Telling someone for the first time that you love them can be a blissfully romantic moment – but it’s also terrifying. What if the new light of your life replies: “oh… I didn’t think we were serious”? Or they’re so shocked that they cough beer into your face? Not so romantic.
If you’re itching to tell your new sweetheart that you L-word them, insure yourself against humiliation by following these seven rules.

1. Don’t let the L-word spoil your lust
Those first few weeks with a new lover are an ecstatic whirlwind of lust and goo-goo eyes. Please don’t spoil the fun by saying “I love you” to someone you barely know.
Even if you’re absolutely sure that they’re The One, keep those thoughts to yourself. Mentioning love, soulmates or “let’s move to France together and have dogs” at such an early stage destroys your mystique, and there’s no turning back once you’ve said it. Enjoy the party, and ration your self-disclosure.

2. Count to three (months)
Once you’ve been seeing each other for three months, the druggy high is wearing off and you can be pretty sure that it’s not just a fling.
If in doubt, wait five or even six months to say it. That may seem like a stretch, but it shows that you’ve really thought about it. Your lover will also know that you really mean it, because you know them very well – good bits and bad bits.
What’s more, saying “I love you” for the first time after five months takes your relationship to a new stage in a way that it could never do on your third date.

3. Read their signs
How do you strangle a fledgling relationship at birth? Say “I love you” to someone who doesn’t feel the same way – or who would have fallen for you if you hadn’t scared them away.
Learn to recognise the signs that they’ll respond in the way you want. Do they use “we” when they talk about the future? Do they show you off to their family? Do they take an interest in your friends? (By “take an interest” we mean “get to know”, not “attempt to get off with”.)
If they do, it’s likely that they think you’re the bee’s knees and will be delighted to hear “I love you”.
However if they’re invited to a wedding or a mate’s party and they forget to ask you along, keep schtum. Then look for a new lover.
You could always take the coward’s way out. If you’ve waited ages but you’re still scared to utter those words, say: “I think I may be falling for you,” and watch for the fear in their eyes. If they say “me too”, follow up with “I love you.” If they don’t say anything, and the blood starts to drain from their face, follow up with: “…but you know, I’m just not sure what I want.” And run for your life.

4. Do it face to face
Your first “I love you” is a big moment and should be accompanied by at least some chance of eye contact and face-nuzzling. After that, it’s fine to utter the L-word by phone, text or whatever.

5. Do it with your clothes on
Don’t say those words for the first time just after you’ve exchanged bodily fluids, or while you’re still exchanging them. You’re giddy and sexed-up and not exactly clear in the head.
Also, don’t believe someone who’s only ever said “I love you” when you’re having sex. It doesn’t mean “I love you,” it means “I love that I’m having sex with you”. No, that’s not the same thing.

6. Don’t drink and blurt
Don’t say your first “I love you” when your bloodstream is 30% vodka tonic. Booze is like lust: it makes you pie-eyed and daft, and you’re liable to feel and say things that don’t stand up to the cold scrutiny of the morning after. Leave the drunken “I love you”s to drunk men on stag nights.

7. Don’t ask if they love you back
How to make an awkward moment even more awkward: follow “I love you” with “Do you love me too?”
Simply asking the question shrinks your chance of getting a positive response, because it makes you sound insecure and needy. If your lover feels the same way about you, they will say so. If they don’t feel the same way about you, they will stay silent – or they’ll do a sharp intake of breath, which is a semi-verbal way of saying: “leave now, and let us never speak of this again.”