It’s not just a matter of semantics.
There’s a big difference between understanding how to say “I’m in love with you” and saying “I love you.”
You could say “I love you” to absolutely anyone. You can say it to your brother, your best friend, and your dog. Loving someone is a great thing, but it is also not purely romantic like saying “I’m in love with you” is.
When you say “I love you” to your partner, you’re letting them know you care about them a great deal, but it doesn’t really convey the intensity of what being in love is all about. This is why saying “I’m in love with you” is much harder than saying “I love you.”
1. It’s you at your most vulnerable.
Because these two phrases are so different, they have different effects on both you and your partner. If you tell your significant other that you’re in love, it puts you in a much more vulnerable position than you were before. Whereas you could tell 20 people that you love them, you’re telling your partner that they are your one and only.
You’re putting more of yourself on the line. That’s also why when a person is on the receiving end of “I’m in love with you,” it feels different and more powerful.
2. You give the other person more power over your emotions.
Being in love with someone stirs certain feelings within you. It’s the cliché (but very real) sensation of butterflies. It’s the romantic connection. It’s the complete opening of your heart.
Naturally, letting someone know that they have such incredible access to you and your emotions gives them more power over you. Once you say it, you both know that. That’s part of what makes it so hard to say in the first place, especially if you pride yourself on being an independent person.
3. You leave yourself open to heartbreak.
Heartbreak can happen if a beloved friendship comes to a close. It can especially happen when someone close to you dies. But anyone who has been heartbroken by a lover knows that that particular brand of incredible pain can tear you apart, sometimes for years.
When you say that you’re in love with someone, you leave yourself open to this possibility. Knowing that, it can be extremely scary to utter those words. Even if you know you’re in love, saying it out loud makes it even more real and even more frightening. You’re taking a very high stakes gamble here.
4. You have to trust.
Because you put yourself in the most vulnerable position when you know how to say “I’m in love with you” and you tell someone, it leaves you no choice but to trust them. For many people, learning to trust is a huge issue because they’ve been hurt or betrayed in the past. When you give your heart to a person, it’s like taking a leap off a ledge and hoping there’s a giant net at the bottom.
5. You have to confront your fears.
If you’ve been in love before, saying you’re in love with a new person can no doubt bring up old feelings. Whenever someone you love hurts you, it leaves you with a kind of trauma that you will never forget. When a new person comes along, those experiences are right in the forefront of your mind, warning you to be cautious.
You can keep yourself somewhat reserved while dating, but when you decide to say “I’m in love with you,” you throw caution to the wind. It forces you to confront those bad feelings from your past, all the while hoping that this time things will be different.
6. You completely dedicate yourself to your partner.
When you say you’re in love with someone, you’ve put all your chips on the table. You’ve shown them your hand and you have to hope for the best. You show the person (and are forced to acknowledge yourself) that you are completely devoted to them. There is no taking that back.
A man named Benedict Smith once wrote, “I asked her if she believed in love, and she smiled and said it was her most elaborate method of self-harm.” Being in love is both scary and wonderful, terrible and rewarding. But no matter how terrifying it can be and no matter how much you might get hurt, when you find the right person, “I’m in love with you” is worth saying.
You can’t guard yourself forever, and if you do, you close yourself off to an entire world. It may be one of the hardest things you’ll do, but that’s what makes it so meaningful.