Love is a power move
Hot tip: Women don’t typically say “I love you” first in a heterosexual relationship because we know men think we are going to say it first, so we wait and make you say it first because that way it will be more “real.”
Lemme put it another way: Many women play an “I love you” game of chicken, because we have to, or else risk confirming every stereotype alive that we are blinking neon signs of emotional neediness. Yes, there are exceptions, and many people are mature, evolved beings who have no need for such silly games, but we can’t all be brave soldiers in the game of love.
Some context: In an age of Hey, men have feelings, too!, research has resurfaced on the internet that when it comes to those three little words, it turns out that men not only fall in love faster than women, but say it sooner, too. No shit! While the research was celebrated as heartening — proof that men not only have real feelings, but can actually string sentences together on their own to express them without a hard prompt — the ensuing aha! misses the point: Saying “I love you” is, and always will be, one of the earliest, most important power moves in a relationship, and we’ve typically given all this power to dudes, painting women as militants in the game of locking down love. The result? Women feel pressure to hold back.
The research showed up at Broadly, where Jessica Pan explored a 2011 studyof 172 college students at Pennsylvania State University, published in the Journal of Social Psychology. Researchers Marissa Harrison and Jennifer Shortall found that men reported both falling in love earlier and saying “I love you” earlier than women did. This contradicted the authors’ expectation that women would fall in love first and express it first. And popular culture, of course, has long painted women as the more eager gender when it comes to falling in love and committing.
“Surprise!” Redbook wrote of the Broadly piece, remarking that the research “totally debunks the myth that women are the ones who *~fall so fast~* and spend all their time quoting songs about unrequited love.”
Women, of course, know this, but such gendered stereotypes — women be chasin’, men be avoidin’ — hang over all our heads as we move toward the big moment. Harrison’s research was published in 2011; that same year, another study was published on Valentine’s Day in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It looked at six studies of male and female behavior in commitment in terms of who says “I love you” first. It, too, found that “although people think that women are the first to confess love and feel happier when they receive such confessions, it is actually men who confess love first and feel happier when receiving confessions.”
So why do we think of women as the ambulance chasers of love, when research has shown again and again that we aren’t? Because we think of falling in love and saying “I love you” as the same thing as wanting a commitment, and women, as we all know, all want commitment.
Take this old bit from Chris Rock, who says women are perennially ready to settle down. “Shit,” he jokes, “a woman go on four good dates, she’s like, ‘Why we bullshitting? What are you waiting for?’ Men, never ready to settle down. Men don’t settle down. We surrender.”…