Who Should Say “I Love You” First (And Why)

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My roommate Mike and I recently had a conversation about the dreaded three words. Well, dreaded if you’re the two of us, who overthink every element of a relationship to the point where even the happiest milestones are marred in neuroses.

I was saying I thought the moment needed to be incredibly special/ meaningful/ cinematic — Mike was agreeing. Mike was saying he thought the moment needed to be fairly serious, as in you can’t say it silly/ jokingly and count that as the first “I love you” — I was agreeing.

Then Mike — who has blessedly grown less over-analytical during his own long term relationship — dropped this knowledge.

  • “I think the pursuer can’t say “I love you” first.
  • “Wait, what?”
  • “Yeah, I think that the person who was really driving it from the beginning isn’t the person who says “I love you” first.
  • Right. That person. Why?
  • Balance of power. It’s like they already put their neck out there big time to make the relationship happen. Now the other person is up.

For as many rules as I write, my ultimate rule is that there aren’t any. Relationships are built on far stranger set-ups than the pursuer both igniting the relationship and saying those three words first. Maybe that person is just more vocal? More comfortable? Less neurotic.

I think “I love you” is wildly important, which is why the idea of it being used as a pawn in the battle of relationship dominance rubbed me the wrong way.

Then I got to thinking about what it feels like to be the pursuer — the one who takes the leap of faith to say, “Do you want to grab a drink?,” “I really like you…” and”I want us to be dating.” For as sure as you can be that the other person’s “me too” (x 3) is genuine, there’s always doubt. It’s easier to say “me too.” And some people are built of “me too” cloth — especially when it comes to relationships. Imagine if you’re the type of pursuer in the type of situation where you feel like you’ve gotten to each phase first and therefore made each phase happen, in a way.

In most cases, the pursuer knows how they feel. They probably even know that they’re at “I love you” level before their slower half. Maybe they figure, what the heck, I’ve gone this far, may as well throw it all out on the line, plop the “I love you” down on the table, and find out once and for all where I stand.

Or maybe for some pursuers, no matter how bold, those three words are kept at bay. They felt strongly, they acted strongly, but now a level of self-preservation kicks in, and they need the other person in this relationship to meet them where they are before they’re willing to go further. It’s less a power play and more a protection play. Some people are willing to be fully vulnerable without knowing or caring what they’re going to get back. Others are more comfortable with things built on a clearer degree of relationship milestone equality.

I still stand where I did with my “no theory is perfect” rule, but I have to admit Mike’s assessment holds water. I also have to admit that by “holds water” I mean that things played out according to his prescribed plan in the story of my own three-word dance. And I do believe the fact that the pursuee in my relationship said it first helped us both feel more secure about everything involved with it being said.

But MAN was I nervous. TC mark

image – kvakes
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This is me letting you go

If there’s one thing we all need to stop doing, it’s waiting around for someone else to show up and change our lives. Just be the person you’ve been waiting for.

At the end of the day, you have two choices in love – one is to accept someone just as they are and the other is to walk away.

We owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life that we’re capable of living, even if that means that we have to be alone for a very long time.

“Everyone could use a book like this at some point in their life.” – Heather
Let go now
Who Should Say “I Love You” First (And Why) is cataloged in , , , , , , ,
  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    Is it okay if I say I love you and Mike before you say it to me?

  • guest

    those three words:


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh


  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    I think I’m going to agree with Mike here.  I’ve made the mistake of saying it too soon and then the other person says it back and then I start to doubt if I should have said it and if they mean it and then I get kind of grossed out by the whole thing and just keep feeding my doubt and then usually break up with the person.

    And this is why I’m just rocking the single lady for life (or at least a while) routine.

  • Guest

    “(Unintelligible muttering that sounds like “I love you.”)”
    “I love you too.”
    “Wh-what did you just say to me??”
    “(Oh shit)”
    “I love you too.”

    As far as I know, she still has no idea that I said it first by accident…

  • http://cathyespiritu.wordpress.com/ Cathy

    As for me, I still believe that the guy should say it first. Making the girl do so would only make her desperate & well, dominant? 

    • Dfsghrhjt

      How is it that a guy isn’t desperate for saying it first, but when a woman does the EXACT same thing, it’s desperate? And you say dominant like it’s a bad thing. 

      • http://cathyespiritu.wordpress.com/ Cathy

        Because that’s how I think it works and I am entitled to my own opinion after all

      • http://twitter.com/IngridBee Ingrid Bejerman

        Much as I hate to agree with your (Cathy) position…  I completely, totally agree.

    • Anonymous

      Well, that’s the thing. For a girl, to pursue and then be rejected would be shameful since it messes up age old stereotypes where men are encouraged to pursue women. It’s the same thing on why women aren’t the ones to propose but rather have the reciprocating choice. I’ll probably be desperate enough to say it first tho, but that’s just me

    • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com Maxwell Chance


  • Rishtopher

    “the person who was really driving it from the beginning isn’t the person who says “I love you” first”

    I thought this was how it always played out. There didn’t seem to be any other way in my mind, it just made sense. Both parties need to make an effort to show that they care or one of you will always have doubts.
    This is coming from a “Me too” person. 

  • Katie

    Great TG article

  • kat

    Think of it this way: If we really love someone, we need to get over our pride and the over-thought “who should say it first???” question, and just say it. It would meet a lot more to the other person if we could say “I love you” out of pure love and compassion rather than over-analyzed agenda. When love happens, it happens and we should be thankful for it.

    • J.C.

      it would be great if we could just get over our pride, but that’s usually not how it works. relationships can be complex..our minds and emotions aren’t always simple..we are an evolved species..

  • J.C.

    I think it automatically means more when it comes from the person in the relationship that is more emotionally-reserved

  • Blah

    R. O’Connell just owned this article.

  • John Dowland

    Žižek kind of sort of said it too:
    “Here we find the inescapable deadlock that
    defines the position of the loved one: the other sees something in me
    and wants something from me, but I cannot give him what I do not possess
    – or as Lacan puts it, there is no rapport between what the loved one
    possesses and what the loving one lacks. The only way for the loved one
    to escape this deadlock is to stretch out his hand toward the loving one
    and to return love, that is to exchange, in a metaphorical gesture, his
    status as the loved one for the status of the loving one. This reversal
    designates the point of subjectivization: the object of love changes
    into the subject the moment it answers the call of love. And it is only
    by way of this reversal that a genuine love emerges: I am truly in love
    not when I am simply fascinated by the agalma in the other, but
    when I experience the other, the object of love, as frail and lost, as
    lacking ‘it’, and my love none the less survives this loss.”

  • Kaitlynclement

    spot on. I’m typically the pursuer with a thick layer of self-preservation

  • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com Maxwell Chance

    I have to admit, I came into this article like “pfffttt, what eva’s. No rules, not that big o’ deal. Over analyze” (Yes, I really come into articles that way) But, on the way out, being a pursuer, I totally feel you. I like this article a lot. Like, a real lot. I think I… well, I’m not going to say it first.

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