How to Tell Someone You Love Them (For the First Time)

Is there anything scarier than trying to tell someone you love them? Many people would prefer to face snakes Indiana Jones-style than risk saying those three little words aloud. It doesn’t get easier the more certain you are it’s true. Instead, when you care for someone deeply, it can be even more intimidating to tell them.

In this article, we’re going to think about whether it’s a good idea for you to tell someone how you feel about them and the different ways to go about it.


  1. How to tell someone you love them with different words
  2. How to tell someone you love them without using words
  3. How to tell someone you love them without scaring them
  4. How to write a letter to tell someone you love them
  5. Should you tell someone you love them?
  6. Common questions

How to tell someone you love them with different words

There are lots of phrases you can use to let someone know how you feel without using the super-scary “I love you.” Communicating your feelings without saying “love” lets you show your feelings subtly by being creative or cute. If you want to tell someone you love them without saying it directly, here are some of the best alternatives to the 3 magic words:

  • I adore you
  • You mean the world to me
  • I’m infatuated with you (great for early in a relationship)
  • I really value having you in my life
  • You make me want to be a better person
  • I want to make you happy
  • I’d move mountains if it made you smile
  • I love waking up next to you
  • You make the world a brighter place
  • I’m crazy about you

How to tell someone you love them without using words

Loving someone is about more than words. If you love someone, it’s important to show them, as well as tell them. The good news is, finding ways to show someone you love them can feel less nerve-wracking than having to say the words.

A great way to think about showing someone you love them without words is the idea of the five “love languages”. There are lots of things you could do to show love. Speaking someone’s love language is about doing the things that mean love to them.

Here are the 5 love languages and how to use them to express your love for someone.

1. Words of affirmation

Some people like to hear how much they mean to you. If your boyfriend or girlfriend has words of affirmation as their main love language, there isn’t any getting around saying how you feel.

This doesn’t mean you have to say “I love you” though. We’ll look at telling someone you love them without using those words later.

Compliments are often key to helping someone who needs words of affirmation to feel loved. If they ask for your opinion, pay attention. If they ask “How do I look?” you may hurt their feelings if you just say “Fine.”

If you’re really uncomfortable using words, remember that most people speak several love languages. Many people have one dominant love language and several secondary ones.[1]

2. Quality time

Some people want you to spend your free time with them, and be really present when you’re together. Try not to fixate on the “time” part of this love language and instead focus on the “quality.”

Try to show the other person doing something together is important to you too. For example, if you take a walk together, you can point things out to each other. If you’re watching a film, try talking about it afterward.

It’s important to avoid looking at your phone. They want to feel you’re present with them and engaged in your shared activity. They can easily feel hurt if you seem distracted or bored.

3. Receiving gifts

It’s easy to think of someone who loves receiving gifts as shallow or mercenary, but that’s not necessarily true. Someone who has “receiving gifts” as their love language wants to know you’re thinking about them when you’re not together and want to find things that bring them joy.

The best gift for someone like this is something personal that takes their feelings and preferences into account. This could be as simple as a pebble you collected during your first walk together.

You can hurt the other person if you get this wrong. Giving impersonal, generic, or thoughtless gifts is worse than giving them nothing at all. For example, giving your lover chocolates might be romantic, but if they’re allergic, they’ll be hurt that you hadn’t really given them any thought.

4. Acts of service

Someone whose love language is”acts of service” wants to know you care enough to make their lives easier. They are looking for you to pay attention and look for ways you can step in to help.

Acts of service can be big gestures or small touches, or anything in between. You could make them a cup of coffee in the morning, defrost their car windscreen before a busy day, sweep up the leaves in their yard, or help them move house.

Getting acts of service right is about finding a balance between being caring and being invasive. Try to do tasks where you can make a difference. If you’re not sure, try asking “Can I help by…”

If your loved one wants acts of service, it’s important not to over-promise. Offering to help with something and then letting them down can feel like rejection. Only making a cursory effort or not completing a task will also leave them feeling sad and disappointed.

5. Touch

For some people, touch is their natural way of expressing love and how they know they’re loved in return. Someone who has touch as their primary love language isn’t always looking for sexual touch. They’re looking for affectionate touch as well.

Touch is about letting them know you want to be near them and literally “reaching out.” Often, it’s casual touches that mean the most; a hand in the small of their back, a kiss on the forehead, or taking their hand as you walk.

If your loved one wants touch, it’s important to give them these kinds of affectionate touches as well as sexual intimacy. Often, touch-oriented people will feel uncomfortable being sexual if they haven’t been getting enough affectionate or comforting contact.

Combining the love languages

We’ve mostly been talking about someone’s main love language, but most people have several they respond to. If you know (or guess) your partner’s secondary love languages, you can be especially loving by combining them.

For example, if they respond well to gifts and touch, buy them some nice massage oil and promise them a massage. Combine acts of service and quality time by taking care of an errand for them to free up time for you to spend together.

Don’t rely exclusively on the love languages

While lots of people find the five love languages to be really helpful, they’re not prescriptive. People’s love languages can change over time, and some people don’t find any that resonate for them.

Rather than getting hung up on which is your love language, try to focus on the more important message behind them. Your aim is to find out what makes the other person feel loved, and then do that.

How to tell someone you love them without scaring them

Telling someone you love them for the first time is a big deal, so it’s worth thinking about how to go about it. Here are some of the best ways to ensure it goes well.

1. Pick your time

You might want to blurt out your feelings as soon as you realize how you feel, but it’s helpful to pick when you first say you love them.

Make sure they are in the right frame of mind. You want them in a relaxed, open, and affectionate mood. Aim for when you’re both feeling close and neither of you has to rush off. Avoid noisy environments (there’s nothing worse than having to repeat yourself because they couldn’t hear the first time).

Try not to use this as an excuse to put off saying how you feel. You probably won’t find the “perfect” time, but look for a “good enough” opportunity. If you’re worried about losing your nerve, try telling a close friend what you’re planning. This might be just the push you need.

2. Make eye contact

If you’re nervous about saying you love someone, the idea of gazing into their eyes as well might feel like a step too far. Unfortunately, looking at your feet can undermine your words. Do your best to look at them, even if you can only manage a short period of eye contact. This helps them realize you’re being sincere.[2]

3. Speak clearly

Speaking from the heart is vulnerable, but if you love the other person, you hopefully trust them too. Speaking clearly shows the other person you are willing to trust them, and you’re not trying to hide your emotions.

4. Be clear that you don’t expect reciprocity

Whenever we tell someone else we love them, we’re probably hoping they will say it back. They might not be ready for that yet. Make sure they don’t feel under pressure by showing you don’t expect them to say it back.

Say, “I love you. I’m not expecting you to feel the same way, and I’m not asking for anything to change. I just realized it’s true, and I thought it was important for me to tell you.”

5. Give them space to think about how they feel

If your feelings are a surprise, the other person might need time to think about their own feelings. They might not know how to respond. It’s hard to give someone space to think when you’re feeling vulnerable. Try to remember that needing to think doesn’t mean they’re not interested.

If they express surprise or confusion, reassure them that you’re ok with them needing time. Reiterate that you’re not expecting them to feel the same way.

6. Don’t make too big a deal of it

Telling someone you love them is a big deal, but there’s no reason for you to make it any bigger than it has to be. Try to show you are serious without being super-intense.

Try to remind yourself that you’re not actually changing anything. You’re simply telling them something true that they might not have known. This can help you to come across as sincere without being needy.

7. Talk about it as a process

Loving someone isn’t either/or. You don’t fall asleep not caring about someone and wake up in love with them. If you are worried about scaring the person you love by telling them how you feel, try preparing them by telling them your feelings are growing.

If saying “I love you” is too much, try saying “I think I might be falling in love with you” or “I’m falling for you.”

How to write a letter to tell someone you love them

Telling someone you love them face to face can be scary, and it isn’t always possible. Writing your feelings down can be a good way to tell someone you love them if you can’t have a conversation.

If you decide to declare your feelings in a letter or email, you have time to think about what you want to say and how to say it. Here are our best tips to help you get it right:

1. Decide whether to send an email or a letter

The idea of sending a letter might seem hopelessly outdated, but it does have some advantages over an email if you are confessing your love.

Advantages of an email

  • It feels normal if you’re used to sending emails.
  • It’s quick and simple. You don’t need to wait for the other person to receive it.
  • You don’t need to know their postal address.

Advantages of a letter

  • It can feel special and personal.
  • You can use nice stationery and handwriting.
  • It can make a beautiful keepsake for the future.
  • You can include a small gift (such as a pressed flower or picture).

Whichever you decide, it will be the words inside that make the biggest difference.

2. Explain why you’re doing this in writing

It’s worth explaining why you’ve chosen to write them a letter or an email. If it’s because you feel too shy or awkward to say it in person yet, that’s ok. Tell them. If it was because you wanted them to have something they could keep, tell them. If it’s because you wouldn’t be together for a while and you wanted to tell them urgently, say that.

3. Be specific about your feelings

One reason for writing an email or a letter, rather than a text, is that you can really go into detail. Rather than just saying “I love you,” try saying, “I love everything about you. I love how you…” The more detailed you are about what makes you adore them, the more genuine you will seem.

Try not to get too focused on their appearance. There’s nothing wrong with a few compliments but make sure you talk about their other amazing qualities as well. This can help demonstrate that you really do feel love, rather than just lust.

If you’re not sure how to tell someone what you admire about them, check out our guide to giving sincere compliments.

4. Avoid clichés

Telling someone you love them is deeply personal and vulnerable. We can try to hide from that by using clichés or formulaic phrases. Unfortunately, this can leave the other person questioning your sincerity.

It is usually better to avoid lines from songs or clichés. They can come across as cheesy or immature. Instead, try to be as vulnerable and honest as you can manage.

Focus on finding your own words, and make sure you mean everything you’re saying. This kind of sincerity can shine through your words. If you worry your words might be clumsy, try to remember that it’s better to be sincere than eloquent but shallow.

5. Don’t re-read it too many times

One of the most difficult aspects of writing a love letter is actually sending it. It can be very easy to spend hours reading, refining, and agonizing over it.

To decide when it’s ready to send, don’t ask yourself whether it’s perfect. Instead, ask yourself whether it’s honest and whether the other person will feel good reading it. If the answer to both of those questions is yes, resist the urge to re-read it, take a deep breath, and send it.

Should you tell someone you love them?

There isn’t a simple answer to whether you should tell someone you love them. In general, it’s best to be honest about your feelings. Being honest about your emotions is associated with better physical and mental health and wellbeing.[3]

Often, the main thing holding people back from being honest about love is fear of rejection.[4] They don’t want to be vulnerable in case the other person doesn’t feel the same.

Declaring your feelings for someone can make things awkward in the short term but this will usually pass. More importantly, if you don’t say you love them, you risk missing out on a fantastic relationship. We have an article on how to overcome a fear of making friends, but the advice is great if you’re scared of confessing your feelings as well.

When should you not tell someone you love them?

There are some times it might not be a good idea to tell someone you love them. Here are some examples:

1. The first date

Telling someone you love them on a first date might work in the movies, but it’s not a great idea in real life. First dates are a time for getting to know the other person at a basic level, not the deep intimacy needed for love. Saying “I love you” during a first date can make you seem needy and/or superficial.

This may be different if you knew the other person well before your official “first date.” You will have to use your best judgment in this case. If you’re on a date with a friend, be extra careful to be sure that you really do love them before saying it. Deciding not to continue dating a friend is much easier if you haven’t declared your love first.

2. They are in a relationship with someone else

This is a super-tricky one. Telling someone you love them when they are in a relationship with someone else can go badly. It can ruin the friendship and trust you had built. On the other hand, silently longing for a deeper relationship with someone in an unhappy relationship can be torturous. Even worse, keeping something so important private can ruin your friendship if they notice you’re holding something back.

If you’re considering telling your coupled-up friend you’re in love with them, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Are you sure this is love? Not an infatuation?
  • Do you think they would want to know?
  • Can you tell them without putting pressure on them to reciprocate?
  • Are you ready to deal with your emotions if they don’t feel the same way (without expecting them to help you through it)?
  • Are you ready to deal with the consequences if they do love you back? (This can be almost as complicated as being rejected)

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, you’re probably ok to tell them. If not, think carefully about whether it is a good idea.

3. If you are having an argument or they are angry

Again, movies give us entirely the wrong message. We regularly see someone declaring their love for another character during an argument, followed by them swooning into a passionate embrace. In reality, telling someone that you love them during conflict can be a very bad idea.

Declaring your love for someone when they are angry comes across as selfish. At best, you’re not considering whether they are in the right frame of mind to hear it. At worst, you look like you are trying to manipulate them into not being angry with you anymore.

4. If it’s not true

If you’re reading this, you probably have someone you’re in love with, but it’s still important to remember you shouldn’t tell someone you love them if it’s not true.

This can be difficult if they’ve just said it to you. You might feel obliged to say it back. If someone tells you they love you and you’re not sure whether you do (or if you’re sure you don’t), be kind without reciprocating.

If the problem is you don’t feel that way yet, you can say, “Thank you. I adore you. I’m not sure if it’s love yet, and I don’t want to say it unless I’m 100% sure, but you’re incredibly special and I love having you in my life.”

If you’re not interested in them that way, you could say, “You’re hugely important to me as a friend, but I just don’t have those kinds of feelings for you. I appreciate you telling me, though. That must have taken a lot of courage. Thank you for being so honest.”

5. If you’re aiming for a big gesture

Telling someone you love them, especially the first time, is personal. If you’re thinking about how to make it ‘special’ or how to make it a big gesture, try taking a step back.

Making a big gesture around “I love you” can make the other person doubt you mean it. If you save it for Valentine’s Day or their birthday, for example, they might think you’re only saying it because it’s expected that day.

Making a big gesture can also put the other person under pressure. Sending your crush flowers at work with a note saying you love them might seem romantic but can be awkward.

Big gestures are often a way of hiding insecurity. We subconsciously know the other person might feel awkward rejecting us after a gesture, so it reduces our feelings of vulnerability. Even if we don’t mean to (and we usually don’t), it is manipulative.

Instead, try to embrace the vulnerability of telling someone privately and sincerely.

6. You need them to say it back

Telling someone you love them is about you communicating your feelings, not about hearing it back. You can tell someone you love them without pressuring them to reciprocate, but it’s important you’re happy for them not to say it back before you utter the words.

7. During or straight after sex

This only applies to the first time you tell someone you love them. Once you’re saying it regularly, it can be lovely to hear during a post-coital cuddle. For the first time, though, avoid periods of sexual intimacy.

If you tell someone you love them for the first time during or immediately after sex, it’s easy for them to assume you don’t really mean it. Both of you are full of feel-good hormones, you’re feeling close and intimate, and everything’s pretty intense. Studies show we can say lots of things we would normally keep private after sex.[5] Save your first “I love you” for a calmer and more considered situation.

Common questions

How can I secretly tell someone I love them over text?

Saying “I love you” over text can be very intense, so consider telling them in subtle ways first. Start out with other terms of affection, such as “adore” or using terms of endearment. Save “I love you” for when you’re already talking and they’re in a good mood.

Show references +

Natalie Watkins writes about socializing for SocialSelf. She holds a B.A. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, an M.S.c. in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience from the University of London, and is currently in her final year of an MSc in Integrative Counselling at the University of Northampton.

Go to Comments (1)

1 Comment

  1. I have read all of the above and understand the complexity of human nature and the range of consequences, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that is the key. I find myself in this very situation, and of all the methods of getting that first message of your feelings across, one you haven’t mentioned, a method I believe more powerful and convincing, is through saying it in verse. For a female recipient, I believe it has more unfettered acceptance because the words are relatable to her memory of events between you both. In my case I have written 5 verses, but it’s delivery timing that is my obstacle.


Leave a Comment