Right, gather round, children. I've got some tea to spill for those that are about to risk it all and make the carnal, classic mistake of whipping out the 'I love you' prematurely in a relationship. We've all been there, trust me. We learn from it, sure - but it's still hard to know whether your feelings are real or will stand the test of time.
Frankly, I'm not going to suggest that in a page or two I can universally state what does or does not constitute Love, capital L. I'm not Colin Firth, I don't have that sort of authority, sorry babes.
However, there are 5 simple tests that, as long as you have negotiated them with a degree of success, indicate that your emotions are well-founded. If you get 5/5, go for it!
So rev your engines, friends, and have your pen out to take notes, because I'm about to take you back to school...
1. You have had many arguments
Don't laugh at me, here - I'm serious. You need the constant ribbing or a bit of bickering here and there. If you aren't comfortable doing that or gently nudging each other's sore spots, then you're probably still in the honeymoon phase where it's sunshine and roses. But you might not actually know each other too well, or each other's boundaries. That isn't to say that you won't eventually get there. But maybe hold off big declarations just for now.
2. You have met the parents/and or visited their hometown
This is more about the nostalgic power of going back to the place where a person you care about grew up and began to form into what you know in the present. Besides, it's always a great opportunity to get extra points with the parents early on. Indeed, your partner will be feeling warm and toasty, and vulnerable after these visits. Nice and tenderised for the bomb that is ILY.
3. You trust each other and have nicknames that you only use with each other
These two aren't mutually exclusive, but they often follow each other. You will have whispered conversations by candlelight where you reveal things that actually mean a lot to you. Or vulnerabilities that genuinely plague you, and that means you can cross over into territory where other people probably haven't gone before. Treasure that. You will know it when you get there because that person will have become home to you.
4. You know they will always pick up your call
And they are the first person you want to tell your news to, good or bad, big or small. You can also rely on them to be there, and you are always prioritised, just as you prioritise them.
5. You communicate honestly and mean what you say
This is the real kicker. As long as you are honest with each other, and communicate when your needs aren't being met, or talk about the future and discuss how much you value each other, you're set. That's it. Knowing each other and acting in the best interests of that person. That's pretty much the crux of all that love is. Having your person.
Go and find them and tell them. They'll be waiting.