The world is rarely at a loss for words when it comes to love. It’s hard to survive an afternoon without some actor or elevator speaker spouting eternal devotion, usually with complete disregard for taste or originality. But if we can agree that “You complete me” and “You light up my life” are out of the question, where do you go for inspiration? Since love means something different to everyone who feels it, those ubiquitous three words don’t always feel like quite enough. Still, it’s the sacred responsibility of lovers everywhere to find those little ways to say I love you, not because you’re desperate to embody Casanova, but because when you feel that consuming, amazing thing, you’re desperate to make it felt and understood. Before you start composing any sonnets, here are a few modern-day translations for the most used — and abused — words in history.
Compliments done right
He probably knows he looks great in that sweater, because you tell him all the time. But what have you left unsaid? And while you may really believe she’s a great catch, as far as compliments go, it’s a little generic. In subtle but pointed ways, let them know not just why you like them, but why you admire them. His curiosity about how everything works? That she hates leaving anything unfinished? The way he looks everyone in the eye to make sure he’s connecting? It may even take some serious thought, but specific well thought-out compliments will say more than all the I-love-you’s in Hallmark.
Gestures that say ‘I know you’ say ‘I love you’
Sometimes it’s a favorite snack, the perfect traveling music or a little quiet time, but understanding what they need when they need it is always an excellent way to make people feel appreciated. Perhaps the hardest part is understanding when what they most need isn’t you. Suggest a night out with the boys when you know he’s stressed, or insist that she catch up on those nagging emails before you make plans together. It’ll tell your partner you want him or her to be happy, not just happy with you.
In the context of your relationship, be it a friendship, LTR or marriage, respect and appreciation should be free-flowing, but in the little gestures try to let love and selflessness guide you. The difference between waiting for that thank-you and giving for its own sake can be subtle, but it’s the difference between ‘I like being with you’ and ‘I love you.’ Should you find her sitting stiffly at the computer, give a silent shoulder rub, and don’t look for or accept reciprocation. If you don’t live together, you might leave his favorite foods in the fridge or restock needed supplies. Straighten up something that needs it and let her notice (or not) in her own time. Cleaning that nightmarish bathroom? Now that’s love. Loving, at its core, is giving, and giving honestly means expecting nothing in return.
Giving credit (in public)
Sure, he knows you’re his biggest fan, but do his friends? Giving compliments and credit in public helps show your partner that you mean it. It also tells her that you’re proud of her and proud to be with her. Don’t gush — that’ll just convince your friends to spend time with the sane single people — but look for appropriate opportunities to point out your partner’s strengths. Getting compliments on that necklace he got you? Let them know what excellent taste he has. Teaming up for board games? Insist she’s on your team — you wouldn’t want to play against her. Of course, make sure your comments are truthful; insincerity is sure to sound cheesy, or worse, sarcastic! There’s no need to get fancy; leave the poetry to the poets. Besides, a few honest, well-placed words can out maneuver Shakespeare on his best day.
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