When you can put their needs and happiness above your own. When you can just be happy being with them. When you know you would still love them even when they hurt your feelings. When you are willing to put them first in everything. So, basically, when you know you truly care for them more then you do for yourself.
It's different for everyone, I can only tell you how I knew. I knew the moment we met, which sounds cliche but we met online. We know each other better than we know ourselves. I knew he was the one, my soul mate, because there was no doubt in my mind. There was no little voice in the back of my head going "what if he's not the one?" Most of the time, you just know. I tell people, "You'll just know, but if you have to ask if it's love, then it's not."
Whenever someone is more worried about the "reaction" they might get by saying, "I love you" then it's a clear sign that they have not gotten to the point of giving love "freely". You shouldn't have to "time" an heartfelt expression.
A lot of people are afraid of saying "I love you" and learning the other person does not feel the same. The truth is even if you are silent about how you feel it doesn't change the outcome. The advantage to expressing one's feelings is you learn early on if the two of you are on the same page. No one should regret being honest and telling the truth. Honesty is the foundation of every worthwhile relationship.
I think it's a feeling that grows, that creeps up on you over time. I always seem to have a point where I think "am i falling in love?" before realising shortly after that I am.
When you can say "I love you" to them and it doesn't matter if they answer back, or not.
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