“I love you”: those three words which we inevitably swoon over in soppy movies, yet which in reality cause some people to cry with joy whilst others weep with longing, and makes some grow in confidence and security but others choke in fear and want to hide. There seem to be so many factors and emotions caught up in these simple words that they often become a source of anxiety that masks the joy they should bring. So when is the right time to say it?
I’ve heard two interesting takes on this recently, which I think are true in their own ways. The first is that if one person is ready to say it and the other isn’t ready to hear it then it can risk causing hurt. If the relationship is naturally moving forward but is still in the early stages of getting to know each other, then it may be the case that holding back from saying it until you’re certain you can both commit is more loving than saying it. This might mean making a sacrifice by withholding your desire to declare your love, but love inevitably means sacrifice!
The second take is that love is more than just words, and so when it’s professed depends on when it can confidently be proven. The words in themselves can be meaningless unless they’re backed up with actions, but when the actions are strong and consistent they speak for themselves, and the words that follow confirm them. In that respect, it’s also possible to show someone you love them long before you begin a relationship which warrants an open declaration. If that’s the case, then why wait once you’re sure you want to say it?
A couple of weeks ago I watched “Braveheart” for the first time after reading Christopher West’s thoughts on it. (Yes, I’m expecting a mixture of shock that I’ve managed to go nearly 22 years without watching it and confusion over why I’d want to watch bloodthirsty battle scenes anyway). Though I have to say that it’s seriously in contention for my new favourite film, what struck me the most was a single line…
“I love you. Always have. I want to marry you.”
This single line took my breath away, not because a man said “I love you” in a fictional context and my heart automatically melted (believe me, I’m so not the soppy kind!), but because there wasn’t a hint of fear in it. For the first time, hearing “I love you” on-screen didn’t speak of empty romance but of bravery, confidence and vehement passion. I understood what it meant for a man to be willing to lay down his life for the woman he loves as Christ did for the Church. The man speaking that line wasn’t afraid to admit his feelings or commit to the woman in question, because he was so consumed by love that there was no room for fear. It was that love which enabled him to become more fully himself, with all the masculine qualities he so clearly exhibits!
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18
The bottom line is that there is no perfect formula to apply to every relationship. Whether you say it or don’t say it isn’t the real issue: it’s the reasons behind it. Those three words come with an unspoken promise that you’ll keep on choosing to love even when you don’t “feel” it, unless you prayerfully discern that the relationship itself isn’t right. Don’t say it unless you’re willing to back it up with your actions, but don’t let fear hold you back when you believe it’s right!
Above all, don’t fight it. “I love you” isn’t scary, it’s beautiful. It shouldn’t bring guilt, confusion, or unhealthy dependence, but should be linked to assurance, healthy connection and stability. If you’re in love, say it, and say it often. Then continue to prove it with your actions. I don’t believe there’s anyone who, deep down, doesn’t want to hear it and know it’s true.
Esther Rich has a bachelor degree in Psychology from Oxford University, UK, and is currently completing the Sion Community Youth Foundation Year, working on their youth ministry team. She loves Theology of the Body, Papa Francesco and a good worship band. She is passionate about empowering women to be who they were created to be, and blogs at “For Such A Time As This.”