17 Unexpected Ways To Say "I Love You" To Your Partner

Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
Love isn't always expressed with the words "I love you," and it's often more powerful when it's not. We place so much emphasis on exchanging those three words with our partners, though, that actions that say the same thing sometimes go underappreciated.

That's why we've gathered 17 accounts of the sweetest (and sometimes strangest) romantic gestures you have ever received. There are no bouquets of roses or heart-shaped boxes of chocolates here. You told us stories of monogrammed lasagnas, an apartment adorned with sticky notes, and a three-foot-tall puppet custom-made to look like you (yes, really). The common thread is that the suitors ahead took the adage "show, don't tell" to heart.

If you're in the market for inspiration to apply to your own relationship, or simply want to live vicariously through others, click through. Just don't blame us when you're left wondering why your darling partner has never done any of the following. (Although the jury is still out on the advisability of giving your partner a puppet in her likeness.)
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1 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"I hate my birthday. I don't know how to explain it, but without fail, every year, something bad happens, or my dad forgets, or I'm in bed sick. It's also in January and tends to get lost between the holiday and Valentine's Day hubbubs.

"On my 24th birthday in particular, my boyfriend and I had just quit our jobs in Los Angeles, put everything we owned in storage, and moved back to our alma mater in Iowa to search for jobs we felt more passionate about. We were broke and not feeling particularly festive, so my birthday came and went with no special celebration.

"Six months later, on my half-birthday in July, my boyfriend, out of nowhere, threw me a surprise birthday party. All of my friends were waiting for me at a rooftop bar in Brooklyn, with cupcakes and champagne, and I've never been more surprised in my life. We now plan on celebrating my half-birthday annually to beat the birthday curse."
2 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My boyfriend does not show emotion. He's...a brick wall (he makes me laugh more than anyone; he just acts like he's 'too macho' to ever get mushy-gushy with me).

"The other day, he could tell I was a little upset about something. It didn't help that he wasn't acting very affectionate after we hadn't seen each other for several weeks. Full disclosure: He didn't want to be intimate with me, which always makes me feel close to him, and that just made me even more upset. He laid down next to me instead of getting ready for work, put his arm around me, and opened up to me for the first time in a really long time about a deeply personal family issue that had been affecting his behavior for those past few days.

"He squeezed me in a really tight hug and kissed my forehead, and that made me feel closer to him than I've felt in a really long time. We just held each other in silence for a few minutes, and it no longer mattered that I didn't get laid. That open, vulnerable conversation about something he said he hadn't shared with anyone else — and just a really, really tight hug — said it all for me."
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3 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"After a bad day (or was it a week?) at work, my boyfriend came home with this bear. The intention was to tell me he thinks I'm smart, talented, and maybe even Superwoman-like, [and that] when I doubt myself, I should have a reminder. We named the bear Toughie, and he now mostly sits on my bookshelf. However, some days, I'll find the stuffed animal propped against my pillow with a cute handwritten note attached. Lesson learned: No matter how tough we are or try to be, everyone can use something snuggly."
4 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"Last weekend, my fiancé took care of me after I came home tipsy (okay, more than tipsy) from a night out... Throughout the night, he checked in, making sure I was okay after picking me up from the bus stop, walking me slowly (very, very slowly) into our apartment, helping me undress, getting me a cold glass of water, tucking me into bed, and letting me sleep... He's a keeper!"
5 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My mom used to have a little signal to tell me she loved me when I was younger: by squeezing my hand three times... I told this to my first high school boyfriend (casually trying to get him to say it), and an hour later, he squeezed my hand thrice."
6 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"Years ago, I told my boyfriend that my two best friends and I sent a semi-regular email to each other saying what we are grateful for. Not long after that, he started sending me a note every day, with three things he was grateful for — little stuff like appreciating our routines, or the fact that we had a good day at the beach, or that I packed his lunch that day.

"We've been doing it a few days a week now for almost three years. Even on days when we're not feeling especially lovey-dovey in life, it's a good reminder that there's plenty of stuff to be grateful for, and that we are grateful for one another. It also forces us to share things that are not necessarily focused on our relationship, that might otherwise get lost, like 'I closed this deal' or 'I wrote this thing.'"
7 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"I told my boyfriend that I thought we were becoming too boring and not spontaneous enough since moving in together, so he surprised me and bought tickets to Paris. It was a way to show me how much he loves me and wants to make me happy (even when I'm completely irrational)."
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8 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My husband and I both hate making small decisions (like what movie to see, when to set the alarm, or where to order dinner from). We can spend an hour scrolling through Seamless as our conversation devolves into us back-and-forth-ing about who really chose Chinese last night. When my husband can tell I'm stressed, blue, or — conversely — if I'm on top of the world and don't want to be brought down, he makes all those choices. He doesn't make a big deal about it; I don't even know if he realizes that I notice, but it always means a lot and makes me feel so loved and cared for."
9 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My husband knows how obsessed I am with Chicago-style hotdogs (a taste I discovered during my Chi-town college years) and how much I scorn the sad imitations that are available in NYC. Shake Shack's is a joke. So one time, he was on a trip somewhere and had a connecting flight via O'Hare, and he brought me home a Chicago dog as a surprise! I guess it sounds a bit minor and silly, but to me it really showed that he knows me, pays attention to my likes and dislikes, and was thinking of me when he was away. I loved it!"
10 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"I was really nervous to move in with my boyfriend at first. I always get a high level of anxiety around any major life decision, and this was no different, despite the many years we had been together. We had seen a ton of apartments, and none of them felt right. They were too small, no windows, you name it. None of them were just right.

"I was working in film production at the time, and my hours were long and inflexible. Andrew ended up having to look at a few apartments on his own. Finally, I got a call around 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. I knew he was going to see a listing in Brooklyn Heights, on possibly the most gorgeous street imaginable. I knew the apartment would be small, but it was worth a look due to its location. I picked up the phone and Andrew simply said, 'We found it. Get over here.'

"I was surprisingly able to duck out of work a bit early, and I got in a cab to book it to Brooklyn Heights. On my way, I felt this overwhelming feeling that life was about to change. That a part of my adolescence was over, so to speak. It sounds super dramatic, but I just sort of sensed that this was the beginning of a new chapter.

"When the cab pulled up, I was speechless. The street was like a postcard, the brownstone...plucked from my dreams. I buzzed up and was let into the building. Our broker had left Andrew in the apartment to wait for me, knowing the super could close up when we were finished. I climbed the five flights to the top floor, growing more and more anxious with each flight. When I got to the top of the stairs, I noticed a Post-it note on the door. As I got closer, I realized it said, 'Are you ready, Kate?'

"I walked in the front door, and there were Post-its everywhere. Andrew was standing in the living room, smiling, and urged me to walk around. On the stove, the Post-it said, 'This is where we will cook feasts.' On a wall in the living room, one said, 'This is where we will snuggle up on the couch and watch movies.' On a wall in the bedroom (underneath the skylight) one read, 'This is where we will dream.' And in the bathroom, in true Andrew form, on the toilet, there was a Post-it that read, 'My Throne.' I started laughing hysterically, and immediately my anxiety melted away. I knew I was home, and I felt more loved than ever."
11 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My college sweetheart and I broke up, and I was devastated. It had been months, and I always thought, in the back of my head, that we'd get back together. Then, one night, my roommates threw a party and wanted to include his friends (because my roommate was dating one), so they asked me if they could invite him. I said fine. [He] said he had a date and couldn't make it.

"I was so mad that I said, 'Tell him the door is officially closed for good.' I cried the whole day. A half hour before the party started, the doorbell rang. I answered and there he was, carrying a bag of ice and grinning. He asked if he could please help set up. He had canceled the date and showed up...for good. We're now very happily married."
12 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My boyfriend and I just got back from a nine-day trip to Europe, which I planned 95% of. Even though it satisfied my anxiety to be so organized, I spent the entire trip worrying about whether or not he was having fun based on the decisions I had made. After seeing how stressed I was and how much work I had done, my boyfriend took it upon himself to plan a relaxing, romantic trip to the Adirondacks only weeks later. His thoughtfulness and initiative made me feel so loved and valued."
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13 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"One year, for my birthday, my boyfriend (now husband) surprised me by making a double-chocolate layer cake from scratch. He had never baked before in his life, and had (has) generally limited kitchen skills. He managed to go shopping for all the ingredients, bake the cake, make the frosting, frost the cake, hide it in his closet, and clean and straighten up the kitchen to look exactly how it did before — all in just a four-hour window when I was out of the apartment running errands. Later that evening, when he brought out the cake to surprise me (along with photo documentation of the baking process as proof he actually did it), I was floored — the fact that he had spent four hours frantically trying to pull off this big surprise meant the world to me. Also, the cake was fucking delicious."
14 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"My boyfriend made me lasagna with my initials on it. No joke. Also, he’s really, really good in bed, and we both took our love languages, and we both scored 10 for touch…so there’s that. We bangle daily."
15 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"One time, I was visiting my college roommate's hometown, and I met this guy. After hooking up with him and hanging out for a weekend, it was time for me to go back to NYC. He was headed home, and I was headed to the bus stop. I thought, Quick hookup, whatever, I'll never see this kid again.

"So as I was on the bus, waiting for it to leave and obviously texting one of my best friends about him, I suddenly got a call from a random number. Turned out it was him. He said, 'Look out your window.'

"I turned, and there he was, out of his car, and looking at me through the bus window. He said he couldn't have let me leave without a proper goodbye: He had asked my friend where my bus stop was and chased down my bus. He asked for my number and said he hoped to see me again. We started dating long-distance one month later."
16 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"When my husband and I were first dating, our first real gift exchange as a couple was Christmas 2012. I had gotten him a nice leather wallet. He, on the other hand, gifted me a three-foot-tall working puppet of myself. My mouth was agape, and the only word that came out was 'Why?!' He went on to tell me his incredibly considerate thought process, which I couldn't help but fawn over. Apparently, it was because he thinks I'm creative, animated, and enjoy telling stories and sharing with others. Unfortunately, all those characteristics of my personality meant a puppet...naturally. It does fulfill its intentional purpose — it's a fun story that I share with others. 'Nice Annie,' which we jokingly named it, lives in an Ikea bag in one of our storage spots. And yes, of course there is a video of it on my phone as proof that this is indeed a true story."
17 of 17
Illustrated By Abbie Winters.
"Some people are picky eaters; I’m a picky sleeper. I have to complete a checklist before I'm ready for bed: Are the curtains drawn? Do I have earplugs and a V-neck or button-down to sleep in? (I don’t like anything touching my neck while I sleep.) And do I have a towel to put under my pillow to make it the right height? My S.O. knows all of this, and before we fall asleep, he patiently runs through the list to make sure I have what I need. I think, at first, he was perplexed (and even annoyed) by my routine, but now he accepts it as one of my quirks — and worth the reward of sleeping next to me."
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