Saying "I love you" means a lot like in any other relationship, specially since I'm always upfront from early days about not saying it lightly like some people do and to remove the cultural ambiguity from our relationship. During such early conversations we found out that for her "I love you" means the same than for us, more than a feeling, for us, it means "I wan't you to stay permanently because I can't be without you and I'd do anything to guard your happiness".

Providing more context as asked:
As we are in a symmetrical type of polyamory (we don't date other people, we commit and stay faithful to whomever is in our relationship), we are flexible on how we date with each other, if one person is not available the other 2 simply go out wherever and the person who was busy is always welcomed to join, we basically share life for the 3 of us. This person is relatively new (almost a year) but has been increasingly staying over at our place, we share everything, we've talked about a future for the 3 of us together, she still has her own apartment though.

My long-standing girlfriend and I had been (not very actively) looking out for other girls since the start, it started very early because she opened up to me about being bisexual, I already knew because we had been friends for years and dated other people before we dated, so I took it as a reminder, a "don't forget I also like girls" type of reminder, to which I was very o.k. with, already had experience anyway. I was clear I didn't like fooling around and she agreed, so anyone else we dated would have to be someone who wanted to be with the both of us. We didn't even had to negotiate, it wasn't even a big deal. We didn't rush into that, we really enjoyed being only the two of us. So, every now and then a person would get close to us but not for long, different expectations, different ideas of what love means and entails, didn't work out. But this person is different, we've all developed a special bond.

I was thinking the right approach would be asking my long-standing girlfriend if she already felt the same, I've already seen all the signs that make evident she's in love with our new companion. We could take her together to a nice place and tell her there, or maybe agree with my girlfriend to tell her separately the same day on different circumstances made special in different ways, and later at night take her to a nice place with the 3 of us to celebrate.

But I really have no experience with that. I'm not sure if that is the best protocol, a different approach could be possible? I don't have the skills, please help.

Please don't answer things like "what if she doesn't say it back" because we don't worry about that. She will say it if she feels the same way and if she still doesn't, we are not putting pressure, there is no need to rush anything, I'm very confident she loves us back though.

Not sure if this helps, but some time ago I was on the other side of the formula, with a slight difference because I'm not bisexual and neither was the man in that relationship, we didn't get that far but we hanged out together and I spent a lot of time at their place. I know from experience being in that position in which you are the one wanting to be in doesn't make you less valuable, I know because when they broke up they sort of fought about whom was going to "keep me". I was very much in love with both of them, I wouldn't have cared if they had told me separately or together as long as the 3 of us stayed together, but that's just me, that's why I'm asking for experienced advice. They ended up telling me separately after they broke up, that was a boomer, heart smashed to smithereens, but that's a whole different story.

How can I tell our new partner "I love you" in a way that does not to ruin her experience of the relationship, or make her feel odd/awkward?

  • This is an interesting question, but it seems like you're asking about etiquette by using the word "protocol." Etiquette questions are only on topic if they're about an established etiquette, which I don't feel your question is (since it's such a unique-to-you situation given the relationship, your feelings and the people involved)...
    – scohe001
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 6:20
  • 1
    ...also could the entire portion concerning the polyamorous relationship be edited out so this can be a more general question about the best way to tell a significant other you love them for the first time while minimizing "odd/awkwardness" (to take from your question)? I think that could be a good question with answers you could apply to your relationship (but I could be wrong, I'm not too knowledgable with the polyamorous realm)
    – scohe001
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 6:24
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please use comments only to improve the question
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 8:06

4 Answers 4


In my experience, having had polyamorous relationships in the past, this can be one of the biggest "gotchas" about poly.

Relationships tend to develop at different paces. Some fall in love quickly, others slowly. In a symmetrical polyamorous situation, where everyone is trying to have an equal and balanced relationship with everyone else, it's common for people to want things to move at roughly the same pace. That's not usually all that realistic.

From the start, things aren't all that balanced. You've had a longer relationship with one partner, who you're already living with, and presumably expressing your love for. Now you're also in love with someone new and that's awesome, but the newer relationship isn't on precisely the same footing as the longer term relationship. Also your longer term partner has their own independent relationship with the newer partner. While they may very well be head over heels in love with her, her feelings are her own.

(That's a small window into poly, for the uninitiated. Poly is complicated. Adding additional partners adds additional complexity in an exponential sort of way.)

I've been in, pretty much exactly, your situation before. It's tempting to try to get and keep everyone on the same page, so that everyone feels equal, equally cared for, and included. But as I've pointed out, it really isn't that simple. It's complicated.

The best method I've found is acceptance and lots, and lots, and lots of communication. As you all grow together your dynamics will unavoidably change. Sometimes you will feel closer to one partner. Sometimes you'll feel jealous or left out. Sometimes you'll be arguing with one partner and not the other. Sometimes you'll feel like your partners are ganging up on you. Sometimes your partners will be arguing about something that doesn't involve you in the slightest.

Things won't always feel symmetrical and that's... Normal? Normal doesn't feel like the right word... To be expected. So, expect it, accept it, talk about it openly and honestly, and hope for the best.

With all of that in mind, I'd recommend telling your newer partner that you love them in your own time, independently. It'll likely come across as a bit more sincere if it's a one on one. And it will allow your partners' relationship to develop at its own pace, making the moment that they say it a little more special.

Knowing that your individual relationships with each other will progress at different rates, and have different ups and downs means that you are likely to want to progress the relationship at different rates. Like it, or not, saying the L word for the first time is an important step in any relationship. Chances are everyone will be ready to take that step at slightly different times. So, asking it to be taken as a group is asking your partners to be at the same place as individuals and in the relationships at the same time. (Not impossible, but probably shouldn't be placed on them as an expectation)

As far as how to communicate about this specific situation... That's an incredibly broad sort of question. One that entire books can and probably have been written about. But the key is usually honestly communicating with both of your partners about how you're actually feeling. Not how you think you're supposed to feel, or how you want them to feel, but how you actually feel. And encourage them to do the same.

When I've done it, I usually had one on one conversations because it tends to avoid a majority rule problem. If two out of three are ready to take a step, the third may feel pressured to agree, and you really don't want that when it comes to love. After everyone has the chance to communicate one on one, then consider talking it over as a group.

The only hard rule that seems to apply here is that open communication. Every poly arrangement I've encountered has subtle differences in approach, but the importance of openly communicating seems universal, even in monogamous relationships...

Seriously communicate, never assume that everyone is on the same page. Talk about it.

Here's a valuable resource for further info about polyamory, lot's of really helpful articles: https://www.morethantwo.com

  • This is a lot of good advice about the fundamentals of healthy poly relationships. I'm having difficulty seeing where you're actually answering the OP's question.
    – sphennings
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 17:36
  • I was having difficulty too, I'm not against educating folks. So I've been going around home thinking on your answer and it simply hit me that what's missing is elaborating on how to go about communication in my particular situation.
    – J A
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:22
  • @sphennings I tried to lay out the fundamentals before saying that it should probably be done independently, so that the why it should probably be done independently would fall into the broader context of how poly tends to work.
    – apaul
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:32

I can´t give you a full answer as I probably lack the experience, but as far as my encounters go, everyone has to find their own way that works for them anyways. So I´ll try to give some general advice regarding the big "L" word.

  1. I love you! should be unconditional. I´d be cautious about your expectations towards her. The whole celebrating part may be too much. If you give her the info, you should also give her the room she needs to handle it. (you seem to know that, but still...)

  2. Listen to your long-standing girlfriend (lsg). What does she feel? Does she want to confess her love on her own terms? Is she okay with not being part of it when you do it?

  3. Love is an individual, internal feeling. If you decide to convey your and your lsg´s feelings towards her together, it´s clear that the two of you both talked about it before. This has both its pros:

    • It my save her from the impression this is a one-sided feeling, which disturbs your balance (as opposed to, she hears it only from you)
    • It enables you to have an open exchange with everybody present and on the same boat.
    • It may be more romantic, in the sense of you forming a union of three.

    and cons:

    • It´s less intimate, you´d generalize both your individual feelings.
    • It´s less from the heart, as opposed to when you just blab it out the moment you feel it.
    • It may convey the she comes second to you two, as you talked about intimate details without her first.
    • It may increase pressure to respond, staring at two faces.

A middle ground would be to agree with your lsg that whenever any of you feels like telling her, it is ok for you to do so and to reassure her that the other one feels the same way. Something like Wow I think I really love you, new girl, and I know lsg feels the same about you

  • I really liked how you structured your insight.
    – J A
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:42

Telling someone that you love them is the same whether either of you are seeing other people or not. It's still going to be one person expressing their feelings toward another.

When telling someone "I love you" it's important to keep in mind what you are actually communicating while using this phrase. In addition to being an expression of a feeling, the phrase is more often used to impose upon the receiving person in some way.

Probably the most common impilcature attached to the phrase "I love you." is when it's said with the expectation that the receiving person will respond by saying "I love you too." This can put people on the spot, if they haven't given their feelings much thought, or if they place special symbolic importance on the word.

Another common implicature to the phrase "I love you." is to make someone feel obligated, or responsible for your feelings. It can be used to dump a pile of emotional baggage into someone's lap.

Be mindful of how your partner will interpret what you are saying. Try to frame it as you telling them about a feeling you have, that you think is relevant, rather than something that obligates them to behave in any particular way.

  • I feel the first paragraph here could really use some backing up. Personally I just flat out disagree because OP is trying to avoid awkwardness and this is a dynamic the person is likely not used to. Secondary to backing it up, just explaining the thought process behind this first paragraph in a bit more detail would be OK.
    – Jesse
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:26
  • @Jesse Having been on both the giving and receiving end of this, there is no change in considerations between told "I love you" by someone seeing other people, and someone who is only dating you. Telling someone "I love you" is going to be a personal act, it's always going to be one person sharing their feelings with someone else.
    – sphennings
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:34
  • I expanded the first paragraph of my question as to remove the need to consider ambiguities and precautions.
    – J A
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:23

These two statements stand at odds:

I was thinking the right approach would be asking my long-standing girlfriend if she already felt the same, I think she does, then we could take her together to a nice place and tell her there, or maybe agree with my girlfriend to tell her separately the same day on different circumstances made special in different ways, and later at night take her to a nice place with the 3 of us to celebrate.


Please don't answer things like "what if she doesn't say it back" because we don't worry about that. She will say it if she feels the same way and if she still doesn't, we are not putting pressure, there is no need to rush anything, I'm very confident she loves us back though.

Firstly, the first paragraph appears full of "I thinks" and other guesses/assumptions. They tend to be toxic for relationships generally (https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships-balance/2013/07/20/assumptions-are-toxic-to-relationships/), so I recommend asking all these questions explicitly before other any considerations.

Secondly, I think it is folly to consider presenting the information to this person two persons on one, before asking how she would feel about such a thing. That would present her a challenging situation to contradict the two of you.

How can I tell our new partner "I love you" in a way that does not to ruin her experience of the relationship, or make her feel odd/awkward?

For this sort of task, I recommend I-statements (https://www.communicationandconflict.com/i-statements.html)! Using these, you can phrase it as only an expression of yourself, how you feel and what you want, without making it obligatory for her to respond in kind. Respect for personal boundaries in that way helps prevent awkwardness. Keep in mind that you can't stop her from feeling odd/awkward or anything else.

  • I can't speak for the users who voted, but right now, it's not clear to me what distinguishes this advice from what one might suggest for a monogamous relationship - or if you think that doesn't make a difference, why that is. Do you have experience with poly relationships? You might find this meta post on writing answers helpful, especially points 5 and 7.
    – Em C
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 0:05
  • Yes, I have experience in poly relationships, roughly 13 years as openly nonmonogamous in various styles, and I occasionally instruct local poly classes on conflict resolution. I typically aim for my relationship advice to be indistinguishable from monogamous to polyamorous, because the issues are often toxic bad habits regardless of relationship style. I'd read that post immediately before answering, and numbers 5 and 7 are why I quoted a problem area (7) and cited what I consider good resources to back up my answers (5).
    – baker.nole
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:43
  • Thanks for the reply, I think that would be helpful background information to edit in so that readers understand where you're coming from with this answer. Generally with IPS, the more context and experience, the better :)
    – Em C
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:18

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