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We've all seen the movies: The male protagonist sends a dozen red roses to his delighted love interest. In the next scene, the two of them enjoy a candlelit dinner on a balcony somewhere exotic. After the cut, he's taking her shopping and telling her to pick out whatever she likes. This is, we're told, the epitome of romance.
Everyone has a basic idea of what romance is from films, novels and TV, but often the cliched idea of romance isn't what women want most. What's more, because the idea of romance promoted in our culture is so overwrought and corny, many men think romance is too much trouble to bother with in a relationship, and give up on the concept altogether.
This is the wrong approach. Romance — the genuine kind, not the clichéd type you see on screen — is a crucial glue that helps you maintain the spark in your relationship; reassuring your partner that you're still attracted to her and interested in pleasing her.
For many men, the idea of being more romantic is pretty daunting. So, to help you up your game in the romance department, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to romance, including what actual women find romantic, how romantic gestures and expectations evolve over the course of a relationship and how to go about bringing more romance into your own relationship, including concrete gift ideas in case inspiration is running low!
1. What Romance Is (and Isn't)
As we've already discussed, most of us gain a basic idea of what constitutes romance from films, novels and TV. Dozens of red roses, candlelit dinners and long walks along the beach are what tends to pop to mind when we think about what romance is. However, there are good reasons why you shouldn't always rely on tropes from film, books and TV to determine how to be more romantic in your own relationship. Firstly, these clichéd signifiers of romance tend not to be what most women want (as we'll see soon), but secondly and more importantly, the idea of romance portrayed on screen is often tainted by the troublesome idea that you should continue to pursue women even after they've expressed disinterest, and that doing so is "romantic."
Think about the number of movies and songs in which the dogged pursuit of a woman who isn't really interested is portrayed as the height of romance, and borderline-stalker behavior like showing up to her work unannounced with flowers or throwing stones at her window at night is held up as the ultimate romantic ideal. None of this behavior is advisable in real life: If a woman has rejected your advances and indicated clearly that she's not interested, it's better to respect her wishes rather than pursue her: Enthusiastic consent is a fundamental cornerstone of relationships, and it's important to respect that no means no.
So, that's what romance isn't, and why you shouldn't necessarily just follow what you see on movies or read in books. What is romantic, then?
2. Small Gestures Count
Pretty much all of the women we spoke to about romance said that it was about small gestures rather than huge, melodramatic performances. For Fe, 29, it's physical gestures that delight her most. "While big gestures are great, my favorite romantic gesture is subtle affection not associated directly with sex," she explains. "So, kisses on the forehead; cheeky butt grabs; touching while in the kitchen or being snuggled in bed. For me, it keeps the connection going during day-to-day moments, and if I'm in a bad mood it can lighten it."
Plan Thoughtful Dates
Planning cute, customized dates also rated as highly desirable romantic behavior for the women we spoke to. "Planning dates that show he's taken what you've said on board is so romantic," says Emily, 30. "For example, if you like certain types of films, food or music, he takes you to places you can get those specific things. If you've mentioned a certain restaurant, he makes a reservation. It doesn't have to be big, but something that shows he's not doing this for every girl — generic dates that you could imagine any girl being on."
RELATED: 10 Super-Solid Date Ideas For Every Level Of Dating
Fe echoes Emily's sentiment, too: "When my boyfriend planned a date day for my birthday, it was super awesome. Just well thought-out in terms of what I enjoy: a cat café, otter experience and improv comedy! I don't think these date days need to be elaborate or expensive, just well-considered in terms of what the other person likes or something new to do together."
Don't feel as though you have to play things icy-cool with your partner, either: this is pretty much the opposite of romance. "Another thing I find romantic is frequent and unreserved expressions of interest," Emily explains. "This can be a bit of a minefield as we don't want to veer into overwhelming expressions of love that feel premature, but the stoic mystery man thing is so overplayed. It's sometimes really nice to hear a genuine, 'I really like you' or 'I think you're great'."
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Be Observant And Attentive
Picking up on small cues that your girlfriend signals can be an extremely romantic gesture. "Learn the things she loves," says Charlotte, 25. "You don't need to ask her, just look and listen. Does she get up every morning and make herself a cup of tea? Did she just mention her back is sore? Be attentive to the small things and do something little for her each and every day — get up before her and make that cup of tea, rub her back or book her in for a massage. We all love dinner dates and flowers, but it's actually the things that help you get through the day-to-day grind that really stack up and make you feel loved. You're in a relationship to make life better so you want someone to share the load with, and that means doing things for each other."
Grace, 31, is in agreement with Charlotte: "Romance, to me, is demonstrating that you really understand someone. I think the most romantic thing is when you show you're listening and do something totally unprompted. So, it could be as small and easy as this: once, when I told a guy I'd never seen a certain movie I really wanted to see, when we met up later that night at his place he'd got that movie cued up with my favorite food ready for a little screening." Small, thoughtful gestures like this are a huge hit with women: they show that you're listening and that you really appreciate what makes your partner tick.
3. How Romantic Gestures And Expectations Evolve
Often relationships start off with a bang in the romance department: you're eager to impress your new mate, so you'll go the extra mile. Then, when the honeymoon phase is over, the romantic gestures start to wane.
It's important to reverse this trend and make sure you keep the romance alive in long-term relationships, too. As you get to know your partner better, you're in a perfect position to make your romantic gestures really tailored to the person you're with."Once you've been together awhile, I think it can go even deeper, right?" Grace says. "It's like when you almost know someone better than they know themselves. When my boyfriend was on tour and I knew he was coming home and was going to be sleep-deprived and exhausted, I'd make sure that the fridge was stocked with all his essentials and favorite snacks, so that he could just sink into the couch and not stress." This is the perfect thoughtful, romantic gesture for you to replicate with your busy partner.
Thinking about how your partner is feeling and anticipating what you can do to ease the pressure or reduce stress is the perfect way to inject romance into an existing relationship. It's also important to keep intimacy alive by reaffirming to your partner how you feel about her. "As you get into more established relationship territory, frequent expressions of affection can be such a nice affirmation," Emily explains. "Most girls I know can feel insecure about how a relationship is going, so having confirmation that things are going well is always nice to hear."
4. Romantic Gift Ideas To Fit Your Budget
Real romance is about how you behave and treat your partner, but sometimes you're going to want to purchase something concrete that can help express how you feel. We've got you covered with the following romantic gift ideas:
Buying flowers is ground zero when it comes to romantic behavior, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind when selecting a bunch for your beloved. The first is timing: to be really romantic, flowers should be a "just because" thing, rather than a birthday present or — worst of all — an apology or peace offering after you've behaved badly.
Secondly, your selection of flowers matters. A dozen red roses is the archetypal romantic gift, but it's so cliched and played out that it's unlikely to go down as well as a customized selection of her favorite blooms. Listen to her when she talks about the kinds of flowers she likes and buy those instead, or if you don't know her exact preferences, go for a bunch that reminds you of her. So, sunflowers for a bubbly, vibrant woman; tulips for a sleek, refined lady; irises for an avant garde, artistic type... you get the idea.
AskMen Recommends:Bouqs.com Online Flower Shopping
A scented candle can be a great way to set the mood when you're in the bedroom or to make your home a more romantic environment more generally. There's a variety for every budget, and you can tailor the type of scent depending on what she's into and the mood you're trying to set (relaxing, sexy, etc.)
AskMen Recommends:Jo Malone Orange Blossom-Scented Home Candle, $70.00 at Nordstrom.com
Scented Candle Diffuser
Bonus points if you add a diffuser to your scented candle, and then set them up before she gets home from work, so that all she has to do when she walks in the door is kick off her shoes and enjoy you massaging her shoulders while the environment around you smells glorious.
AskMen Recommends:Diptyque Baies Hourglass Scented Room Diffuser, $150.00 at Amazon.com
A Sex Toy
Romance shouldn't always be exclusively sex-focused, but of course it's important to maintain a healthy and vibrant sex life in a relationship. One way to inject the romance back into the relationship is by surprising her with a new toy, or even going shopping for sex toys together.
There are many companies that make shopping for sex toys an enjoyable (rather than seedy) experience, and high-end sex toys are getting better and better. Lelo makes incredible sex toys with the finest technology and materials, and there are toys that couples can use together, too.
AskMen Recommends:The Lelo Tiani, $117.89 at Amazon.com
There's nothing quite as romantic as being run a hot bath by someone you care about, and a well-selected bath oil can be the perfect final touch. Like candles, they help to set the mood and make the environment smell delicious, but in this case you can offer to help rub it in! Her skin will be glowing with moisture, too, so you'll be in her good books for weeks for this one.
AskMen Recommends:Jo Malone London Red Roses Bath Oil, $70.00 at Amazon.com
A well-chosen painting or photograph can be the height of romance, but you're going to need to be careful here, as you don't want to choose something she can't stand. For this reason, buying art as a romantic gesture is best done in an established relationship after you've had time to discern her tastes.
If you're good at photography yourself or your partner is, you could get a significant photograph from your relationship blown up and framed, or else you could purchase a painting from an artist she's expressed interest in. For more general purchases and if you trust your own judgment, Saatchi Art occasionally has deals for high-quality pieces for $200 or less, and Etsy has a wide range of prints and caters to various tastes.
AskMen Recommends:Prints at Etsy.com