Sometimes it comes out in a rush. Other times it becomes a game of chicken. Regardless, the first spoken “I love you” is a relationship milestone.
Josh Ackerman, a psychologist who teaches at MIT, set out to study these early declarations of devotion. According to his research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, most people (64 percent) think the woman in a relationship usually says “I love you” first.
“We are constantly bombarded by this idea that love is about women, in a sense,” Ackerman says. “Women are the more emotional ones, and men hide their feelings. But that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case.”
When his team interviewed 205 straight men and women about their past and current relationships, they found men were more likely to have said “I love you” first.
Ackerman went on to investigate how people feel after hearing such a declaration at different points in their relationship — specifically, before and after they first had sex with their partner. He found that women were happier to hear those words after sex; men, however, were slightly happier to hear them before sex. (Perhaps, the researchers theorized, because men saw the declaration as a sign that sex was on the horizon, while women saw it as a sign of commitment.)
But when an additional study split subjects into groups of those looking for relationships and those just looking to hook up, they found that, like women, men seeking commitment were also happier to hear “I love you” after sex rather than before.
“It shows not all men are the same,” Ackerman says.