First time I told my ex I loved him, he had to think about it for a few weeks. He finally said it with much hesitation and not at all naturally speaking from his heart or soul. I wasn't demanding the words, but I think he got to noticing the silence after I said it at the end of each evening. Emoting was an especially uncomfortable thing for him. Ultimately, at the end of the marriage, I was begging him to be kind to me, to kiss me, to say something nice. I didn't realize, maybe he never really wanted to be there the whole 31 years. It was an intimate situation for someone who was uncomfortable with intimacy.
As I left the marriage, I found a transitional man that vigorously wooed me, was into all the same things as me, thought I could do anything, was tender, funny, lovable, and passionate. I told him I loved him and he didn't speak to me again for years.
After a healthy friendship and then testing the chemistry, I got brave enough to tell a man I was falling in love with him and he promptly told me he didn't love me.
Well, let's review these men:
The first one had intimacy issues and OCD and did not really like human contact. Perhaps not a good person to give love to.
The second man was married, although he hinted it was a troubled one, he had no plans to leave his (I found out eventually) new bride.
The next one was a boy-man who did not want to move from mommy and daddy's house and had been single for 50 years.
The other one was a man who vowed he had lost the ability to love anyone.
So, saying "I love you first," is a huge risk. It's not like me to hold back feelings. I live my life by the simple principle of anyone who has lost almost everyone they love to dying and moving onto the next plane of existence - I never let anyone guess how important they are. Nothing unsaid. Nothing undone. No regrets.
Epiphany: Love is something that happens from one person or another and, if you're freaking lucky, both people for each other. Whether there is a guarantee it's returned or not, it's never wasted. Someone needed to know they were lovable. Maybe no one will let me know I'm lovable, but I have let them know that there was something precious about them. Nothing unsaid. Nothing undone. No regrets.
Would I say it first again? Well, look at it this way, when you had a kid, you loved that kid. When you had a second kid, you managed to have love for that one. And the next one. So it is with love. Love is a wellspring, not a bucket with limited contents. It's renewable and sacred and the gift that every human has earned the right to possess and pass along.