Do You Always Have To Say “I Love You” Back?

By Keelia Clarkson··  4 min read
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Do You Always Have To Say “I Love You” Back? shutterstock

Hearing those three little words can have quite the effect on us – if we say it back and mean it, we’re ecstatic. If we say it back and don’t mean it, we’re confused. If we don’t say it back at all, we’re guilt-ridden.

For those of us who’ve seen Gilmore Girls enough times, the thought of someone saying “I love you” and it not being reciprocated brings about a certain memory: Rory, one of our Gilmore girls, and her first boyfriend, Dean, telling her that he loves her for the first time… and Rory not saying it back.

dean tells rory he loves her

Of course, Dean is incredibly hurt, and Rory is left feeling miserable and cruel. The audience watches and wonders if she should’ve just said it back, even if she felt unsure. Or maybe, she just wasn’t being honest with herself and she did actually love him back. Or maybe… life and love aren’t always perfectly romantic, and that’s okay.

The Pressure To Be in Love

We live in a culture that’s a bit obsessed with love, and so there’s a lot of pressure to find love and be in love. The countless reality TV shows focused on two people finding their soulmates, relationship advice blogs, songs about falling in love, podcasts dedicated to helping listeners find their match, or shows and books and movies that put the spotlight on the protagonist’s search for love are evidence enough that love is pretty consistently on our collective mind. We even have a holiday dedicated to being in love.

you belong with me

We’ve put being in love on a pedestal. We think of being in a relationship as the ultimate sign of being a whole, valuable person – only after someone else thinks we’re worthy of love can we believe that it's true. Along with that, we treat those who haven’t been in love, or any long-term relationship, as poor unfortunate souls.

Sex Doesn’t Make Things Any Easier

Intimacy is becoming more and more expected earlier on in relationships today. Even those who take a stand against women being pressured into sex, saying that it should only take place when both parties are ready, seem to hint that even just three months is a long time to wait.

But the issue with this kind of intimacy being introduced so early on in a relationship is that it inevitably clouds our judgment, whether or not we think so. It’s hardly news that oxytocin, often referred to as the love drug, is released during sex, leading women to suddenly feel more attached to a guy than we did before. This only plays into the pressure we feel to be part of the “in love” club. 

Men and Women Fall in Love Differently

Along with every other pressure we face, we put pressure on ourselves to fall in love at the same rates as our significant other. We keep a timeline in our head, tracking when it’s most appropriate for the first kiss, the first meeting of families, and the first “I love you,” and expect to always be on the same page. But this expectation isn’t just unhealthy, it’s also unrealistic.

love at first sign cartoon

The honest truth is that men and women fall in love differently – a 2013 survey found that while men take an average of 88 days to think they’re in love, it takes women an average of 134 days, and they typically wait another month before professing their love.

Sure, It’s Awkward – But That Beats Forcing It

It’s only human to feel guilty or embarrassed when our relationship’s first “I love you” moment isn’t picture-perfect. But similarly to how we commonly hear that sex should only happen when both people are comfortable with it, the same should go for saying “I love you.”

It’s no small thing to tell someone you love them, and once it’s said, it can’t be taken back. Because of the weightiness of professing our love, it’s in our best interest, and our boyfriend’s, to wait until we’re completely sure of it. There’s nothing worse than having told someone you love them, and then realizing you didn’t mean it, were manipulated into it, or just regret it.

Closing Thoughts

So, do you always have to say “I love you” back? No – love shouldn’t be forced or manipulated. A declaration of love doesn’t require immediate reciprocation, as uncomfortable as that thought may be (looking at you, Dean!). It’s better in the long run to have suffered a period of awkwardness before realizing we feel the same way, than to have said three of the most meaningful words to someone who didn’t deserve them.

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