A 2016 YouGov survey in the UK found that 16% of people surveyed had told someone they loved them within a month, and the greatest number of people (22%) had said “I love you” within two or three months. A 2020 survey of over 1,000 people in relationships by the financial services company The Ascent found that the average amount of time people waited to say I love you was six months. (For what it’s worth, that happened months before, on average, they shared information about their salaries.)
So again, it’s not a precise timeline, but saying “I love you” somewhere between one month of dating and six months is all relatively common.
“You can’t hurry love”—true?
What could account for a person falling in love more or less quickly? There’s evidence to suggest that there’s a love gender gap between men and women.
In a series of several studies, published together by the American Psychological Association in 2011, researchers found that in partnerships between a man and a woman, the man is more likely to “confess to love” first. Men reported that they started thinking about “confessing love” in 97 days, whereas women took an average of about 139 days.
In a blow to anyone still holding on to the idea that women are more emotional and needy than men, researchers also found that it wasn’t that women were cautiously holding back—men were the first to even think about confessing their love. In fact, researchers found that men thought about confessing love six weeks earlier, on average, than women. The general consensus among studies on love is that men fall in love faster than women.
What about LGBTQ relationships? Megan Rapinoe said this week that when she met her future wife, WNBA star Sue Bird, she thought, “Okay, don’t be a cliché lesbian, where you love this person when you first meet them.” It’s a famous stereotype that in relationships between two women, saying “I love you,” committing, and moving in together happen at hyper-speed. But do the facts bear that out?
Lesbian relationships have been under-researced compared to heterosexual ones. But in a 2018 study from Stanford that followed 220 couples where both partners were women, researchers wrote, “Contrary to popular conceptions of lesbians as eager to commit, our results indicate that after controlling for couple age there are no significant differences in relative rates of cohabitation among couple types.” But what about love? A 2008 study of 38 lesbians found that women reported exchanging verbal declarations of love and commitment an average of six months into a relationship.
Is there a shortcut to love?
A few years ago, a series of stories in the New York Times claimed “to fall in love with anyone, do this,” suggesting that by answering 36 personal questions as a couple, two strangers could fall in love. The articles were inspired by a 1997 study by psychologist Arthur Aron, and they sparked a craze—it felt like, finally, a definitive short cut to love had been reached. In fact, the study that inspired the article doesn’t even mention the word “love.” It measured a feeling of “closeness” which is not necessarily the same as romantic love.
But if you’re worried about losing love due to social distancing, don’t give up on finding “closeness” with people, even remotely—more than 9% of people in Match’s 2020 Singles in America survey reported that they fell in love just via video dates.
So how soon is too soon? When is the right time? Is it ever too late? Bella Swan falls “irrevocably in love” by chapter nine. Shakespeare’s Antony announces his love for Cleopatra in Act I, Scene I (“Thou needs find out new heaven, new earth,” he tells her, to understand the extent of his love.) Jane Eyre loves Rochester by chapter 16 (“It is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them,” she says.) And in To All The Boys I Loved Before, Lara Jean is in love with someone or other on almost every page.
There’s no way to calculate the perfect time, no one-size-fits-all approach, no test to prove definitively whether you’ve fallen in love. Most people wait a few months to say it. Some people don’t. There’s some evidence that love-at-first-sight is real, and a lot of consensus that there are many types of love that mean different things to different people. “The state of enchantment is one of certainty,” wrote W.H. Auden. Basically—no one knows better than you how you really feel.