1. "The stars were...I don't know, they were there. I don't fucking remember the sky; I was staring at her."
"I was standing with her on the third story of a fire escape outside of a dormitory apartment we had gone over to that night. We had just stepped out for some air, and we were looking out on all these people who were running around and dancing beneath us on the quad. The stars were...I don't know, they were there. I don't fucking remember the sky; I was staring at her. It started to rain, and she said, "Want to get out of here?" right as I said, "I'm in love with you." And then she laughed and said, "Oh, I've been in love with you for a long time."
2. "It was probably not time and he politely ignored it."
"I was having a 'drug experience' and I shouted it to my boyfriend on Facetime about a month into our relationship. It was probably not time and he politely ignored it. But several weeks later I said it again and he said that he knew of course, and that we don't always have to shout everything. That more or less remains the theme of our relationship."
3. "That's the only person I've ever said it to."
"I fainted in college and when I was going to the hospital, I told a close friend that I was in love with them. 'Im not into you like that,' he told me and then told someone else they should probably go with me to the hospital. That's the only person I've ever said it to."
4. "I don't really know why, but I just blurted out, 'I love you'...but in Russian."
"My first 'I love you' was to my first boyfriend in my freshman year of college. We had been dating for a week and we were sort of snuggling in a movie theater. I don't really know why, but I just blurted out, 'I love you'...but in Russian. I think I wanted to downplay the moment, and even though he didn't speak a word of the language, he looked at me and said, 'I think I know what you just said.' A few days later, he told me he loved me too. A part of me definitely thought we said those things too quickly but in all honesty, the feelings we shared were very genuine and as crazy as it was, it felt strangely normal.
5. "When our relationship changed from friendship to romance it was like flipping a switch — you couldn't say those three little words anymore unless you meant it like that."
"When I finally told her I loved her it was in response to her saying it first and I had already been in love with her for months — OK, longer. We had been best friends before dating, so as many lady BFFs do, we said, 'I love you' all the time. When our relationship changed from friendship to romance it was like flipping a switch — you couldn't say those three little words anymore unless you meant it like that.
After we had been officially dating for a month or so we were lying in bed doing that weird couple thing where you just stare at each other and cuddle — obviously still in the honeymoon phase of I can't believe this person feels the same way about me. She just said it, out of the blue, and I had a physical reaction in my chest I've never experienced before. Obviously hearing those words meant so much, but why did it make my chest hurt? I took a minute and then said it back, as if I wanted to say it after a few beats of silence so it wasn't just in response to her saying it.
A year later we broke up and didn't speak for a few months. Then we tried very slowly to become friends again. These days we still say 'I love you' but it's back to that mode of friendship, sprinkled with a slightly deeper meaning due to our past. No more chest pain."
6. "It oddly felt the same as asking the person out."
"It was when the weekend was ending and he had to go back to his house, which was an hour away. It oddly felt the same as asking the person out, because I'm the kind of insecure person that no matter how great the situation is, it's hard for me to forget about that small chance they might not return the feeling — even though you shouldn't expect them to say it back. But he said it back...after commenting that it was the first time I said it."
7. "He said that he felt the same way, but he wouldn’t say the words."
"This guy and I were an on-again-off-again, openly-secretly, together-but-not thing all through college. We'd kissed and slept together a couple of times, but it was either after he fought with me, fought with his actual boyfriend of four years, or a bottle of whiskey. Before he left to study abroad in Europe, I told him I loved him. When he asked what that meant, I said that I cared about him and that he was a big part of my life. He said that he felt the same way, but he wouldn't say the words. It's a scary sentence, I don't blame him — but I was glad I took the plunge and got hurt, rather than having not jumped at all."
8. "What is the official response to an 'I love you' bear?"
"When I was very young and very smart, I fell madly in love with a boy in Brazil. We ended up having a very long story together, but I don't think I was ever as keyed up or freaked out as when I blurted out my first "I love you" to him.
I was about to leave Brazil for an indefinite amount of time, after spending six weeks traveling up the coast of Brazil with him, watching sunrises in hammocks and the like. I mean, there was no way it wasn't obvious that I was in love with him, but we'd never said it aloud.
Before we got in the car to drive to the airport, he gave me a stuffed bear holding a heart that said eu te amo — I love you, in Portuguese. It seemed simple enough, but in my head as we were driving to the airport I wasn't sure what it meant. What is the official response to an 'I love you' bear? Is a bear saying it, or is it a mass-produced cop-out supporting the evil corporate plans of Hallmark? I sat there in the São Paulo traffic, sweating and worrying.
As my anxiety about whether or not to say 'I love you' back to the bear/boy built up, I decided I'd do it. 'I love you,' I said, quietly, in a voice that was clenched and quiet with anxiety just as he casually gestured at the radio and asked me, 'What's the name of this song again?'
'Wait, what did you say?' he said, as I blurted out the name of the song, hoping he hadn't heard what I'd said. Decades lurched forward in the silence that followed. I mashed my fingernails into the teddy bear's sweet little face, trying to find a way to suck the 'I love you' back in.
'I love you, too,' he said, and he grabbed my hand. We cried a lot as I walked into the international departures gate for the first time of the many that would make up our multi-year, long-distance love.
My mom was clearing out my childhood bedroom recently and came upon that bear, with its cheap, lopsided face and scratchy synthetic heart. The boy is long gone now, married and happy with his two daughters. I'm married and happy on a different continent with my two cats. But I kept the bear. Because in all its synthetic silliness, it'll always represent the first terrifying moments of a very real love."
9. "At the end of our conversation he said, 'I love you' super quick and then the guys started giggling."
"I had always pictured my first 'I love you' to be super romantic and have sparklers go off simultaneously like every movie you watch as a little kid. My first long-term boyfriend in high school was talking to me on the phone one night a couple months into our relationship, and I could hear his two best guy friends laughing in the background. At the end of our conversation he said, 'I love you' super quick and then the guys started giggling. I sat there for a second not knowing if it was a joke or not and then I SUPER AWKWARDLY and quickly mumbled it back. To make things more cringeworthy there was five LONG seconds of silence, and he said it one more time and hung up. Because we were 15 and super awkward, it took us a while to say it again in real life."
10. "We were having a great time together and both feeling what we thought was the magic of being in love (but what might have really been about five cocktails a piece), and we gazed at each other across the scummy toilet..."
"The first time I said 'I love you' to my most recent girlfriend, I didn't really say it. Not exactly when I wanted to, anyway. She and I had been dating seriously for about a month. One night, when we were out seeing a show together, we found ourselves drunk in the same bathroom stall at a dive-y venue in Seattle. We were having a great time together and both feeling what we thought was the magic of being in love (but what might have really been about five cocktails a piece), and we gazed at each other across the scummy toilet and I could tell we both wanted to say 'I love you.'
My girlfriend at the time could tell, too, so she blurted out, 'LET'S NOT SAY IT! Not drunk at a dive bar in a dirty bathroom stall!' Phew! She saved the moment. We both cracked up, kissed, and said 'I love you' for the first time later that night in a gloriously clean and comfy bed."
11. "He agreed to this just as happily as he had agreed to loving me."
"The first time I told someone I loved them was actually an accident. I was in eighth grade and was dating my first-ever boyfriend, who was in tenth grade. Needless to say, it was a big scandal at my middle school, and that's probably what I liked about it, because god knows I didn't like him. He wasn't a bad person, he just wasn't exactly my type — meaning he wore a necklace with a cross on it, listened to a lot of country music, and had a gun that he kept under his bed. One night, on the phone, when we were hanging up, I blurted out, 'I love you.' I hadn't meant to say it — I was just used to saying it to my friends — but after a second of silence, he said it back, upbeat and happy. From that moment on, we were stuck in weeks of telling each other we loved each other, even though we actually saw each other maybe twice.
After a month had passed, I finally called him and broke up with him. When he asked why, I told him we didn't have much in common. He agreed to this just as happily as he had agreed to loving me.
If you're wondering, I reconnected with him several years later, when I was bored during one summer while he was back from college. He picked me up one night in his red sports car, drove me to his mom's house, and proceeded to hump my leg for an hour until his mom came back from dinner. I remember his cross necklace repeatedly hitting me in the face while he nibbled on my ear in a way I'm sure he thought was sexy. My first love, the one that got away."
12. "My sister was driving and my mom was in the front."
"The first time I said it we were in the car. Not driving, but in the backseat. My sister was driving and my mom was in the front. It was that quiet, cozy time in the afternoon, and we were snuggled up. Some perfect song was playing and he said it first, really quiet and really close, so that only I could hear. I didn't say anything for a few minutes, it was nice to just soak up that moment. Then I said it back and we sat in silence until the car made its way home."
13. "One day, I decided to write him a card. But not just any card."
"When I was 12, I liked a boy in my French class. He was the class clown, into skateboarding and music, and had the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. A lot of girls had crushes on him, and while I wasn't really cute or well-dressed or even remotely cool, I was influenced enough by rom-coms to believe that the sincerity of my emotions would help us overcome our different social classes and the disparity between our appearances.
One day, I decided to write him a card. But not just any card. On hot pink computer paper, I wrote 'I love you' on a pop-up heart with 'hints' about who his admirer could be ('the brown-haired girl in your French class' — he'll NEVER guess!). I gave it to a girl to give to him during their math class (of which I was not a part), but, out of sheer dimwittedness or secret desire to ruin me (still never figured out which), she gave it to him in the MIDDLE OF THE LUNCH ROOM. Everyone turned to me and and stared in complete bewilderment. His faced flushed to a deep red — enough embarrassment to split between the two of us. It was never acknowledged again.
In retrospect, while every part of me would like to take this mortifying experience back, I do have to say that, for a middle schooler, he reacted pretty well — he never mocked me for my emotions or bullied me for my clearly silly gesture and deluded self-confidence. In band practice, he remained perfectly polite and let me live this down with a teeny shred of dignity. I of course didn't really love him or even know him, but he can keep my first 'I love you.' He earned it."
14. "Acting like we were much cooler than we were, we climbed in and I opened up a beer. It was the afternoon, mind you; impeccable life choices."
"I was 15, and my high school boyfriend and I were headed to the park to meet up with some old friends of his. When we arrived, they were drinking out of the back of a pickup. Acting like we were much cooler than we were, we climbed in and I opened up a beer. It was the afternoon, mind you; impeccable life choices. Of course within minutes the very bored local police were there. My memory says there were flashing red and blue lights and snarling German shepherds, but in actuality it might have been one stern cop staring me down. Regardless, I was petrified. I was clinging to my boyfriend, envisioning my future as a juvenile delinquent and years under lockdown, and I whispered, 'I love you' into his ear and he whispered back, 'I love you too.' Then they swept me away into handcuffs.
No, that's not how it went. After we declared our teenage love, our parents just picked us up and he was probably grounded. It was actually very romantic, and he really was my first love."