How to Say “I Love You” to Your Girlfriend

Man stands near woman acting nervous

Why it’s important to say “I love you”
Why saying “I love you” is so scary
When should you say “I love you”?
Where should you say “I love you”?
Timing and contingency plans
When not to say “I love you”

Your stomach has been upset for days, and your stool is runny like snack-pack pudding. Work feels even more cosmically pointless than usual, and no matter how many YouTube videos you watch, not a damn one of them is any interesting. The only thing soothing your restless soul is the little heart your girlfriend put next to the last dumb thing you texted — it was of bafflingly little importance, and there was nothing else to say.

You, mon ami, are a man in love.

Like most men in your position, you’ve probably been exclusively dating this lady for anywhere between three-weeks to one-year, and being with her feels as natural as hanging out with the boys. The sound of her voice turns you into a “good listener,” and her smile makes you want to start taking your career seriously for once.

To top it all off, you finally feel comfortable pooping in her remarkably quiet, one-bedroom apartment. The next step in this wondrous process is so instinctual, so honest, you can’t help but blurt it out for her and all the world to hear!

Except, it’s terrifying.

Telling a woman you love her for the first time is — according to peer-reviewed studies — the second most common fear for men ages 18-35, coming in just behind disfigurement by fire, but ahead of learning she’s had many more sexual partners than you.

And your fears are not unfounded. Getting the timing and phrasing of this all-important statement right could mean the difference between instant passionate sex and a literal lifetime of ridicule.

She will never forget, and nothing you do or say will fully redeem you of your blunder.

Why it’s important to say “I love you” to your girlfriend

First and foremost, if you don’t say it, somebody else will. Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t realize the power of words. These common fools will watch television and repeat what they hear, to whomever they encounter. If one of them happens to work with, live next door to, or make espresso drinks for your girlfriend, it’s possible they might say something insane, just because she’s pretty, and they don’t understand what’s creepy vs. romantic.

Your girlfriend isn’t going to fall for this act of children’s theater, but it will make her consider why you haven’t said it yet. As soon as that’s happened, you’re playing with an emotional deficit, and may have to make a grand gesture to compensate — like an expensive dinner or something.

It’s also important to let your girlfriend know you love her because it’s extremely selfish of you to keep it to yourself. Life is crazy, and you’re just a thin sack of fluid rolling chaotically through the universe. What if you died and she never knew she was loved? Sure, somebody would probably love her again (maybe even too soon for your ghost’s comfort), but love is rare and unique to each individual, and keeping that beautiful energy hidden is a real dick move.

Why is it scary to tell your girlfriend you love her?

A recent study conducted by a consulting firm (which wasn’t McKinsey) found that the three most difficult subjects for a man to talk about are:

  • His insecurities
  • His complex emotions
  • How much makeup women should wear

Revealing the presence of romantic love in your life is risky, because it might make you look silly. It’s much easier to live life as a plank of emotional plywood who likes sports, steak, and sports. But while indeed less complicated, it’s an unfulfilling way to be.

Telling your friends you’re in love is totally fine. They may be shocked and not know what to say at first (because emotions are hard), but they’ll live. Telling the person you love that you love them is what makes witness protection seem like a fine idea.

Saying “I love you” to someone feels like jumping off the high dive for the first time, except instead of water-in-your-nose and a stinging rash on your stomach as worst-case scenarios, you could actually die. This is a risk most men, and some spiders, are willing to take.

Rejection is possible, but there are a few steps you can follow to reduce your chances of eternal loneliness.

When should you tell your girlfriend you love her?

The correct answer is 2–3.5 weeks after you first felt like saying it.

“I love you” is a powerful phrase, made even more powerful by media that’s made to drain you of your creative and physical energy every night after work. When you decide to let the sparks fly certainly matters in terms of how it is perceived.

If you say it the instant you first feel it, you’re at risk of a few mistakes.

  • Thinking with your gonads. It’s possible what you’re feeling is lust, which is not mutually exclusive from love, but usually goes away after a medium-to-long bike ride.
  • Saying it too soon. You may feel it, but maybe she’s not quite there yet, or maybe she thinks you’re thinking with your gonads. Waiting a few weeks gives you time to show her* you love her, strengthening your case should you ever be put on trial in front of a jury of her friends.
  • Saying it wrong. The phrase is “I love you,” and there should be no qualifications or substitutions. If you don’t plan it out ahead of time (at least a little bit), you might get too nervous and short-arm the throw. “I feel like I love you,” is not “I love you.” “I’m falling in love with you,” is not “I love you.” “I have mad love for you,” is ridiculous. Get it right, say it directly, maybe put her name either directly before or after the phrase.

(*You know — chores, foot massages, words of affirmation, eating the same string of spaghetti, etc.)

Other things to consider:

  • Don’t be drunk or high
  • Don’t say it if you’re experiencing nasal congestion
  • Don’t send it via text

Where should you tell your girlfriend you love her?

For the love of god, man — do not tell your girlfriend you love her for the very first time in a very public setting. Do not tell your girlfriend you love her at:

  • A sporting event
  • A crowded restaurant
  • While riding public transportation
  • Attending your family’s Passover Seder
  • Chuck-E-Cheese

If any of these sounded like a good idea, shame on you. The goal is to communicate your feelings in an authentic and meaningful way. Any location wherein you need to yell or whisper your truest sentiments isn’t right. Better locations include:

  • Your place
  • Her place
  • Any place where you can comfortably share a meaningful physical embrace afterwards

If you think really hard about this, something will come to you.

Get the timing right and contingency plans

When you’ve finally swallowed your vomit and cornered your girlfriend in a quiet, comfortable place, there are only a few more things you need to consider.

First thing you should think about: What if she doesn’t love you back?

There are many reasons she may not love you. Maybe you’re moving kind of fast. Maybe she’s more reserved with her emotions. Maybe that stuffed animal you won her at the carnival wasn’t the one she wanted.

Maybe you fart in bed.

Luckily, you don’t need to worry about this, so long as you prepare your statement in a well-meaning and measured way. That is to say, there’s no epistemological way to know what somebody else is thinking. If you follow this line of reasoning too far, you may even end up in a solipsistic bog from which you’ll never return.

This is why you should let her know, in no uncertain terms, that you’re merely expressing your feelings toward her. Make it clear she has all the time in the world to reject, passively-accept, or reciprocate your feelings, and in the meantime, you’ll stay cool and steady.

As far as delivery, say it clearly, and consider leaving some space for cupid’s arrows on either end of the announcement. Don’t tack it onto the end of a previous thought, or quickly move on like you just sneezed. So long as you’re not a mercurial fruit fly of a man, this is an important moment in both your life and hers. Silence is acceptable, even romantic. In a world that moves so fast, it’s good for this time to pass slowly. Try to enjoy it.

There’s also a chance you’ve waited way too long to say “I love you” for the first time. If this sounds like you, you’ll need to go big. Weekend cabin in the mountains. Handwritten notes. Scavenger hunts. Candles, dessert wine, velvet bedspreads — the whole nine yards. If you’ve been keeping your love secret for over one-year, spare no expense. Otherwise, her friends may hate you for up to a whole decade.

When not to say “I love you”

Don’t tell your girlfriend you love her if you don’t really feel that way. It makes no sense. “I love you” is a confession and a commitment. People who love each other don’t flake on plans at the last minute. They also meet each other’s parents and stuff. It’s like adopting a juvenile chimpanzee as a pet — it could be very rewarding and fun, but it’s also going to take some work and be hard at times.

Don’t buy a boat if you don’t know how to sail. Don’t go hiking without sunscreen. Don’t cut down a tree if you don’t plan to use the wood. Decisions made with little forethought lead to undesirable consequences and unnecessary burdens.

But if you do love her, say it. Not immediately, but soon, because when you do, there’s a good chance you’ll both be thrown into a fit of passion, which could lead to a quality bang for everyone.


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