So here’s the situation: you’ve been seeing someone, friends with someone for a long time, thinking about someone and wondering why they pop out of your head for no good reason or are looking into the eyes of a person who makes your heart stop. It doesn’t matter why it happened or how it happened. You just want to say the three magic words: “I love you.”
But here’s the question: “When is the right time to say I love you?”
It’s an argument that ages like fine wine — depending on your situation. Some people prefer to take their time, thinking that the “I love you!” will come out of nowhere. Plus, there’s no definite way, right? There are plenty of ways to say I love you. Maybe, it’ll just come out when the time is right.
But what if you’re itching to do it? What if you have been wondering when is it OK to say I love you to that person? Should you even use the words “I love you” or is a metaphor more romantic? Should you even be saying the l-word so soon?
Fortunately, pop culture can offer some insight in the best way possible.
Films and television series are a reflection of real life, which means we’ve watched tons of scenes where characters fumble with the dreaded l-word (Need I remind you of Blair Waldorf’s 8-letter, 3-words deal with Chuck Bass?).
If you need an idea on when you should say I love you for the first time (or maybe as a reaffirmation), memorable scenes from popular shows and movies might give you the insight (and a morale boost). Here are some of the best scenes and what you can learn from them.
Don’t Say “I Love You” When You Barely Know Someone
“Is 3 months too soon to say I love you? Should I say it on a first date? Is that better?”
Some of you may ask that. And for this question, we turn to Ted Mosby.
Ah, Ted Mosby. Of course, we had to start with you.
The “How I Met Your Mother” lead is famous/infamous for his track record with women before he met The Mother. The very definition of a hopeless romantic, Ted is always on the search for the One, thinking that she could be out there and if he doesn’t make a move, he’ll lose her. So he always makes a move.
The problem with Ted is he meets them and he falls in love way too fast (as Marshall said). On top of that, he says “I love you” on the first date.
“I love you” is a first date red flag. One, you barely know this person (if you’re not friends with them). Two, you’re going to need more than a romantic night to know if you truly love them. And finally, it can scare your date off.
Sure, Robin and Ted might have ended up as friends, but it’s not always the case in real life. Be wary of saying the l-word to people you just started dating for a week. The word love is special. You don’t just give it away to people you just meet. Some people who are friends take even longer (here’s looking at you, Ron and Hermione).
Save your “I love yous” to the person who deserves it.
Say “I Love You” When You Want to Affirm Something You Both Know Already
Initially, it seems odd to talk about “Star Wars” and when to say I love you. But if you think about it, Han and Leia might have a say.
“The Empire Strikes Back” was not only the darkest story of the “Star Wars” trilogy; it was always the most romantic one. After kissing her twin brother (we can’t live this down, to be honest) just to piss Han off, the Princess and the Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herder spent most of the time bickering. Despite the arguments, Leia is forced to confront what she has known all along as Han is about to be frozen in carbonite.
After sharing a heartfelt kiss, she tells him, “I love you!”
The original script had Han respond with an “I love you, too.” But it didn’t feel like something he would say. So actor Harrison ford improvised. He said what Han would have said (and what the entire Han-Leia love story has been this entire time): “I know.”
They both know they had feelings for each other. We all knew they were falling for one another. It took a life-threatening situation before either could muster the guts to say what we all knew.
In your case, you don’t have to be frozen in carbonite before you tell someone that you love them. When you both know the feeling is mutual, say it out loud. Tell them that you love them. And hopefully, they won’t just say that they know.
Don’t Say “I Love You” When It’s Too Late (e.g. Engaged)
We get it: last-minute declarations of love are “romantic.” But in real life, they can be complicated.
Take this for example: Julia Roberts’ Julianne from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” realizes that she’s in love with her best friend Michael AFTER he got engaged. To make matters worse, Michael’s fiancée Kim chooses her to be her maid of honor.
Julia Roberts, as lovely as she is, was the epitome of desperation in that movie. She tries to stop Michael from marrying Kim by sabotaging their relationship. When all else failed and Julianne can’t keep her feelings buried anymore, her I love you comes out in the form of a plea.
“Choose me,” she asks Michael, then she seals it with a kiss.
It would have been a great way to say “I’m in love with you” — if only Michael wasn’t getting married and the entire thing was not witnessed by the bride. As a result, Julianne chases Michael as Michael chases Kim. In the end, it turns out that Michael does not feel the same as Julianne, which she ends up being OK with.
But if you’re considering pulling off a Julianne, please re-consider.
If the person you love is in love with someone else, the best way to say I love you is to let them go. Ruining their relationship, trying to stop a wedding or any form of manipulation does not equate to love. Cliché as it sounds, that’s selfishness. When you let them go, it will hurt but you will be freer.
Consider the other side of the spectrum: Rachel Greene from “Friends.”
Initially, Rachel wanted to stop Ross from marrying Emily. She went all the way to London to persuade her ex-boyfriend not to go ahead with it. But when she saw Ross in front of the altar, right before the wedding, she had a change of heart. Rachel, realizing that Ross’s happiness mattered more, congratulated him and sat herself down as a guest — hard as it might have been.
And she got her reward in the end, anyway. Didn’t Ross say Rachel instead of Emily?
Say “I Love You” When You Want Them to Know How Much They are Loved
“When Harry Met Sally” is a slow-burn plot shortened into one of the best love stories of all time. Harry and Sally started out as unpleasant acquaintances and eventually became friends, each other’s constants. During their friendship, Harry and Sally grew to appreciate each other’s little quirks, console one another and entertain each other.
Before they knew it, they were falling in love.
Like all romance movies, they had to go through another rough patch, which involved the denial of feelings. But Harry could no longer hide the fact that he really loved Sally. So on New Year’s Eve, he finally caught up with her and said one of the best proclamations of love in movie history:
“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Denying your feelings can only get you so far. If you really love someone, tell them and do so in the best way possible. Here, Harry said “I love you” by telling Sally how much he loves everything about her: from her OCD-nature with food to how she’s the last person he talks to before he goes to sleep. It’s a long confession but it’s sweet and straightforward — aka the best way to say “I love you.”
Saying “I love you!” to the apple of your eye can be a gateway to opening many possibilities with the person you love. It takes faith, courage and a little creativity to do so.
If you need help, let these popular characters from popular movies give you a clue. So go out and tell your beloved you love them! Before you know it, you might be popping the biggest question next.