Falling in love is great, right? The rush of dopamine in your brain, the quickening of your heart, the lingering of your thoughts on one person. It’s one of our favourite things about being human – just look at the rate we produce books, songs, TV shows and movies on the subject. Perhaps we should blame Rachel McAdams or Hugh Grant for our preoccupation with love; perhaps it’s always been this way. Not to take any of the romance out of romance, but wouldn’t it be satisfying if we could find a formula for love? Something to help us navigate the rushing madness of the emotion?
Well, new research has pinpointed how long it takes most of us to fall in love, which at least gives us a little bit of a timeline to work with. According to Gala Bingo, 43% of British people take three months to fall in love. Sixty-three percent say it takes six months to feel completely in love. One in three people say it took them six months to say “I love you” out loud to someone they adore and 16% of people refused to say it first, instead waiting until their beloved uttered those three words.
So, really, we’re looking at a period of three to six months for the love thing to happen. Generally speaking, that is. Love is a fickle, beautiful thing and everyone’s different, so of course it can happen sooner or later than that.
It is true of my relationship, though. My boyfriend and I kept saying “I like you” for the first few months – over wine, brushing our teeth together, at spontaneous junctures in conversations. Then, almost exactly three months in, we went ahead and said “I love you”. It was in bed, there were tears involved. So these stats ring true to me, even when I look back at previous relationships. But what about other couples? How soon do other people say “I love you” and if I speak to enough people, will I prove, at least anecdotally, that this timeline might be correct?
It was completely delightful, obviously, to ask people about the moment they fell in love. It was also surprisingly hilarious: as it turns out, very few of us are suave when it comes to this incredibly vulnerable declaration of affection. Charlotte, for instance, accidentally told her boyfriend three months into their relationship – only she was drunk and she got embarrassed about saying it first so she covered it up by pretending she meant to say “I love Ed Sheeran”. They’d been friends for seven years before they got together so maybe that made the love thing even harder to declare.
“I think Ed Sheeran was playing at the time,” she says. “Maybe I meant to say I love Ed Sheeran but I said ‘I love you’. I don’t know. It was a mess.”
She also promptly forgot about the whole thing, so when he told her he loved her, she thought it was the first time either one of them had said it. She got “hysterical” and texted all her friends when he went to the loo. For months, she thought he was the one to say it first, until he reminded her of the Ed Sheeran mishap.
Turns out alcohol is often pretty influential in the old “I love you” exchange. Hazel and her boyfriend Matt reached the four-month mark of their relationship when he drunkenly told her he loved her. The next morning, she was hungover enough to be confused about whether he’d actually said it or not so didn’t risk saying it herself. “I was 90% sure that he had said it, but obviously didn’t want to ask and ruin that nice moment. So I had to wait until it was said again just to double check. It was thankfully said again that evening but that was a nervous 12 hours.”
For Sophie and her boyfriend Tom, the love proclamation happened five months in – on holiday with his parents. “Oh my god I know how intense that sounds but it was lovely. They were not present when he said it…” she says. Sophie had been actually feeling love for two months before that moment and had nearly said it multiple times but chickened out. Mostly she felt it when he did something like make her a cup of tea without asking – little gestures of cuteness that were arguably his way of saying “I love you” without words. When he did say it, her reply was “Pardon?” because she wasn’t sure she’d heard him right. He repeated himself and then of course, she said it right back. Smooth.
Hannah’s been dating her boyfriend for a full decade now, but their “I love you” moment came clumsily in the hallway at a hostel they were both staying at, before they could even properly say they were in a relationship. Em and Nic said it after four months, when they’d started noticing how comfortable and safe they felt in each other’s arms, watching Netflix and just hanging out. Rosie’s girlfriend waited three weeks before she said “I love fucking you…”, waited for a positive facial expression in return and then said “and I fucking love you”. Tegan’s boyfriend told her three weeks in and she waited 'til she was “hysterically drunk” at three months to say it back. Laura and her boyfriend Kyle waited six months to say “I love you” and they did it at sunset in Hawaii, like stars of their own rom-com.
So it’s pretty common to say “I love you” between three and six months into going out with someone. Equally, it’s pretty standard to do it drunk, nervous, hungover, whispered or, if you’re really strategic about it, as the sun sets. Love is sweet – and fabulously imperfect.