Men say "I love you" quicker than women do. But if your life was flashing before your eyes wouldn’t you also want to slow down?

You’ve probably heard of the 'flight or fight' response to a threat.

You know: a bear attacks you and you either run to the safety of your favourite artisanal coffee bar or you bash it on the nose with your iPhone.

But there’s another response: you freeze, staring at the bear and hoping it’ll go away if you pretend to be a tree.

Obviously, the bear is a metaphor for terrible things and in this case the terrible thing is a lover saying, "I love you."

At least, for the longest time, this was for me.

The story would go like this. Mr Man would get deep and sincere, picking his way slowly through the "been wanting to say" and "for some time now" phrases.

As the pauses got heavier with tension, my mind would hurtle through all the variations of flight or fight I could use, to stop the inevitable.

But then, there it would be: "Sooo… I love you."

Freeze.

*blink*

After a long, awkward pause of staring at his bright, expectant face, I’d venture: "Aw! I love you too(?). Yaaay!"

Of course, we’d eventually break up and I’d be all: "BUT YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME AND THAT’S FOREVER!"

Sigh.

If society can equate a woman’s virginity to moral value and moral value to life-long monogamy, locking yourself down with an "I love you" must feel to the unconscious mind much like shackling yourself and handing over the keys.

Read more: Why sex doesn't necessarily equal love

Once, I dived in with an "I love you" before the guy did. It was a whirlwind romance with a cut-off date and I just blurted it right out one morning and it lay on the duvet like cat sick.

I considered it instant karma.

But it did explain my fear response to the ‘threat’ of those three words: In a long-term romantic context "I love you" felt like a trap.

It wasn’t: "I have good feelings of care for you." It was: "By the Fires of Gallidridor We Are Bound For All Eternity and You Will Bear Many Children As Your Dreams Die Slowly."

Turns out this was all to plan.

According to the white coats, men say "I love you" quicker than women do; something like 40-odd days earlier.

They suggest that male eagerness is about getting and securing sex, while female reluctance is about needing time to assess whether the dude is baby daddy material.

Despite my apparently typical response, I shy away from gender stereotyping around genetics. I prefer thinking of these responses as socially organised.

If society can equate a woman’s virginity to moral value and moral value to life-long monogamy, locking yourself down with an "I love you" must feel to the unconscious mind much like shackling yourself and handing over the keys.

And men also experience this pressure, albeit with less inherited "sex = being a slut unless you marry" baggage. Anyway.

I had to do a lot of unlearning and detaching before "I love you" became a bear I could cuddle and then ride like a Russian Lady Godiva. But it can be done.

Now all I have to learn is to not freeze when faced with the "So when are you having kids?" beast and we'll be all good.

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