Red roses. Chocolates. Wine. Fancy dinners. We know that these things mean one thing: Romance. (And also maybe the sex that happens sometimes after romance but, first and foremost, romance.) These things are so overused as symbols of romance that sometimes it can feel like they’ve lost some of their romantic power. Like, if all you can think of is red roses, doesn’t that betray a little… Lack of imagination?
This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate roses! I love them as much as the next flower-lover. And chocolate is one of the universe’s greatest gifts to humans. But one thing that always trips me up when it comes to things like a dozen red roses is memories of my abusive ex. He’d pick fights with me, break me down, leave me in tears, and then show up the next day with the most beautiful long-stem roses you’ve ever seen. Every. Time. That relationship, more than anything, made me realize that romantic gestures are only as romantic as the true intent behind them — and that there’s a lot more to romance than red roses.
So you know what I love even more than chocolate or roses or a nice (or, let’s be real, half decent) bottle of wine? Romantic things that aren’t cliches. I’m not even talking about grand gestures here. I’m talking about the small things that we do for our significant others to show them just how much we truly love them. Here are nine things from my own relationship that are totally romantic, without being cliche.
1. Doing The Chores That You Know Your Partner Hates
My boyfriend hates taking out the garbage. I don’t love taking out the garbage (who does?) but I know that he hates it, so I do it. It’s a small way for me to make his day a little bit nicer that not only doesn’t hurt me but has the added bonus of keeping our apartment clean. Score!
2. Trying To Speak Your Partner’s Love Language
Love languages are a pretty new idea but I’ve personally found the idea super helpful. Long story short, Dr. Gary Chapman came up with the idea in 1995 that we each primarily have one of five ways of expressing love: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. You can take a quiz online to find out yours.
If you and your partner have different love languages — which my boyfriend and I definitely do — then taking the time to learn and speak your partner’s love language is a seriously romantic move. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
3. Looking For Ways To Make Your Partner’s Day Easier
These are usually small things, like running an errand that they were planning on running or even just grabbing them a coffee at the time of day you know they’ll really need it. These little things cost way less than a bottle of wine and are considering less visible than a dozen red roses, but ultimately they can mean more to your partner over time than those two romantic cliches ever will.
4. Not Blaming Them For Their Poor Sleep Habits
I’m tempted to think this is a “me” problem, but there are enough studies and articles out there about how sleeping in the same bed with someone can lead to poor sleep — and even the end of the relationship. One study cited by researchers from University of Pittsburgh in their 2009 review found that “[i]n a sample of 927 women drawn from a national probability sample, marital harmony was prospectively linked with fewer sleep problems, even after controlling for baseline sleep problems.”
Well, I’m a great sleeper — from my perspective. I fall asleep easily and I’m good at staying asleep. But from my boyfriend’s perspective? I’m a terrible sleeper. I talk, I kick, I thrash, I giggle — apparently it’s a horror show every night. But does my boyfriend get mad at me for poor sleep habits? Does he take it out on me? Nope! Through his sleepy fog he fully recognizes that my crazy sleepy habits are not something I can control and he never blames me for them. Now that’s romantic.
5. Encouraging Them To Take Time For Self-Care
I had a breakdown recently. It was the middle of the work day and I’d just seen the racist responses to the interracial proposal ad that State Farm released right after Christmas. I’ve spent a lot of the past couple months trying hard to really listen to perspectives of people who believe differently than I do, but that was the straw that broke this social justice warrior’s back. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t focus long enough to finish my work for the day.
After talking me down enough that I at least wasn’t actively sobbing, my boyfriend suggested I take the rest of the day off. In fact, he insisted. That was just one of many, many times that he’s pushed them to take care of myself, something that I’m not always great at doing. And it’s a two-way street: He’s even more of a workaholic than I am and one time I straight up hid his computer so he couldn’t work for a day.
6. Having Their Favorite Food Ready After A Long Flight
Is there anything more exhausting than a long flight? What do you want the most when you get home, aside from a shower? For me, it’s Chinese food and a beer. And can you guess what my boyfriend always makes sure is waiting for me after a long flight? I’ll give you one hint: Not roses and wine.
7. Leaving Them Alone
It may sound kind of weird, but sometimes giving your partner some alone time can be the most romantic gift you give them. Whether your partner is an introvert or an extrovert, we all need some time to ourselves sometimes. One of the biggest ways I show my introverted boyfriend that I love him is by shutting the door and not opening it again for a few hours.
All of this to say: Roses and wine are great. Don’t stop with the roses and wine and romantic dinners. But do start thinking about the other things you could do with and for your partner that are totally romantic, without being the slightest bit cliche.