Is Saying “I Love You” Necessary in a Relationship?

By: Ruisi Lui

For many kids growing up in strict households, saying “I love you” was never commonplace. For me, growing up in an Asian household, I haven’t even seen my parents kiss, hug, or show any signs of intimacy akin to what I saw with my white friends’ parents. Things were not very cuddly and swoon-worthy in my household; it was more about getting things done. I was fine with that, and my parents expressed their love for me in every non-verbal way possible, such as driving me to places and financially supporting my education. I am grateful, since many people don’t have even that. 

In elementary school, whenever I went to my white friends’ homes I thought their parents were acting because they expressed love just like couples in movies did. Their parents actually kissed each other when they left the door. 

Personally, even the thought of holding hands in public made me feel awkward, like I’m putting on a scene for the public. 

However, I was challenged on the concept of love when I entered my first high school relationship - it was only three months and stereotypical in every way. We moved fast, and I mean, very fast - physically at least. I soon started saying I liked him a lot. On FaceTime we would occasionally say “I love you - JK no feelings,” as if those three words would somehow crystallize our casual relationship into an informal marriage of the soul. We eventually said a few “I love yous” before he became disinterested and broke it off. 

From that experience, my heart was shattered. I learned that it didn’t matter if he said he loved me or not since the end result would have been the same. If he ever felt love, it was temporary; saying or withholding made no difference. It was a fragile relationship. 

The following year, I started seeing an exchange student from Mexico, who would only stay in Canada temporarily before going back. We hung out almost daily and went on walks around the city. I knew that he would leave eventually so I tried to keep my feelings on a leash. A few weeks in, he asked me if I loved him. I immediately reversed the question and asked me if he loved me. He said with an ever-comforting whisper, “You already know the answer.” 

However, at the airport a few months later, he told me the answer was no, that he didn’t love me, and never did. Hopelessly empty, I no longer understood love. How can you tell when love is real? And if it’s real, how will you know if it will last? Questions overfilled my mind in the following months. 

‘How deranged,’ I thought. ‘How cruel of three words! How terribly forbidden and chastised they are, and at the same time, how meaningless.’

But according to PsychologyToday, there is a science to love. Many people subconsciously follow a series of steps to get there, though they may not be necessarily accurate for everyone:

  1. Go on at least five dates.

  2. Say it only after two months.

  3. Don't wait too long.

  4. Wait until you're absolutely bursting.

  5. Do not do it before, after, or during sex.

  6. Don't say it when you're very emotional and cannot think rationally.

  7. Don't say it when you want to reward your partner for something.

  8. Never say it first, and don't echo it back until you've spent some extended time together.

PsychologyToday says love is akin to the iconic musical, Fiddler on the Roof: 

“When Tevye, in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ asks Golde, his wife of 25 years, whether she loves him, she is surprised at the question and wonders whether he is upset or tired. ‘Go inside, go lie down! Maybe it’s indigestion,’ she says. When Tevye insists on being answered, Golde says: ‘For 25 years, I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow. After 25 years, why talk about love right now?’ And when he continues to insist upon receiving an explicit answer, she finally says: ‘I suppose I love you.’” 

This type of tough love, down-to-earth, practical, and blunt has its perks. Actions without words will always be more real than only words with no actions. However, this does not diminish the power of freely expressing love. Professing one’s love frequently with the right person should not diminish the meaning, but rather be used as a routine to practice gratitude. 

In university, I found a friend who developed into a close lover. We maintain communication daily, and schedule nightly calls dedicated to just feeling each other's presence. There is a sense of responsibility and consistency; an endless flow of support and reaffirmations. Saying “I love you” is no longer a cringe-worthy concept but it is spoken freely without any emotional guard.

Finally, I understood. This previously alienating phrase has become a simple mantra to remember the passion in our relationship. Even when my partner was displeased with me or vice versa, we still remind each other that we love the other after a healthy argument. We try our best to say it every morning and every night, like a ritual. This sort of practice serves its purpose in a different way than the movies: it’s a type of love based on constant, rational choice, rather than spontaneous short-lasting passion. Of course, it is said playfully as well. 

Once it’s said, it will get easier to belt it out from the heart. But why is it so hard to start saying it in the first place? 

PsychologyToday writes there are “different paces at which love develops and the different personal tendency to reveal one's heart.” It is entirely possible to be in love without saying it, but why is it so? Humans are so keen on declaring their moods, like “I’m so happy,” or “I’m so hungry,” or even “I’m so tired,” but rarely is it expressed, “I’m so in love with you.”

The act of love seems to be much easier than declaring it. On the other hand, to declare “I love you” after a long period of time requires rational thinking and the emotional maturity to be vulnerable. 

Is it necessary to say “I love you?” Maybe it’s not physically necessary, but what could you lose from a little bit of self-honesty and confession? 

Needless to say, it’s scary. It brings love to bigger stakes and legitimates the relationship. 

To practice love is to prove it to your partner, but to declare love, is to prove it to yourself.