Couple holding heart balloons

This is the best time to say 'I love you', according to science

Love can be a tricky thing to master. If the pressure of finding someone you fancy and somehow making them fancy you too wasn’t enough, there’s also the not-so-small matter of making sure you don’t accidentally scare them away. Yes, while there is a lot can that go right in those blissful first few months, there is also a lot that can go wrong. I'll let you take a minute to think about your own version of this now....

Anyway, once you have done the hard work and it's all starting to feel a bit more chill, there’s still one tightrope to walk - when to drop the ‘L’ bomb. Too soon, and you risk looking too intense, or like that person throws the magic word around willy-nilly (we all know one). Wait too long, and they’ll probably toddle off and find someone else that does make them feel loved and appreciated. So, when is the right time to utter those three little words?

Couple kissing Credit: Pexels

In 2017, a YouGov poll of 3947 Brits showed that the 22 per cent would say them within the first two to three months of a new relationship, that 14 per cent have never said them before the four to six month mark, and 10 per cent said that they had never told anyone they loved them - is it just me, or is that quite a high number? For a bit more insight, we turned to Reddit, where the topic has filled many a thread, raised time and time again by those looking for a little reassurance, one way or another. So what did the good people of the internet think? Well, it turns out they’re actually pretty cute.

A surprising amount were more than willing to go all-in pretty early:

“My only time of being the first person to say it (at the start of a happy four year relationship) was after about a month, or slightly less.”
- ErrorUncertainty

"My boyfriend said it at two months, and here we are five years later"
- lilram17

“I don't think it's ever to soon”
- Figmentdreamer

Others, distinctly less so:

“Wait until you two have your first fight!”
- xj371

“My last boyfriend told me on our first 'date.' I should have taken it as a warning sign.”
- joeydball

“I personally wouldn't do it until after I knew them for a good while, like after six months maybe. Everyone has their best face on and is on their best behavior in the beginning, plus a lot of stuff we may not like about the other person gets overlooked because of love blindness.”
- John2Nhoj

Drawing of stone person giving heart to another Credit: Pexels

So, whose side do you come down on, the dreamers or the cynics? Well, according to Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D, writing in Psychology Today, it appears that the cynics might be in the right: “Since profound love needs time to develop, it isn't reasonable to say "I love you profoundly" after being together for just a brief time; that may indicate that you are not serious about what is in fact a serious matter.” However, he concedes that it’s not all bad news for the impulsive romantics among us either: "Since love at first sight can occur, you can say 'I love you' after a short time together if you are just expressing what you feel at that moment." In simple terms, you can say it whenever you want, but while the words might be the same, what you mean by the words will change over time. 

Interestingly, gender also has a big impact on the whole 'who-says-what-when' game too. A study by dating website eHarmony found that, on average, men start thinking about making their feelings known about three months into the relationship, whereas women are more likely to go in for it at the five-month marker. This has a lot to do with the fact that women are biologically programmed to be more selective: “Men tend to have more romanticised views of relationships in general, which means they’re more likely to believe in love at first sight and that love conquers all,” said Gary Lewandowski, a psychologist at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Glowing thank you sign Credit: Pexels

But if you do go ahead and say it that bit too early, it's not necessarily the end of the world. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that when women did declare their love early on, men - even those not interested in a long-term relationship - generally reported feeling happy about it. Unfortunately though, you still shouldn't pin your hopes too high, because it's a response that study lead Joshua Ackerman put down to the assumption that sex would follow, citing the fact that post-coitally happiness about this same matter declined dramatically.

Of course, there’s no perfect time to say "I Love You" and it’s different for every couple - hell, my parents even moved in together after six weeks. And as my nanna used to say "love is a verb" - it's more about the little actions that show you care, rather than some big grand wordy gesture. But whenever you do choose to say it, whether two weeks in or two years later, remember that there are a few ground rules: it’s rarely the best idea to do it when you’re drunk, probably won’t be quite as special just after sex, and please, please, don’t do it by text.