Research & Experts Say…At the start of a new relationship, it’s common to feel that butterflies-in-your-stomach, stars-in-your-eyes rush of emotions. But when exactly does the big “L” word come into play? When do things go from infatuation to really being in love? Although every individual’s pacing will inevitably be unique to them and the particular relationship they’re in, here’s what research and experts say about how long it takes to fall in love on average.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology surveying small groups of undergraduate students found similar results. On average:
- Men think about confessing love 97 days (a little over three months) into a new relationship.
- Women think about confessing love 149 days (about five months) into a new relationship.
- Men think it becomes acceptable to confess love starting one month into a relationship.
- Women think it becomes acceptable to confess love starting six months into a relationship.
That said, there’s no definitive amount of time it takes to fall in love that applies to everyone. Some people wait much longer to say, “I love you,” whereas other people swear they’ve experienced love at first sight. “Like most things, it does depend on the person and the circumstances,” licensed couples’ therapist Lexx Brown -James, Ph.D., LMFT, tells mbg.
Case in point: An 2018 survey of 1,000 British men and women found that while more than half of them take over three months to say, “I love you,” 32% of women and 29% of men say it in one to three months—and 10% of women and 14% of men say it in just one to four weeks.
There’s some science that backs up the concept: Some research suggests people decide within seconds whether they’re romantically interested in someone, and neurologically speaking, it takes only one-fifth of a second for the neurochemical reaction associated with feelings of love to fire off.
But other research discounts the theory. A 2017 study in the Personal Relationships journal orchestrated a bunch of first encounters between single strangers, and the researchers found feelings of instant attraction can indeed happen in a first encounter. Some people described these feelings as “love at first sight“—however, these people didn’t report feelings of intimacy, passion, and commitment as part of their experience. The main predictor of a “love at first sight” experience was finding the other person physically attractive.
In other words, romantic love usually cannot happen at first sight, psychologist and sex therapist Lauren Fogel Mersy, PsyD, explains to mbg. “There can be a strong attraction at first sight, but romantic love for someone requires knowing who they are, the fullness of their character.”
- Lust: You feel a strong physical and sexual attraction.
- Attraction: You feel overwhelmingly drawn to the person, thinking about them constantly, wanting to be around them all the time, and feeling a mix of electricity and nervousness when you’re together.
- Attachment: You feel securely connected and close to your partner, with feelings of deep affection, trust, and contentedness.
- You feel attached and connected to this person.
- There’s way more than physical attraction going on—there’s an emotional attachment.
- You don’t really have those jittery butterfly feelings anymore. Instead, you feel a warm, steady contentment when you’re with this person.
- You’re very attentive to their needs and try to tend to them, and it’s not because you want this person to like you. You just want them to be happy.
- You earnestly care about this person’s well-being—regardless of whether you stay together.
- You would go to great lengths to take care of this person and to avoid hurting them.
- You feel alive, full, and fully yourself when you’re with this person.
- The idea of learning more about this person’s inner world lights you up.
- You want to be a better version of yourself.
- You may be thinking meaningfully about a future or long-term commitment with this person.
- You’re not concerned about the risks of going deeper with this person.
- Saying you “like” them just doesn’t feel like enough.
Don’t put pressure on it.
You can’t really force someone to fall in love with you, and it’s important not to put pressure on the other person to get there before they’re ready. “I would steer away from trying to do things to move the process along because it can easily become inauthentic and unsustainable,” Brown-James says. “Not to mention it can feel like a betrayal when one person feels that love is owed to them as a reward for behavior.”
Consider trying the infamous 36 questions to fall in love, a research-based experiment that many couples say has helped them create feelings of intimacy. “What I really learned from the excitement around those questions and desire to have a person fall in love is that vulnerability is the key to building relationship connection,” Brown-James says. In other words, one piece of falling in love is being able to share really personal parts of yourself with the other person, to be truly open and vulnerable with one another.
Grow your emotional connection.
Having an emotional connection with someone means that you’re able to connect on a deeper level, beyond just having fun, physical attraction, or intellectual similarities. Being emotionally connected means you can rely on each other, feel seen by one another, and have shared feelings of romantic attachment. While you can’t make someone fall in love with you, you can find ways of deepening your connection as a couple.