Does It Really Matter Who Says 'I Love You' First?
Love & Relationships

Does It Really Matter Who Says 'I Love You' First?

When you’ve been working in the field of relationships for as long as I have, there are certain questions that are bound to come up on a semi-regular basis. When it comes to the world of dating, one of them is women asking me if they should wait for a man to say “I love you” before they decide to do it. It’s kind of wild to see how this sends some ladies into mid-hysterics as they think of all of the hypothetical pros and cons that come with them “making the first move” in this fashion.

Me? At this stage and season in my life, I just don’t think that loving someone should be so complicated because, contrary to popular belief in this crazy ass culture of ours, love isn’t complicated. People can be…love isn’t.

And so, while I could give a very simple “yes” or “no” answer to this particular dilemma (which really isn’t all that much of one) so that you can see where I’m coming from in my ultimate conclusion, I want to break down the “who should say 'I love you' first?” scruple by presenting a few different points first. Ready?

Who Says "I Love You" First?

Love and Ego Are Not Friends. Let Alone Lovers.


Being controlling (which includes always wanting to control a particular outcome). Believing that you are always right. Not willing to let down your guard. Being hypercritical. Choosing to not see things from another person’s perspective. Guess what all of these things have in common? They are also connected to a person who has a serious ego problem.

The problem with that is ego and love don’t get along very well. That’s because, when you love someone, it’s about putting down your walls, being flexible, and 1000 percent wanting to extend as much empathy as possible — and that’s just the very tip of the love iceberg.

So, to be out here refusing to express yourself to someone you truly care about simply because you want to “win” by saying that he expressed himself to you first? Doesn’t that sound egomaniacal just to read and run that back in your mind? Imagine if he did that to you? Wouldn’t it feel like some low-key game that he was trying to play? Who wants love to be a game?

And that brings me to my next point, to be honest.

Game-Playing Is Never the Right Move


Author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” I like the entire quote, yet what stands out to me, as it relates to what we’re tackling today, is not idealizing someone, not playing games, and making sure that you are being a genuine individual. Genuine people are authentic. They are what a lot of us refer to as being a “real one.” Let’s keep building.

There’s a husband I know who says that something that he tells his wife, whenever she says something that he knows is virtually unattainable, is, “You should probably lower your expectations” — crazy as it might sound, he says that it works every time. One example he gave is that she was watching The Bachelor, and she came into the bedroom afterward and asked him, “Why don’t we go on dates like that?” and he immediately was like, “Are you serious? A fake reality show with a high budget? Please lower your expectations.” For her, it was a quick reality check. It’s also a great example of idealizing something that is pretty unrealistic — if not flat-out ridiculous.

Another problem with idealizing is it can lead to playing games. You’ve decided in your mind how something should go, and so you “script the person in” without their knowledge or consent and then have the nerve to be mad when things don’t play out the way you want them to. And then you try to play victim, gaslight, or blame someone on top of it all. Yeah, that’s peak game-playing. It’s also why a lot of people end up sabotaging their relationship, even before it gets off of the ground or before it goes where they want it to.

Thinking that a man should say “I love you first” because “that’s the man’s job”? Who came up with that? And how are so many women on that anyway in the day and age when they claim that a lot of gender roles are antiquated or obsolete (for the record, no, I’m not one of them)? Which team are you on? And if y’all church folks are gonna come with “A man should love the woman more anyway,” if you’re coming from Ephesians 5:33, where it says that a husband is to love his wife, remember that a wife is also to respect her husband (eh hem). Also, that doesn’t mean that a husband is supposed to love more so much as he is to remember that love is how a woman feels loved — just like how a man feels loved by being respected (a lot of women miss that).

Bottom line here, being caught up in not telling a man that you love him first because you think that if he says it first means that he means it more — yes, you’re playing games, and two, that’s not automatically the case. And besides, why should you want to ration or even parse true love with another person? Eww. I mean, “eww” in the biggest way possible, too.

Eve Was Brought to Adam. Here’s What I Mean.


It’s hard for me to talk about love, healthy holistic love, without bringing up Scripture because some of my favorite love stories are in the Bible. Even if I wasn’t a disciple of it (John 8:31-32), I would still enjoy reading it. And so, since perfection is only recorded in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1-2), I like Adam and the Woman’s (Eve’s name prior to sin — Genesis 2:23 & 3:20) journey. For the sake of time and space, I won’t put all of Genesis 2:18-25 here. I will share a particular verse (verse 22), though: “Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.”

Adam was not a hunter. He was a gardener.

The Woman was not prey. She was a blessing.

Adam didn’t pursue his wife. God brought her to him.

The Woman’s job was to let God do that. Adam’s job was to acknowledge God once he did.

Okay, if you get rid of all of that “a man has to chase me down” nonsense, why wouldn’t it be okay to tell a man that you love him? If you know that God wrote your love story and that he brought you to the man whom you are supposed to spend the rest of your life with, why not praise God by declaring that you love your future provider and protector? Or…is it that you’re unsure? And if that’s the case, the issue isn’t really about who should say anything first…more like, you should ponder if you need to be involved with ole’ boy at all (hmm…).

In the Wise Words of the Group Brownstone: “If You Love Me, Say It”

Y’all remember the R&B group Brownstone from back in the day? Actually, while I was in the process of writing this, that’s the song that immediately came to my mind because they’re right: If you love someone, why wouldn’t you say it? Why should it be so hard to say regardless of if he’s said it first or not?

One time, while reading an article on Oprah’s site about the topic of I love you, author Robert Holden shared that when you tell someone that you love them, what you’re essentially declaring is:

“I see you.”

“I accept you.”

“I thank you.”

“I am here for you.”

In that last part, he also stated this:

“Each time you say ‘I love you,’ you are really saying ‘I am here for you.’ ‘Being here’ means being fully present in the relationship—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Saying 'I love you' means 'I am committed to you' and 'I am committed to us.' You are telling that person you are in this relationship. You are not waiting for the relationship to sparkle or to improve before you commit to it. You are not playing it safe. You are not wearing a mask. You are not just trying to get something. You are really here, and this relationship really matters to you.”

He's right. And this can be quite revealing as to why you think a man should say “I love you” before you do. Perhaps you are playing it safe. Maybe you are wearing a bit of a mask. Maybe “I love you” from him is more of a goal than it really is about the two of you growing and evolving together. And you know what? All of those things are relational red flags.

And what if you’re one of those people who thinks that a man saying “I love you” first is the equivalent of him proposing marriage? First, I would say that’s a bit over the top, and secondly, I would say that you could end up waiting for a while, and that could cause you to experience some unnecessary anxiety.

My final point on all of this will hopefully explain why I say that is the case.

What Exactly Are You Waiting For?


I’m thinking that some of y’all will remember the sitcomGirlfriends fondly. Imma tell y’all what — the older I get and reflect back on that show and its spin-off, The Game, the more it makes sense to me that Joan Clayton and Melanie Barnett-Davis were cousins. Both of them were pretty neurotic if you ask me. All of that drama that they created in their heads when it came to matters of the heart…how were they not exhausted all of the time? SMDH.

Anyway, I’m closing out here because one of Joan’s more memorable relationships was with Sean. Nevermind the fact that he eventually broke up with her because (eh hem) “she was just too much work,” back in the happier times, she was doing all kinds of mess, like saying “olive juice,” hoping that it would make him say, “I love you too” so that, technically, she didn’t say it first — he did.

Now read that back and look at how silly all of that is. And besides, the way it played out is he came and used the bathroom while she was in there, she asked him not to, and he said, “When two people love each other, they should be able to do anything together.” And that’s when she realized that he had been loving her for a while — he was just more focused on actions than words.

Personally, I don’t see a better way to round this all out. If you feel loved — I mean, really and truly loved — by your partner, why not say “I love you”? Because I promise that there are a lot of people out here saying the words without a lot of actions to back it up. For the record, if you happen to be a “words of affirmation person” (like I am), I do get how all of this plays differently for you; still, leading by example can go a long way.

Y’all, after all of this, what I really want to say is life is too short, and time is too precious to be so trivial. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who says “I love you” first. Again, what matters is if you feel loved, consistently so. And if that’s the case, why not praise your partner for that by verbally saying “I love you” to them? If that means you say it before he does, so be it.

The love is there. And that’s all that really matters. Standing firm on that, too.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image by Adam and Kev/Getty Images




This article is in partnership with SheaMoisture

Skylar Marshai is known for her extravagant style, and her hair is no exception. But now, she’s giving her hair a break and focusing on hair care with SheaMoisture’s Bond Repair Collection. “I feel like my hair has always been an extension of my storytelling because I know it's so innately linked to my self-expression that I've been thinking a lot about how my love for crafting my hair into these different forms and shapes has honestly never given it a chance to just be,” Skylar explains.


Bringing a new life into the world is one of the most profound experiences a parent-to-be can have. Amid the excitement, anticipation, and anxiety, having the right support can make all the difference. Outside of your partner, parents, and friends, you might be curious about what a reliable, unbiased source of care could look like for your birthing process, and that’s where a doula comes in.