Should I say ‘I love you’ first?

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I'm 27 and started my first serious relationship seven months ago. We became serious quickly (exclusive on our second date) and kind of skipped over the honeymoon period. We didn't want to waste time putting only our best foot forward. It didn't feel real or worth it to us.

I've known that I love him since we were four months into the relationship and am aching to tell him. My fear is that if I say it first and he says it back right away, I'll forever convince myself that he only said it to be polite. But if I say it and he doesn't return the sentiment, I'll be so mortified.

It was recently his birthday and I had decided to say it. Then I chickened out thinking that if he didn't say it back, it would ruin his birthday. It hurts not saying it, and I want to move our relationship forward.

What do I do? Should I just jump in and risk it? Or should I wait for him to say it first? Is my fear a sign that things aren't right?

– ILY


If you feel it, say it. I mean, you were exclusive on your second date. I don't think this guy is going to be surprised that to hear that you're excited about the relationship. At seven months, that's one of the things "I love you" can mean. It can be a way to say, "I want more and more of you."

In fact, it might be helpful for you to explain what you mean when you say it. Some people get stressed about "I love you" because they believe it comes with a promise. We’ve had letter writers say they connect the sentiment to a lifelong commitment; some people won't say it until marriage is on the table. It is sort of a vague idea, so it can be helpful to clarify. What does it mean to you?

If he doesn't say it back, that's OK. Really. It's just something for him to know and think about (and enjoy). You and this boyfriend do not have to be on the same schedule for feelings. You don't have to fall in love at the exact same moment. If he doesn’t reciprocate, it doesn't mean the whole thing is doomed. You can't coordinate these steps. They involve some patience.

– Meredith

Readers? Do you have to say those words at the same time? Can you tell stories about when you said it and heard it in return? And what it meant to you?