So you’re thinking about saying those three magic words, but you’re just not 100% sure if you should. Maybe you feel like you’re saying it too fast and don’t want to scare the other person away. Maybe it’s something you think you should say, but it’s just not coming out as easily as you thought it would. Maybe you’re worried that you won’t hear those words back from the person after you say it to them.
The timing for this landmark phrase happens at different points for different people. Sometimes, it might take longer for one person to say it than it does for their partner. That can lead to some awkward moments, and knowing what to do in those moments can be vital to the relationship.
Let’s think through the process of saying this meaningful statement with a healthy dose of careful consideration.
What is Love?
When you say “I love you” to someone, what are you actually saying? The words “I” and “you” are pretty self-explanatory, so the meaning of the phrase hinges on the definition of the word “love.” What does it mean to love someone?
Most non-Christians [and even some misinformed Christians] equate this statement with some sort of warm and fuzzy feeling that makes them so happy on the inside that it shows on the outside. What creates those good feelings could be a range of things. It likely has something to do with their partner’s personality and characteristics. It could be an ideal mix of shared interests together that contributes to a special spark. It might even be a feeling of safety and security when being around the person.
All those feelings are the subjects of cute, sweet Hallmark cards and are definitely worth writing about! But, when people who think this way say “I love you” to someone, they’re basically telling their partner that they value them for their ability to kindle these types of feelings in them. This caricature of love is a self-centered one, and the fluctuating values of these feelings create scenarios where people can fall in and out of love with each other.
How many times have you heard someone give that reason for a breakup or divorce? “We just fell out of love with each other.” When love is defined as a feeling, this excuse will always rear its ugly head. The Christian perspective is quite different.
A Christian Perspective on Love
The Christian rationale for dating is to find a suitable partner for marriage. The previously mentioned range of qualities that produce certain feelings is all very important for finding that special someone who is compatible with you. After all, someone’s personality and interests are quite important when considering their suitability as a partner.
However, where the Christian perspective differs is the practical application of love. To love someone doesn’t mean to feel a certain way about them. Loving someone is ultimately a choice. These traditional marriage vows demonstrate the point we’re making:
I take you to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. And I promise to love you and cherish you, and be faithful to you, for as long as we both shall live.
These wedding vows indicate that love has nothing to do with fluctuating circumstances or fleeting feelings. Love is a mutual choice to faithfully cherish each other “until death do us part.” Many feelings will arise from this choice, and some of them will be absolutely blissful to experience; but there will also be other feelings that are difficult, unpassionate, and potentially even painful to experience. Those latter moments might have the power to sever the marriage completely if love was based on feelings alone. Part of demonstrating love is remaining committed to the choice.
Am I Ready to Say It?
Hopefully, the previous section has reframed or affirmed your perspective about what it means to say “I love you” to a romantic partner. There’s a significant weight attached to those three words, and saying them is a way of signaling something very specific to them. When you say it, you’re signaling that you’re comfortable with taking steps towards marriage together.
So, are you ready to signal marriage? The answer to that question should be your first consideration for determining if saying those words is appropriate. If you’re not ready to signal that level of commitment, then perhaps over time a stronger bond towards them will develop and you can answer “yes” to this later. Whatever you do, don’t say it because you think they want to hear it or because they’ve said it first. If that’s your reason, you’re doing a disservice to them and yourself.
However, if you know what you mean by saying it (and now you should), you can continue to the second consideration.
Are They Ready to Hear It?
To answer this question, you need to determine if your partner also has the proper perspective about what love is. This requires communication and a few heartfelt discussions about what it means to love somebody. If you’re in agreement about the choice to love, find out if marriage is something they desire.
So, do they know what love is and desire to be married? The answer to that question is the second determination for saying “I love you.” If they don’t understand love or can’t give you a straightforward answer about marriage, they probably aren’t ready to hear those words just yet. And if that’s the case, there’s no need to worry! You were willing to move towards spending the rest of your life with them; what’s a bit more time in the grand scheme of things?
However, if they know what you mean by love and marriage (and now they should), you might be ready to take the risk of putting yourself out there with those three little words. All that’s left to do is work up a bit of courage and get over those butterflies!