Last Tuesday at The Porch we answered a bunch of dating questions (which you can watch or listen to here). We’ve touched on a lot of the questions in previous blog posts, but there’s at least one we haven’t written about:
When Should You Say “I Love You”?
The really short answer would be “not before it’s true.” But how do you know if it’s true?
When I first started to date (which was long before I should have), I remember wondering whether I was “in love” with a particular girl. I knew I liked her, but did I love her? Were my feelings strong enough that they crossed the line into the realm of love? Where was this imaginary line, anyway?
My problem was that I was defining love as a feeling. Though that is one definition of the word, it’s not a good thing to base a relationship on. Why? Because feelings change. I could easily feel “in love” with one girl one week, dislike her the next, and then feel “in love” with a completely different girl a few weeks after that. Now I have a hard time even remembering all their names. So saying “I love you” based on how I feel in the moment doesn’t really mean much, and doesn’t seem very honest in hindsight.
The Bible talks more about love as an action, not a feeling. For example, we’re given commands to love (Mark 12:30-31; John 13:34; Ephesians 5:25). You can’t command someone to feel a certain way; you can only command them to do something.
1 Corinthians describes love this way:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
All of those are things you do, not things you feel. And that’s why the next verse says that “Love never fails.” Feelings would sometimes fail; but since love is an action, you can always love someone regardless of how you might feel at the moment.
Actions Speak Louder
Since love is an action, you can (and should) show that you love someone before you say it.
Some people say the words “I love you” in order to build trust and try to get something out of the person they are dating (with that “something” usually being sex). True love does the opposite. It gives without trying to get anything in return.
Before saying “I love you,” demonstrate that you love them by:
Sacrificing your own desires and pursuing purity in dating.
Intentionally and clearly moving towards marriage.
Not playing games.
If anyone says “I love you” but their actions don’t match up with the above, then they’re lying (or using the wrong definition of “love”). As Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Or, as Ephesians 5 says:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people…Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
Or, as Todd has said, if a man says “I love you,” but his hand is moving towards anything other than a ring box, don’t trust him!
So, don’t say “I love you” before both of you can be sure it’s true. And you can be sure based on their consistent actions over a period of time. Show it before you say it.
Just for reference, here are some answers to other dating questions we’ve covered:
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)