'I Love You': Have You Said It By Accident?

There comes a time in a relationship when three words can mean a new level of trust and intimacy or profound embarrassment. It's a moment immortalized in pop culture everywhere from Rachel and Ross on “Friends” to the more platonic relationship between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel’s characters in “I Love You, Man.”

With all the pressure around these three words, they are bound to come out a the wrong time, and Glamour’s 2012 Guy survey found that a full 50 percent of men admitted to saying “I love you” by accident (i.e., before they meant to), with the biggest “excuse” being “it just came out” (56 percent). Being drunk at the time (23 percent) and saying it during sex (13 percent) rounded out the top three reasons for premature confessions of devotion.

There was another question that got a “yes” from over half of survey-takers: Saying “I love you” first. 56 percent of the men surveyed by Glamour said that in past relationships, they’ve been the first to say those three words. A study published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology produced similar results; researchers at MIT surveyed 100 undergraduates and 47 heterosexual couples and found that in two thirds of relationships, men were the first to say “I love you,” and often think about saying it a full six weeks before the women in the relationship.

But the results of the MIT study also showed that those three words may have a different meaning for men and women: Men were happier to be told “I love you” if they hadn’t yet had sex with their partner, while women were happier if their partners confessed their love after a sexual relationship had developed. Those findings suggested to researchers that men associate the phrase with physical fidelity and women see it more as a sign of emotional intimacy and commitment. "Men may be more impulsive in the way they express love, but what love means to men and what love means to women may be very different," study co-author Josh Ackerman, assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, said in a press release.

All of that said, the fact that men are more likely to blurt out That Phrase before they mean to doesn’t mean women never do the same.