it a little bit easier.
Here are three ways to know when it's the right time to say "I love you."
1. When you've made the relationship exclusive and official.
You might genuinely feel that way! Heck, he might genuinely be in love with you too.
But if you tell him you love him before the two of you have actually determined what the nature of your relationship is going to be, then instead of being a loving gesture of goodwill, telling him "I love you" can actually just feel like an inordinate amount of pressure to put on him.
If you know you love him, wait until you have established that you are in a long term relationship to tell him so.
Talk about where you two stand, make sure that you are both exclusive and officially involved.
Once that pressure has been lifted from the relationship he'll be able to hear you say "I love you" without worrying that you're just saying it to trick him into committing to you sooner than he may be ready to do so.
2. When they say it first — and it doesn't scare you.
When someone tells you "I love you", it's normal to have a couple of different reactions. The first, and most unpleasant, is straight up panic. Sure, you might enjoy the company of the person you are with, and you might be able to see yourself one day falling in love with them, but that's ONE DAY, it's not today.
If you have this reaction to someone saying "I love you", do not just say "I love you" back because you are panicked and also don't want to hurt their feelings.
The gesture is nice in the moment, but if you are saying you love someone just to be nice, you're actually being pretty cruel.
If someone says "I love you" to you first and your reaction is the sound of angels playing bass guitars and visions of chocolate cake dancing in your head, THEN it's totally fine to say, "I love you, too!" In fact, it's better than totally fine, it's awesome!
3. When you feel like you HAVE to say it, or you'll burst.
So you've been together a while.
This person is your boyfriend.
He's thoughtful and kind and apologizes when he farts. He does a perfect imitation of what your cat would sound like if she were a person who could talk. He spends more nights at your place than he does his own, and you wouldn't have it any other way.
You love him, and he loves you, you just haven't said it yet.
So what's stopping you? If you feel like not saying "I love you" could cause you to spontaneously combust then the time has come! Speak up, say it loud, and say it proud!