When and Why Gender Differences in Saying "I Love You" among College Students

By Brantley, Angel; Knox, David et al. | College Student Journal, December 2002 | Go to article overview

When and Why Gender Differences in Saying "I Love You" among College Students


Brantley, Angel, Knox, David, Zusman, Marty E., College Student Journal


One-hundred and forty-seven never married undergraduates at a large southeastern university completed an anonymous 29 item questionnaire designed to assess gender differences in when and why they tell new partners "I love you." Males were significantly more likely than females to report saying "I love you" sooner in the relationship and to have a sexual agenda in doing so. A sociobiological explanation for the findings and implications for university students, faculty, and counselors are suggested.

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Being in love is very much a part of collegiate life. Eight in ten (83%) of 620 never married undergraduates reported that they had been in love with a dating partner (Knox & Zusman, 1998). The importance of love is also well established as over two-thirds (67%) reported that love was essential for a happy marriage in that they would divorce if they fell out of love. Previous research on love has focused on other cultures (Neto et al., 2000; Landis & O'Shea, 2000), turning points in romantic love relationships (Baxter & Pittman, 2001) and brain activity associated with being in love (Phillips, 2000). This study examined the first stage of a love relationship where one partner tells another of his or her feelings. The research focused on gender differences and the meaning of saying "I love you" in a new relationship.

Sample and Methods

The sample consisted of 147 undergraduates (72% female; 28% male) at a large southeastern university. The ages of the students ranged from 17 to 42 with a median age of 19. Educational level was 22% first year students, 51% sophomore, 15% junior, and 12% senior. All respondents reported having dated with 16 percent reporting having lived with someone. Respondents completed an anonymous 29 item survey designed to reveal the timing and meaning of their telling a new partner "I love you."

Findings & Discussion

Analysis of the data revealed several findings:

1. Males say "I love you" first. Males were significantly (p<.02) more likely to report that, of the mutual love relationships in which they had been involved, they were the first to disclose their love to their partner. (It was also found that being older was significantly associated with early love disclosure. Further research may reveal why older men and women move more quickly to disclose their love feelings.) The finding that men express love first is supported by previous research. Sharp & Ganong (2000) also found that men fall in love more quickly and have higher levels of romantic beliefs than women.

2. Males say "I love you" for sex. Males were significantly (p<.001) more likely than females to report that they say "I love you" if they think it will increase the chance that their partner will have sex with them. We suggest a sociobiological explanation for males being motivated to say "I love you" early in a relationship. …

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