What do you think is the average time it takes new couples to say "I love you"? Think it'd be a month? Maybe six? Well, according to research from dating website eharmony, the definitive average in Australia is two months. But the discovery I found more surprising is that one in 10 Australians say “I love you” less than one week into a new romance. Less than a week!
This made me wonder about the stories behind the averages. What are people thinking when they wait only a week, or not much more? Or what do people think about saying "I love you" in general? Is it as big a deal as it used to be? I asked around Melbourne to find out.
VICE: Hey Belle, how long do you wait to say "I love you"?
Belle: Well it changes. The first time I said "I love you" I was 15, maybe 16, and we’d been dating for six months before either of us said anything. The second time, I said it way too early. I think we were a few weeks, maybe a month in, and I was fucking drunk and he wasn’t, of course. He’d picked me up from this party, and it just sort of came out! I remember following it up with “haha just kidding” and he kind of just rolled his eyes and carried on. Then I waited for him to say it back, and he said it after sex. Classic. The third time I said it out of necessity, like it was a long time coming. That was also a pretty messed up relationship, we were housemates and then we started sleeping together and then we started dating but we didn’t really talk about it. Then one day I think I said; “you know I love you, right?” and he was like “wow, I didn’t, but alright”.
So, you’ve said I love you three times?
Actually, four. I’ve said it to four different people.
But you only described three?
I don’t think the third one was love. I think it was weird obsession. It was like, a really gross, toxic relationship. We weren’t even dating! It was this weird gaslighting situation from both ends. We were both just burning each other out. I’ve only really meant it three times.
What do you really think it means though? Do you think it’s forever?
I think it’s definitely become this huge out of proportion thing. I mean, I’ll tell a dog on the street that I love them, because in the moment I do. I think it’s really as simple of that. I think that the sentiment is subjective. I guess it’s a lot to do with what you’ve been brought up around as well. I mean everyone’s definition of love is different, and some people don’t even know what love is, like they’ve never seen it or don’t feel as though they’ve experienced it. Have you heard the intro to "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"? It’s so cute. It’s like a bunch of young girls being interviewed about what love means to them. It’s great. I resonate with it so much.
Hi Charlie. Have you said "I love you" to a partner before?
Yes, once and it took about two or three months. We’d been spending non-stop time together, and I just kind of blurted out: “I think I love you.” Then she said it back, and instead of allowing us to have a nice romantic moment, I freaked out. We were in her bedroom at college.
Freaked out internally or externally or both?
I freaked out externally! It just felt like such a big thing to say. It felt so important and I couldn’t believe I’d done it, I remember thinking “that’s it!” It’s funny, because I said it so many more times over the next few years that we were dating, and it always changed. I think after the first time, you want to figure out how you mean it, because each time you say it, it’s in a different scenario and it comes with different meaning.
Why did you say it the first time?
I had butterflies in my stomach and it was pretty obvious that I loved this person so I just said it. I’d been with girls who I liked before, but I’d never felt that same intense feeling as I had in that moment.
It was kind of an instinct? A reaction to how you were feeling in the moment?
Yeah. Then, throughout the relationship, my feelings changed so much. Like, you don’t have butterflies for the entire time. But if you say "I love you" the first time because you have butterflies, then how can you say it again, without them? “I love you” I think is sometimes a grand statement, like wanting to profess your love for someone else to the world, but I think more often it became an “I love you” as an intention. Like I will love you or I am going to love you. It became this thing that I knew, I knew I loved her because I would show her some action or gesture or effort that came from a place of love, but it felt less huge and more normal to say it.
How long into a relationship do you wait to say I love you?
I’ve never said it first, so I’m used to gauging how the other person is feeling and go with that but it varies every time. Sometimes it only takes a few weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years.
How many times have you said I love you to someone?
Um… (counts fingers) six or seven times.
Did you mean it every time?
I think I meant it as in I loved the person. I’ve only been in love maybe three times.
Do you reckon they could tell the difference?
Did you think about it much before you said it back?
I don’t think so. There are certain people that if you don’t say it back, it’s the most offensive thing ever, so you just say it to buy yourself time.
But have you ever said it expecting the other person to say it back?
No, I mean I don’t think I would, but I also haven’t been the first to say it, ever.
When have those words meant the most to you? In what scenario?
Probably now, with Ross. It’s been really quick, really intense, but also like, the most natural thing in the world. I mean, I didn’t think about it at all and neither did he. It just kind of happened, which is pretty new for me.
How long have you known him for?
How long have you been intimate?
Three and a half weeks.
Do you think that your relationships generally change after you say I love you?
Yeah. The comfort level changes. It’s just like a relief for both of you, you know? I’ve always said it in the moment. I don’t know, I say it all the time to my friends and it definitely backfires sometimes. I just think it’s a huge concept that people have trouble wrapping their heads around. I’m very careful with someone I’m sleeping with, when I say it. I’m much more reserved, I think about what it means to them, like beyond the current moment.
Have you said I love you in a relationship before?
Yeah! I’ve said it to two people, romantically.
Did you wait a long time to say it?
It was quite different both times. The first time I was really just a kid, and I sort of just instantly said it, like a few days into the relationship, which I think freaked her out. Looking back on it, I think that’s really beautiful, but at the time, there was this instant feeling that I’d messed up, given too much away or something. The next relationship, we didn’t say it for like four or five months after we started properly dating, because we were scared of chasing the other person off.
Did things change after you said it?
In the second relationship, it turned into this totally explosive moment because all this tension was released, I guess.
Do you find telling people you love them difficult?
No, not really. But with relationships if you say "I love you," that’s an exclusive deal! With friendships if you say "I love you," you’re not binding yourself to the other person exclusively. But in a relationship if you’re exclusive or monogamous, saying “I love you” is kind of like a contract.
Don’t you think that’s a “contract” we’ve made up though?
Yeah, I do. It’s hard to break free from that though. It’s probably better to say it in the moment and truly mean it than to think about what you expect and want back before you even say it.
Hey Finn, have you said I love you to someone before?
I’ve probably only genuinely said I love you to really close friends of mine.
Never in a romantic relationship?
I don’t think I’ve ever meant it. I think I’ve said it once, in a relationship. But did I actually mean it? I mean, of course I meant it on some level but I probably wouldn’t count it.
You meant it in the moment, though?
Yeah but it was more of a “love you babe!” So it probably went over their head.
How long did you wait to say it?
I honestly couldn’t tell you. A few months, I think.
Why do you feel more comfortable saying it within friendships than relationships?
With friends, there’s a slightly different meaning to it. I mean if they don’t say it back, it’s so fine. It’s more about expressing how I feel to them and I don’t expect anything in return. The fear of not hearing it back, or the fear of rejection I guess, doesn’t exist.
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.