One of the fun aspects of studying human behavior is to empirically test accepted wisdoms. For example, I suspect that if asked, most people would likely state that men have greater difficulty sharing their emotions in a romantic relationship. This is a ubiquitous stereotype that is depicted in countless products of popular culture be it sitcoms, movies, or romance novels. Of course, a defining moment of any romantic relationship is the first time that the three words "I love you" are uttered. This is a tricky situation, as you don't want to be the first to state these words to then have them "orphaned" in a vacuum without any reciprocation of the heartfelt sentiments! If the latter stereotype holds true, we should expect that on average women are more likely to be the first to share such deep sentiments in a romantic relationship. Does the stereotype stand up to empirical scrutiny?

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, Marissa A. Harrison and Jennifer C. Shortall tackled this exact issue. As a side note, I am one of the consulting editors of this journal albeit I did not review the paper in question. Harrison and Shortall asked 171 heterosexual participants (99 women and 72 men) a set of questions about the love dynamics in a romantic relationship. Only the data of those who reported having experienced a committed romantic relationship were retained (the great majority of the original sample). I list below key questions of relevance to this post along with the respective findings (all of which are highly statistically significant).

(1) "Who falls in love first in a relationship, a man or a woman?"

=> The great majority of both men and women (87.78%) thought that women would fall in love more rapidly (in support of the stereotype in question).

(2) "Do you think a man or a woman is more likely to say ‘I love you' first in a relationship?"

=> The great majority of both men and women (75.20%) thought that a woman would be more likely to be the first to do so (in support of the stereotype in question).

(3) "In your most recent romantic relationship, how long did it take you to realize you were in love?"

=> Men reported that they fell in love more rapidly than did women.

(4) "In your most recent committed, romantic relationship, who said ‘I love you' FIRST?"

=> Of those who've shared such sentiments (only 12.10% of respondents claimed that neither partners had uttered these words), a much greater percentage of men (64%) as compared to women (18.51%) stated that they were the first to say ‘I love you" first.

(5) "How far into a committed, romantic relationship would you want to have sex with a partner?"

=> As expected, women expressed a desire to wait longer than men prior to having sex.

Bottom line: Whereas both sexes thought that women would be more likely to fall in love first and to express the sentiments in question first, the findings suggest otherwise. Men fall in love more rapidly, and are more likely to be the first to utter "I love you." Of course, it might be the case that men are more likely to share such sentiments as a means of accelerating the timeline for sexual intimacy!

Notwithstanding the latter cynical possibility, who said that men are not romantic? ;)

I wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year.

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About the Author

Gad Saad

Gad Saad, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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