Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Romance: The Love Code

Three little words reveal more than you think.

Aleshyn Andrei/Shutterstock

There are few phrases more loaded than "I love you." New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines who says it first–and how it's received. —Andrea Bartz

  • The vast majority of study subjects believed that women normally say "I love you" first, near the two month mark. Surprise: In more than 62 percent of relationships, the man said it first.
  • On average, men were happier if they received confessions of love before a relationship turned sexual, while women were happier if first declarations of love came after sexual intimacy in the relationship. It seems that, consciously or unconsciously, guys take a pre-sex "I love you" to mean "I'm ready to sleep with you," while women worry it's a move to get them into bed.
  • Men in the study started thinking about professing their love about three months into the relationship, while women started thinking about it at the five month mark. From an evolutionary standpoint, women have more to lose from committing to a potential mate too soon, so they hold back instead of "getting serious."
  • Male study subjects who, unlike most of their cohorts, were interested in long-term relationships (vs. casual sex) preferred to hear "I love you" after sex–when it wasn't a rash declaration. "The message isn't to discount everything men say about love," says MIT researcher Joshua Ackerman. "You need to know more about the guy."