In A Lover's Discourse, Roland Barthes astutely deconstructs the expression "I love you" - "Once the first avowal has been made, 'I love you' has no meaning whatever; it merely repeats in an enigmatic mode - so blank does it appear - the old message (which may not have been transmitted in these words)."
Maybe that's why "I love you" is tagged with stigma and taboo. We resist saying it because we think saying it for the first time matters so much, while all subsequent times mean so little.
We build it up in our minds - it's supposed to be special. Or maybe we're simply hesitant to say it because we fear not hearing it back. Either way, if you can't bring yourself to say those words, then it's time to find alternatives to expressing yourself verbally.
1. Travel back in time
I don't know about you, but to me, a trip down memory lane with a loved one is always a good idea. Why not take your significant other back to when you two first met? And if you met online, then revisit the venue of your first date! As you sit in the same spot, and recall the topics you discussed, and how you felt during the date, warm reminiscence and nostalgia will have the both of you bathed in love, even without having said "I love you".
2. Recreate a cliche
Cliches are cliches for a reason - they work. Put yourself in a rom-com scenario: take your other half stargazing, to the beach, or to see fireworks. You've watched what happens there in movies and TV shows - boy and girl laugh about something, suddenly fall silent, and gaze into each other's eyes until one of them utters "I love you". Places brimming with romantic atmospheres often compel people to be inexplicably tender and passionate. Who knows? You may end up saying "I love you" after all.
3. Say it through a song
There's a reason why every male protagonist in a 1990s rom-com has made a mixtape for his paramour. Songs help say what you can't. Admit it - you've subtweeted lyrics before as well, hoping to inflame your past crushes' curiosity and subtly suggest more-than-friendly feelings towards them. So put on your most romantic mix for your other half! There's a wide selection of songs out there to say how you feel, but personally, I'm partial to When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge and Tonight, I Celebrate My Love by Peabo Bryson. After all, old is gold.
4. Get in the spirit of giving
Valentine's Day may have already passed, but relationships are basically one long season for giving. Who says you can't pick up a "I-was-just-thinking-of-you" gift for your significant other anyway? In fact, that kind of surprise can only elevate his/her impression of you! While running to the gift store and picking something up may be the easy option, making something with your own two hands will be an even greater pledge of love.
If you don't have much time on your hands, then stencil a quirky, adorable message onto a coffee mug and call it a day. But if you do want to augment that element of care and time in your gift, try crafting a DIY scrapbook or a piece of art for your other half. Perhaps the both of you are avid travellers - in that case, buy a copy of the world map, and map out with cross-stitch the journeys you have taken individually, the journeys you have taken together, and the journeys you want to take with him/her in the future.
5. Thoroughly pamper your significant other
This is an easy way of showing love that people often forget. Booking a massage for two or giving your boyfriend/girlfriend a DIY facial (make sure to use quality products - I'm sure he/she won't appreciate waking up to a massive breakout!) says "I know you've been working hard, and I want you to relax for a bit". It shows that you care about your other half's well-being, and that in itself demonstrates great love.
6. Invest in his/her dream date
Save up to give your partner the experience of his/her lifetime: An unforgettably romantic date. This will be time-consuming. You will have to spend weeks casually digging out information on what your partner's dream date is like. Chances are, your significant other won't have a complete idea of his/her dream date, so finding this out will take a lot of probing and guesswork from you. Start from what he/she usually likes to do, as well as the romantic movies he/she likes to watch. Plan the entire thing from start to end, and watch your partner realise just how much you love him/her.
Actions may speak louder than words, but at best, your partner will only be able to guess at the intentions behind these actions. The greatest way to say "I love you" is to come right out and say it, and hopefully, these more subtle, less verbally expressive methods of declaring your love will push you one step closer to actually saying those three words.
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