When Is It OK to Say "I Love You"?
Right: When you love each other.
Wrong: When you don't.
Just kidding! But sort of not.
What is love? Auntie Sparknotes covered it really well here, but to recap: love is shorthand for a combination of tenderness, happiness, devotion, appreciation, attraction, comfort, and synchronicity. If you're me, it's the thing you feel when your best friend also happens to be the guy who makes you laugh constantly, nurses you through a stomach flu, rocks karaoke duets with you, really listens to you, is someone you can actually fight with and be okay about it, is always up for the adventure (even if "adventure" means chilling out on the couch in sweats and watching Tangled for the 40th time), and makes your face melt off with expert-level kisses. So, that.
You think you're feeling that? Rock on! But are there times when it's not a great idea to bust out "I love you"? How about when:
You've known each other for less than a month: Sorry, bro. What you're feeling there is infatuation. It could grow into something bigger, but you've got know someone pretty well before you can really love all of them. (Mindblow: If she daintily picks at salads and giggles when you're like, "This guy walked into a bar...and said OUCH! Amirite?," you probably know, like, 3% of who she really is. Give it time.)
You feel like it's "love at first sight": Don't get me wrong—it strikes every couple of millenia. But even if the heavens part and a pantheon of deities drops down from the sky and hovers over your crush's head with a flashing neon arrow that reads, "SOULMATE," you should probably hold off on dropping the "I love you" bomb. Mainly because it'll take some time for her to get used to the idea that you can see Shiva and Thor and Zeus and all that.
You've been dating for a little while, but you guys weren't really friends first: See the whole "infatuation" thing above.
You've been dating for a little while, but you guys have been friends for a jillion years: The core of a great romantic relationship is treating your crush like they're your bestest bestest bestie. (They should reciprocate this, obvi. If they don't, they are welcome to lose your number, like, forever.) Let's say you're awesome to each other, you've seen each other at your best (...and worst), and you still want to be around each other all the time. Throw in some physical attraction in there, and you've got the building blocks for luuuuuuurve. If you guys have been tight since the dawn of Pokemon, you've probably already got a great base to build on, and if you start feeling those twinkly sparkly love bubbles, its cool to say the words whenever. Just watch out for timing; it's probably best to to keep the ILY for a private moment and not, say, on the lunch line. (Please don't make your new S.O. associate budding love with soggy chili fries.)
You're unsure of the other person's feelings about you and you're dating: If they're all swag and weird and distant, see the above thing about treating each other like best friends. (Are they being awesome to you? No? The save the big reveal for someone who'll appreciate it, and dump this fool like a old fish.).
You're unsure of the other person's feelings about you and you're not dating: Do your best to suss out what's up before dropping the love bomb, because a) "I love you" is an insanely high-pressure way to start a relationship and b) you might already be at Friendzone 5000.
You've been working really hard on a project together: There's nothing like late nights spent nailing down the final yearbook layout to make you a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. If you're already friendly and then you work on an intense project together, everything's right on the emotional surface, so you can't help but get really close reaaaaally fast. Sometimes, this is great and an awesome new romance blossoms. Sometimes, not so much, and as soon as you're out of the high-pressure situation, the spark fizzles like so much non-spark-having stuff. See if you can both sustain the feelings when things calm down, and if you can, bust out the love.
You're BFFs, and the feelings are undeniable: Go for it. I'll expect a wedding invitation shortly.
Have you said "I love you" yet?