In a relationship, who do you think is more likely to say “I love you” first – men or women? If you are like most people, you might be tempted to say women. In a recent study, 64% of participants were likely to think women were the first to say they were in love, and these professions were estimated to occur close to 2 months into a relationship (Ackerman, Griskevicius, & Li, 2011). The stereotype is that women are more interested in relationships, especially serious relationships, and are therefore more likely to confess their feelings sooner than men.
When looking at actual relationships, however, men were more likely to profess their feelings first! 62% of participants reporting on past relationships and 70% reporting on current relationships stated that the man said “I love you” first. On average, men started thinking 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.
Researchers suggest this happens because women’s physiological traits (i.e., childbearing abilities) are evolutionary more “valuable.” Therefore, women can afford to wait for declarations of love and be more selective about who they choose to love…or have sex with.
In another few studies, these same researchers examined whether men and women have better reactions to statements of love before or after having sex in the relationship. Men rated more happiness and felt more positive emotion if they received confessions of love before having sex. They also felt confessions were more honest if said before sex. This was especially true for men with short-term relationship goals (people more interested in short-term sexual relationships rather than commitment). For these people, hearing “I love you” before sex may have indicated that the other person was interested in physical intimacy.
Women were happier and felt more positive emotion if first declarations of love came after sexual intimacy in the relationship. Happiness was associated with feelings of romantic excitement, especially for those who had long-term relationship goals (people looking for a commitment in a relationship rather than sex). When women thought about someone declaring love before sex, they perceived the other person to be less trustworthy and sincere.
For relationships in which sex had already occurred, both men and women thought the appropriate time to declare love was between 3 and 6 months. If participants were imagining a scenario where sex had not occurred, men but not women were more likely to think it was appropriate to declare love earlier – about a month into the relationship.
Of course, saying “I love you” in a relationship is an individual decision based on many factors, but timing, gender, and relationship goals might influence how one’s partner reacts.
Ackerman, J., Griskevicius, V., & Li, N. (2011). Let’s get serious: Communicating commitment in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0022412