In general, if two people love each other, it doesn’t matter who says “I love you” first. If you’re not sure whether your partner feels the same way you do, you can still tell them how you feel—just be mindful of why you’re doing it. If you just want to let them know where your heart is at and don’t mind whether or not your feelings are reciprocated, go for it.
“There is so much taboo around what ‘I love you’ means and who we say it to,” Brown-James says. “I suggest taking a bit of time to inventory your feelings. Honoring your feelings of vulnerability is risky and can be scary. It is, however, a way to build intimacy.”
That said, Manly points out that those three little words can carry a lot of weight for some people, so it’s worth considering how your confession might affect them and your relationship. “A person’s proclamation of love can bring a ‘not-so-ready’ person closer, yet it can also scare someone away,” she says.
If it’s important for you to have the other person love you back, Manly recommends paying attention to body language cues as well as the other types of language they use to describe how they feel about you. “Couples often test each other out by paying attention to key phrases such as ‘I’m catching feelings for you,’ ‘I really like you,’ or ‘I feel so close to you,'” she says. “Notice if these precursors to ‘I love you’ are in play. If they are, it may be the right time to voice how you feel.”