Can you really put a time limit on falling in love?
By Rebecca Jane Stokes — Last updated on Jul 15, 2023
Photo: Gorgev/ Shutterstock
When you first meet someone you like, a lot of feelings rise up inside of you.
At first, you know it’s infatuation because you barely know this person you’re crushing on! Could it all be a trick, something other than love?
But as you get to know them, you grow deeper feelings and you start to feel things like admiration, connection, friendship, and even awe on top of the physical attraction and desire you felt when you first met your crush — but is that love?
How long does it take to fall in love?
The average time it takes to fall in love varies greatly from person to person.
Because they are so personal and subjective, all emotions, including love, are difficult to measure in a scientific manner. For some people, falling in love takes days; for others, it takes years.
A 2010 fMRI imaging study found that it takes only one-fifth of a second for the brain to begin firing neurochemicals that cause us to feel sensations associated with love.
And famously, psychologist Arthur Aron claims to have developed a method in which he could cause two people to fall in love in the span of about one to three hours by having them ask each other a series of 36 questions while making eye contact.
Of course, that brings us back to the same question, as most of us know all too well that feeling those initial sparks and actually being in love are not the same thing.
According to biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, falling in love happens in three stages:
Lust: which increases testosterone and estrogen.
Attraction: This involves dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Attachment: which involves oxytocin and vasopressin.
The brain goes through many chemical changes when we experience attraction and love, and these play a big part in how and why we feel the way we do.
“High levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released during attraction,” explains Katherine Wu for Harvard University. “These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia – which means you actually can be so ‘in love’ that you can’t eat and can’t sleep.”
On the psychological level, a 2011 review of previous studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “saying and hearing ‘I love you’ has different meanings depending on who is doing the confessing and when the confession is being made.”
More specifically, they found that “men typically think about professing their love about 3 months into the relationship whereas women in the study started thinking about it closer to 5 months into the relationship.”
It’s pure speculation, but it could be that it takes women longer to connect deeply enough with someone to feel safe saying it, even if they already feel it. Women may also define being in love differently than men.
Asked for her thoughts on the matter, love and dating coach Ronnie Ann Ryan tells YourTango, “Falling in love is different for everyone and as individual as you are. Some people fall in love quickly like a crashing wave. Others put a toe in the water and come to love as if submerging themselves in the cold ocean inch by inch.”
She has even had clients who were resistant to falling in love, trying hard to keep themselves on the surface of relationships. Sometimes, no matter how hard they try, they end up in love.
Because the time it takes to fall in love is so individual and varied, it seemed like a good idea to talk to real people who’ve been there to learn how long it really takes to fall into romantic love.
I asked a group of men and women (who shall remain anonymous) to share their thoughts with me in order to help shed some light on this complicated question. It was fascinating to see what they had to say.
Here’s how long it takes to fall in love, according to 24 real men and women:
1. At least as long as it takes for you both to let your guard fully down
“You may think you’re in love after a few dates, but that’s just lust. For me, it takes a few months because I need to feel comfortable, to be able to see who a person really is, what they’re really like, to even know if the person I like is truly who they seem to be. Otherwise, you’re not really in love with them, you’re in love with the idea of them.”
2. A really long time
“Two years. Can you really know anything about someone before two years? You need to go through seasons in life: loss, euphoria, stress, etc. Otherwise, you don’t even really know them, let alone if you love them.”
3. It depends on the person
“I think it depends on the person. I think to really fall in love with someone you need the time to get to know them, and that’s faster with some people than others. I’ve had friends who turned into crushes who I later realized I loved, but for me, it took getting to know them to suddenly have this deep emotional reaction to even thinking about them. I don’t think I can put a time on it, but if I had to, three months…
“But I don’t think you are really in love until you’ve been with someone long enough to find out their faults and love them in spite of them. For me, it only took a couple of months. The hardest and quickest I’ve ever fallen.”
4. Your own maturity plays a role
“I’ve been In love once and I married him. I’m not a hopeless romantic who married her high school sweetheart; pretty much the exact opposite, a ridiculous pragmatist who never saw the point.
“Also, I have a hard time with feelings and vulnerability. I would say it took 25-year-old me seven months to allow myself permission to be in love and then another two to tell my partner.”
5. It’s not so simple to know the moment when it happens
“I feel like the two times I really fell hard for someone, we’d been hanging out/dating/hooking up for about a month. Then the prospect of a day/night without him was strangely disappointing. Then another month goes by — a day/night where we weren’t part of each other’s day actually made the day feel incomplete. So one month until I suspected I was in love… two months until I knew for sure.”
6. You just know
“It can be a very short time. Someone can come into your life and you just know.”
7. Becoming infatuated and falling in love take different amounts of time
“I think it takes time for true love. At least a few years. Infatuation can be immediate, though.”
8. It depends on a combination of factors
“Every relationship proceeds at a pace dictated as much by the pressures brought upon it from outside as it does on the desires of those involved.”
9. There are different types of love, and some happen before others
“I think falling into love can happen pretty quickly. I don’t think that it’s love that causes a long-term sustainable relationship, I think it’s compatibility, trust, loyalty, good communication, etc.
“When you’re in a relationship with someone for a long time, the amount of love you feel ebbs and flows because love is an emotion. What you do with that emotion is up to you!”
10. Sometimes you miss it happening
“It can be pretty quick, over the course of a conversation. You probably can’t know it until later. Or at least I never trust my gut.
“I try to make myself wait to jump into that, but sometimes it just hits me so fast and hard I can’t deny it and it’s a matter of not blurting it too early that I chase her away.”
“I guess it depends on what ‘fall in love with’ means.
“Be very strongly attracted? Moments. Become vulnerable to each other and develop trust and companionship that can last forever. Years, if ever.”
12. However long it takes to show the real you
“As long as it takes to share the ‘real’ you and receive the same courtesy in return. For me, it took a few months.”
13. A year, but only if you live in the same place
“A year, in the same town, and I am currently married to my long-distance relationship, so I’m not hating, but there’s something very different about knowing someone when they can’t show just their best self. When you see their worst self, you know if it’s love.”
14. More than six months at the very least
“About a year, because the first six months or so really are a sort of honeymoon phase, trite as the expression is. As time passes and your partner’s flaws become more apparent, an honest, observant person should be able to tell whether their doubts and misgivings are growing or becoming part of the fabric of what you love about them.”
15. It depends on what love means to you
“Depends on your definition of love. An instant to fall, but years to see someone completely enough to know if you really love them as they actually are. To me, the question is how long does it take to really and truly know another person? And of course, you can never be 100 percent sure you do fully know someone else because the universe is strange more than a little cruel.”
16. There are two different answers because falling in love and loving somebody are different
“I think falling in love and loving somebody are different. I could fall in love with someone in less than a week, maybe even a day. To love someone and know you are compatible for a potential future together takes longer.
“This varies based on the people and their dating circumstances, for example: Do they live together? Are they in a long-distance relationship? Are they still dating other people? So it’s hard to put any definitive number to that.
“In my own experience, living with someone for 6 months to a year should give you a better idea if the relationship can last. But love is changing often, so this is an extremely difficult thing to answer to an audience. It’s like the tide and ocean waves. You can truly feel in love one moment, and in the next, it could be fleeting.”
17. After you’ve lived together
“When you start living together. I think you need to live with them long enough to see them a) really angry b) really sad c) really ill and d) really into something you dislike and be okay with all of them. That may take different amounts of time, but I don’t think you can call it real love if you haven’t seen all of them and accepted them with anything less than compassion.
“Also, once you’ve seen a relationship therapist, there may be more room for love to grow. Not sure you can really call it love before you’ve been through that, and I’m only partially joking!”
18. Never less than a year
“It never took me less than a year from the moment I met someone, usually more like 2 years. But I once fell for a friend of 13 years, another time with a woman I had known for 16 years.”
19. When your walls come down
“I guess this is the time I need to get used to their proximity, learn to know them, and let the defenses down. It doesn’t feel like a voluntary process, by the way. I simply find myself slowly opening up the more I get into a woman. And at some point, I realize I’m connected to her in an unmissable way, and I can say ‘I’m in love’ without a doubt.”
20. It’s different for everyone, every single time
“For me, with my husband, it was pretty instant. I knew I loved him when I met him, we fell in love immediately. But for friends I know… it took time to warm up to the idea of being “in love” with someone. Just just as easily as you can fall in love, you can fall out of it too.”
21. Immediately… sort of
“I’m a Pisces, so I fall in love and imagine my life with someone within 3 minutes of seeing their picture on a dating app. Is that true love? Not exactly, but it’s something.”
22. However long it takes to sense the “crush” feeling settling down
“I think for me, personally, it takes time for me to figure it out because I can’t seem to distinguish between crush and love. But I’d say at least a couple of months — maybe a year.”
23. Just a moment… but there’s a catch
According to editor Aria Gmitter, It takes “seconds to fall in love; a lifetime to stay there.”
24. After you’ve met their family
“After a good three months of spending quality time with the person, you get to know them on a deeper level, their deepest secrets, and you meet their family. Then you know when you actually can’t imagine your life without them, that you’re in love.”
Looking at the data that exists, it remains impossible to come away with a perfect formula that will allow you to figure out exactly how long it takes to fall in love. Every love, like every person, is unique.
Love isn’t some magical gate that suddens opens and allows you to walk through, every love is unique. You don’t just look up and realize that you have reached your destination.
Love at first sight is likely not really love, but something else. Falling in love is a process. In fact, many people would go so far as to say that when it’s real, you never stop falling in love with someone. The feelings of love just grow.
Certainly, a few factors come into play when figuring out how long it will take you to fall in love. These include how much quality time you spend together, how emotionally available both you and your partner are, your willingness to have an open, honest long-term relationship, your overall willingness to fall in love, and the type of love you’re looking for or willing to settle for.
More for You:
Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveThe Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Rebecca Jane Stokes is an editor, freelance writer, former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango, and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek. Her bylines have appeared in Fatherly, Gizmodo, Yahoo Life, Jezebel, Apartment Therapy, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, SheKnows, and many others.