In most cultures, romantic love and passion are important elements of a couple’s relationship. The need for stable social relationships, including romantic ones, is also almost universal. A declaration of love is an important element in establishing romantic relationships, as a rule, it indicates readiness for more serious interactions, implies a higher level of responsibility towards each other, and marriage and the birth of children are possible in the future.
A declaration of love, as a rule, occurs in conditions of uncertainty and is associated with risks – if the feelings are not mutual or the recognition has expired, you can be rejected and lose the opportunity to develop relationships. Research on behavioral approaches in romantic interactions has uncovered differences between men and women that may affect the development of a couple’s relationships in the future.
These differences fit within the framework of two theories – the error management theory and the parental investment theory.
Error management theory suggests that decision making under conditions of uncertainty can lead to errors. Therefore, human thinking has evolved so that if our decision is to survive or reproduce, we can follow the cheapest of the two opposing strategies. Optimism dictates that mistakes are less likely to occur while doing, talking, or thinking about, which costs less than doing nothing. Errors caused by attention are more useful when it is easier to avoid an action than to take an action.
The parental investment theory implies that the sex that invests more in their children will be more selective in choosing a mate, and the sex that invests less will more often compete with those of the same sex for access to mates. Women often have to invest more resources in children for both biological factors (pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding) and social reasons.
However, most of the research has been done in the USA. It is therefore unclear how much these theories affect statistics on declarations of love in other countries. An international team of experts, led by evolutionary psychologist Christopher Watkins of the University of Abertay in the United Kingdom, decided to fill this gap. They described the results in more detail in a journal article. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Researchers interviewed nearly 1,500 volunteers from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Poland and the United Kingdom. Participants indicated both partners’ gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of birth and residence, and then filled out the questionnaires. In them, they told who and in what order they confessed their love in the current and previous relationship, and then talked about the strength of their commitment to the partner.
Responses of the participants showed that men in most countries were the first to confess their love, with the one exception that France was the first to admit love for both sexes with equal frequency. At the same time, both men and women thought about what time it would be to express their feelings at the same time, about 70-75 days after the start of the relationship.
Men encouraged this on average at day 107 of intercourse, and women at day 122. The joy of recognition of the beloved was the same in both sexes. It also turned out that men living in a country with more women than men are more likely to declare their love first. At the same time, bond-avoidant partners weren’t too happy to hear a declaration of love from the other person.
The results show that men may be the first to confess their love, while women tend to be on the same wavelength emotionally, the authors write.
“We know that romantic love and passion are cultural universals and that both feeling and expressing love are important for quality relationships,” says Watkins. “At the same time, people differ in their romantic love tendencies, which are partially expressed in speech acts like “I love you,” but in a predictable way.
In almost every culture we examined, men were more likely to say “I love you” before women, and both men and women were less happy to hear “I love you” if they tended to avoid romantic intimacy.
This builds on previous studies that observed the same “male recognition bias” when examining only one country, the United States.
The study’s authors believe that the results are likely to be extended to many other countries because of the similarity of cultures. However, the study does not represent Asian and African countries whose cultures differ from those of Europe. The scientists suggest that future research could aim to examine whether people in countries with more collectivist, communal cultures might show other patterns of declarations of love.