The Vulnerability of Saying ‘I Love You’ for the First Time

It felt like deliberating at the top of a high dive with no guarantee of a soft landing.

Eleni Stephanides
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readFeb 14, 2024

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Photo by author

My girlfriend and I had just spent a lovely day wandering through caves and sipping coffee next to roosters. We’d shared a gluten-free pizza while looking up at the stars from massive rock formations in the ghost town of Columbia. Now back at her house, Spotify was turned to a compilation of early 2000s pop ballads. We danced in her room as her chihuahua and torty cat slept bundled into cushy balls on the bed beside us.

She and I had been dating for two months at that point, and I wanted to tell her I loved her— but the words just wouldn’t leave my mouth.

Why does the thought of it make so anxious? Why does it feel like jumping off a high dive with no guarantee of a soft landing?

Saying “I love you” for the first time can feel daunting for anyone. Part of the apprehension comes from what Lacey Johnson described as “fear [of] inciting a re-creation of the dreadful moment in Sex and the City when Carrie impulsively blurts out an awkward ‘I love you’” (after Big gifts her a crystalline duck-shaped handbag). In response he mumbles, “You’re welcome,” and swiftly flees the scene.

A similar exchange plays out in the mid aughts show The O.C. Marissa whispers the words into Ryan’s ear, only for Ryan to pause before offering back a stilted, Thank you.

According to psychotherapist Jenn Mann:

“Too many people declare their love during the honeymoon stage, which is primarily the first six to 18 months of a relationship. During this phase, many people are blinded by the excitement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you should enjoy it, but don’t be too quick to call it something it hasn’t had time to become.”

I’d never said those words out loud to anyone– at least not in a romantic way. I’d said it to close friends, sure. Family and I expressed love for each other often. My sister and I heard it consistently growing up, too.

The only time someone had said I love you to me in a romantic way, I was 18. The woman was my 24-year-old girlfriend. I didn’t say it back though; I was young…

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Eleni Stephanides
Human Parts

LGBTQ+ writer and Spanish interpreter who enjoys wandering through nature, reading fiction and mental health content, speaking Spanish, and petting cats.