Who is usually quicker to say “I love you” in heterosexual relationships: men, or women? Which do you think is happiest to hear it?
If you’re like most people, you probably answered women for both. People tend to associate women with greater commitment and expressiveness[2-4]. And, there are some gender differences along those lines[5-7].
But studies show that, actually, men tend to think about expressing love earlier, express their love sooner, and are on average happier to receive such confessions[1,8].
On average, men think it’s acceptable to confess love around the 1-month mark in a relationship, while women don’t think it’s acceptable until 2-3 months or more.
Why would this be?
It has to do with the different value that men and women, on average, place on commitment and sexual intimacy, and what the words “I love you” seem to signal.
Men are generally happy to hear “I love you” early in a relationship, because the words convey sexual interest[1,8]. But when women hear these words too soon, they tend to regard them with skepticism, as an insincere attempt to move the relationship toward sexual intimacy[1,8]. For this reason, many women prefer to hear “I love you” after the relationship has become sexual.
Keep in mind, these are just averages. Plenty of men value commitment over sex, and plenty of women value sex over commitment. And men who value commitment, and women who don’t, react very differently from the average.
High-commitment men are unhappy hearing “I love you” before a relationship has become sexual, but very happy hearing the words afterward.
Women who aren’t interested in commitment tend not to experience much happiness when hearing a love confession, before or after sex.
In sum, you may want to think carefully before you tell someone you love them. When you say it, and who you’re saying it to, can have an enormous impact on how it’s received.
1. Ackerman, J.M., Griskevicius, V., & Li, N.P. (2011). Let’s get serious: communicating commitment in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 1079-1094.
2. Balswick, J.O. (1988). The inexpressive male. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
3. Pellegrini, R.J. (1978). Sex differences in the perception of romantic love–mate attraction. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 47, 1089–1090.
4. Peplau, L. A. (2003). Human sexuality: How do men and women differ? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 37–40.
5. Gonzalez, A.Q., & Koestner, R. (2006). What valentine announcements reveal about the romantic emotions of men and women. Sex Roles, 55, 767-773.
6. Sagarin, B. J. (2005). Reconsidering evolved sex differences in jealousy: Comment on Harris (2003). Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, 62–75.
7. Notarius, C. I., & Johnson, J. S. (1982). Emotional expression in husbands and wives. Journal of Marriage and Family, 44, 483– 489.
8. Harrison, M.A., & Shortall, J.C. (2011). Women and men in love: Who really feels it and says it first? The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 727-736