Romantic love - like life - is an experience, not a destination, and as with any experience, there are milestones along the way.
The first and most memorable is meeting your beloved followed by your first kiss. From there, as the relationship deepens, there comes a point you feel the need to say those three magic words, 'I love you.'
And yet, most of us are hesitant to say these words. But why?
As relationship columnist Jenna Birch explains in her article Magic Words, saying I love you is an expression of commitment that exceeds the emotional relationship to date. If these words are said too early by either lover, a sense of insincerity is created. If not said at all, however, or too late, a sense of the short-term is felt. For both, the relationship is in jeopardy.
Where love is proclaimed too early, especially if done so by the male in heterosexual relationships, the female may perceive a narrow objective of bringing sex into the relationship where sex may not already be present. Or, where sex is present, maintaining it in the short-term.
And yet, as Jenna explains, studies show that men tend to profess their love earlier than their female counterparts. This may be because they do seek a reliable short-term sexual partner. Or, as suggested in other studies, because they're influenced by modern ideas of romanticism. Men culturally feel it's up to them to say, 'I love you,' in the same way they should ask for a date, step in to protect their beloved or seek her hand in marriage.
These issues of confused intentions become problematic for dating couples because many do seek long-term relationships.
But, for all daters, as is true for everybody, how do they believe the spoken word truly reflects the beliefs or intentions of their beloved.
Take a listen to George Michael (I Want Your Sex). He knows his beloved doubts his sincerity because they think his words of love are a ruse of sex.
So where does this confusion leave us? Should we believe those who say they love us, and when should we say, 'I love you.'?
According to Karla Ivankovich, (Adj Prof. Psychology, University Illinois, MA) we should say those magic words only when we mean it. That's to say, when we're expressing the commitment that 'I love you,' represents. There is no time limit, she says, on when the time's right. It might be a few months or as long as a year before we feel comfortable with committing ourselves.
The point she makes, I think, is every relationship is unique. You appraise your beloved during dating, as they appraise you. As you get to know one another emotionally, you must decide on the authenticity of the relationship and your beloved. Only then can you be sure of your commitment and the experience ahead of you both.