The Scaries: On Saying ‘I Love You’ First

Photography by Lucas Ottone⁠.

The extremely common human experience of saying “I love you” first does not have a very one-size-fits-all approach at all, and if we’re fortunate enough, we’ll all have an opportunity to have the confidence to fumble over doing it at least once. 

We spoke to four people about the time they said ‘I love you’ first and how they overcame the fear to do so.⁠ Below are their experiences.

Faith Cummings: “The first time I said ‘I love you’ was definitely to my first love—pretty risky. I’m trying to remember what age I was at the time…I was 14. And, I felt it long before I said it. You know, saying ‘I love you’ is very, very natural and common in my household and growing up. I say [it] to my mom every time we see each other or every time we hang up the phone—same thing with my grandparents. I never had any hang ups saying it, but of course, romantic love is different; but, I definitely felt it long before I said it. 

In a lot of ways, I think I was in love with this guy before we even dated, which is very, you know, naive and juvenile, but sweet. I guess it’s what rom-coms are made of. 

How did I figure out when to say it? I don’t know. I think I was at that point I was overwhelmed by that feeling. I was like, this is the right time, and it went really well. He said it back, you know, immediately and kind of justified my feelings for him. He said he felt it a long time ago, but didn’t want to say it too soon. It was a very nice and sweet moment that I cherish.”

It felt like every time I was near her, my stomach dropped…that’s kind of how I knew.

Brendan. McNeil

Brendan McNeil: “I guess I can really only talk about the last time I truly decided to say ‘I love you’ with my wife. We’ve been together 16 years—our entire adult lives. For me, it felt like every time I was near her, my stomach dropped… like it dropped from my midsection down my feet. That’s kind of how I knew, and then, you also just don’t know, you just know. You know it’s the right time to say it. You know this is the perfect time. Yeah, I was certainly the first to say it, but that’s kind of how I knew. I knew, because I had absolutely no idea, but I knew.

I’m pretty sure I, kind of, blurted it out after work. We were just chillin’ and I got this equal parts awkward boy’s charm and super confident, so I’m sure I just said it. It ended with a big smile going across her face, a few tears, a big hug, and her saying it back to me. Then I’m pretty sure it ended in her doing unmentionable things to me, which I will never complain about, but yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went.”

Jessica Robinson: “I was always the person who waited until my partner said ‘I love you,’ even if I felt it and even if I felt like I was waiting for them to say it, until I met my current partner. 

We started dating early August. [We were] both really insistent that it was casual, and that we weren’t looking for a relationship or anything committed or long-term. But we were spending more and more time together for five nights a week getting to those places. We also worked together, and though nobody at work knew we would see each other, we would go off on walks to grab coffee and just linger outside of our building, drinking them, and essentially extending the time that we spent together as much as possible.

And then when it was Halloween, end of October; we’ve been seeing each other for almost three months. We did a couples costume, Cookie Monster and a cookie. We went on a horrible boat cruise party that never actually left the dock because it was raining and we drank probably too much. We were cabbing home and staying the night at his place. 

When we got home, I kind of looked at him and said, ‘This doesn’t count. It’s Halloween. You know, it’s the middle of the night….when we wake up tomorrow, we’re not allowed to say this again. But, I love you.’ And he said, ‘I love you too.’ And we said it over and over again that night. We fell asleep, and in the morning we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t acknowledge it or anything, but both of us remember. 

In the coming weeks, I would say it maybe two or three weeks later mid-November. He bought me a ring—not an engagement ring, but a ring that’s carbon aureon because it’s part of Brazilian culture and my partner’s Brazilian. It’s sort of like the precursor ring, if you will—not quite a promise ring, but it’s a commitment ring. You wear it on the ring finger, but of your right hand. He sort of said, ‘I know we’re not supposed to say it, but I love you and I don’t want to be with anybody else. What do you think?’ And we’ve been together ever since.

It’s the first relationship I’ve been in that feels easy and right.

Shelby Sells

Shelby Sells: “Being the first person to say ‘I love you’ is absolutely terrifying; it takes a lot of courage, but is extremely rewarding and liberating at the same time. Usually, I’m not the first person to say ‘I love you.’ It’s not my thing. But in this relationship, I felt compelled to. 

This is the first healthy relationship I’ve ever been in, and being with my partner makes me feel safe for the first time in my life. Not only that, but secure and seen. It’s a type of validation that I’ve never felt with anyone else. It’s the first relationship I’ve been in that feels easy and right. 

After dating for about three months, I woke up in his arms one morning, sleepy, happy, and full of love, and I knew that I couldn’t wait any longer to tell him. I looked up at him, and I said, ‘I love you.’ He squeezed me tight, and looked back at me and said, ‘I love you too.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Yes, of course.’ We started kissing and celebrating, physically if you know what I mean.” [Laughs.]

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