1. Make sure you mean it.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the moment and blurt your feelings out, especially within those first few months of dating when you’re excited about someone and where things are going. A lot of those feelings fall into the category of infatuation—you’re amazed by your new boyfriend or girlfriend and want to spend every waking moment with them, but you’re not at the stage where they’re such an integral part of your life that you can’t live without them. Love is powerful, so don’t say it just because you feel like you have to. If you’re questioning it, you’re not at that level just yet.
2. Let it happen after your first fight or two.
Your first fight might be about something stupid—like, say you want to run out to Target but your significant other would rather sleep in on Saturday. It’s normal, especially because you’re not at the level where you’re good with communicating your needs. With every small fight, you figure out your partner more and more. And in surviving the tough times, you can figure out if the two of you are actually compatible.
3. Try to make sure the two of you have similarly defined your relationship.
It’s often hard to predict what someone else is feeling, but make sure he or she isn’t viewing this as a casual arrangement while you’re in it for the long term. If the two of you are working towards the same goal (which is likely either marriage or a long partnership) you’re already in the right direction. If the relationship is a friends with benefits situation, you can be honest about your feelings but you might want to be extra prepared if he or she doesn’t feel the same way in return.
4. Say it in person.
No matter when you say it, you’ll want to say it in person. Not by text, not over the phone. It might be easier for you to muster the courage that way, but this is one of the special moments the two of you will share if your relationship blossoms into a lifelong partnership. Your significant other will remember the look in your eyes when you tell them how you feel. It’s a magical moment, and it deserves respect.
5. Try to avoid doing it in a public place.
It might happen naturally, and that’s okay—but if you’re really trying to plan on when you say it, you may want to wait until the two of you are in a comfortable and familiar place, like the bedroom or living room. In the slim chance that he or she is absolutely surprised, or possibly uneasy, they might be too worried about other people around them listening and judging. Plus, this isn’t a moment for everyone—it’s a moment for just the two of you. Even if the two of you are normally attached at the hip, you need to always give someone space if a situation has any potential of getting uncomfortable.
6. Don’t say it when you’re angry.
Yelling out an “I love you” in the midst of a tense fight might seem weirdly romantic when it comes to young adult television shows, but in real life, it’s not a great idea. If the two of you are already emotional, it’s hard to throw yet another emotion into the mix. In fact, it might even be seen as a manipulative move, which is likely the last thing you want. Be calm, be in the moment, and never use the words to try and gain leverage in a situation.
7. Say it when you’re emotionally prepared to hear a “thank you” in return.
This is a bit of stereotypical situation, but it does happen—sometimes, you say “I love you” and your partner can only muster a “thank you.” It doesn’t mean they don’t love you in return or will never be capable of loving you, but it can still sting. You’re emotionally ready to say the big three words when you recognize that your significant other is in control of his or her own feelings. While it’s nice to hear, “I love you” in return, the main goal here is telling someone how important they are to you. Remember not to make this moment all about you.
You should never feel pressured to take that big step if you’re not ready. But if you are, just know that it’s so much better letting these powerful emotions out. When you tell someone you love them, you’re telling them that they’re actively making your life better. It’s often the first big step in creating a lasting romantic relationship, and it’s an important moment to have.