Weirdly, recently I've felt unable to say it as freely as I did before. Sometimes I'll be thinking it so loudly that my mouth actually starts to say it before my brain slams it shut. Worse, every time I resist saying it, it becomes harder to say, because I feel like I lied AND missed the 'right' moment by not saying it the first time. And that REALLY bothers me. I'm not sure what changed but I feel I've lost a part of myself by setting some kind of paradoxical taboo on the phrase.
I liked being free to say it whenever I felt it. "I love you (and I feel it so strongly right now that it is all I can think)." I liked not worrying about what people thought of my sincerity or my emotional stability. I know that some people think you cannot love a person without having built a relationship, and some think that to give love away freely is a flighty, simpleminded act, but it used to be that expressing my true feelings was more important to me than others thinking I was lying or fickle or silly.
It might be partly that I have significant in-person relationships for the first time in 7 years, and it's harder to say when you have to deal with the immediate response of the person. I really can't stand the idea of someone saying it to me because it is the expected response, and I don't want to make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable with not knowing how to react. But there have been so many moments when I wanted to say it to different people! I think to get past this block I'm just going to have to make a decision to say it next time I think it. Now to screw up my courage to the sticking point and make that decision.