Relationships

What IS Romance, Really?

When Harry Met Sally

No, but for real…

My cynicism started young. I was eight years old when my “boyfriend” (a title deserving of the largest quotation marks possible) approached me on the playground and told me he didn’t like me anymore.

“Why?” I demanded.

“Because there’s a new girl in our class,” he explained, like a Peanuts character with a penchant for heartbreak. “You used to be the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, but now you’re only the second prettiest girl, so I don’t like you anymore.”

His words cut me to my third grade core. And just like that, I stopped believing in romance.

From that point forward, while my friends adopted a more optimistic worldview, every time a human attempted something romantic in my general proximity, my reaction was something like this. You can keep your teddy bears and your surprise trips to Paris, your slow dance songs and your Say Anything gestures. When Harry Met Sally notwithstanding, I don’t even like romantic comedies. They’re filled with tropes and rarely pass the Bechdel test.

I longed for something different — subtle, yet serious as a graveyard — which I feared did not exist. There is a Billy Bragg lyric in which he describes his love as “a little black cloud in a dress” and that spoke to me. I’m not unhappy! I’m just me — generally sardonic and often skeptical.

So you can imagine what happens when this person goes out into a world with dating apps featuring men posing nude in plants with only a fern frond covering what is necessary. (Why?) There were cancelled dates and false starts and breakups and breakups and breakups.

Slowly over time, I gave up on all that and embraced a different kind of romance, all on my own. A life filled with friends and creativity and wonder over things like puppies and Trader Joe’s foodstuffs. Of solo adventures. Of outcomes more easily controlled because they didn’t involve another human being.

And yet.

Sometimes, if I was very quiet, there whispered the romance of possibility. The undeniable romantic pull of what is yet to be. And in those moments, I couldn’t help but wonder (sorry, so sorry) might romance — that other romance, involving another person — be possible after all?

I’m in a relationship now (couldn’t you tell, from my super optimistic outlook on love HAHAHA) and this question has been plaguing me. How can I believe in chakras and not in romance?

I want to be a believer. I want to remember to gaze at the stars. I want to forgo the giant sunglasses and weep openly at weddings. I want to engage in behavior that makes other people want to throw up a little. In the words of the immortal Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” Maybe, I suspect, I believe in romance so much that I’m afraid to let it run amok.

“There is a certain romance in having a witness to your life,” offers one friend, when I ask what it’s like to be married.

“I just went to the Met,” supplies another friend. “And man, that place is full of couples. It often looks like one person was dragged there by the other, but that is its own kind of romance.”

My officemate offers me a glimpse of her grandmother’s scrapbook about love, compiled for the women in her family. It tells the story of her grandparents’ courtship and decades-long marriage, with memories down to the smallest details. “My grandmother was the biggest romantic,” she said. “And my grandfather worshipped her.”

“I’ll never give up on romance,” says my best friend. “All you really need is two people who believe in it.”

Maybe that doesn’t sound so impossible, after all.

To that end, what’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done? Or that someone has done for you? Help us all feel a little warmer on this December day…

P.S. 12 relationship tips from a weddings reporter and the best romance novels for smart women.

  1. peyton says...

    My fiance is incredibly romantic, but to the rest of the world very no-nonsense. His dad practically kisses the ground his mother walks on, and he learned from his dad how to treat me. He’s the engineer type, and sometimes romantic gestures that are typically romantic, he doesn’t really get, but he finds his own way to prove to me I matter to him. And while emotions aren’t always his forte, the past few months I’ve seen him try really hard and it has made me feel so cherished. I lost my dad when I was 13, way before ever meeting him, and this year my dad’s old Subaru, which had become mine, died. It was like losing him all over again. He took me to the lot where it would be sold for pieces and held me while I sobbed in that car. A month later he proposed, and a month after that he wrote a letter to my dad asking for my hand in marriage to read to my mom. He does a lot of little things that let me know he cares, but him being there for me in that moment, especially because he really can’t understand what that was like for me, was the ultimate gesture of romance for me.

    • Ramona says...

      I lost my dad 6 years ago, and inherited his Toyota just as I got engaged to be married. That car just hit 250, 000 miles and has been so dependable (just like he was). My husband and I have moved cross country with all our possessions inside in that car, gone on so many road trips, and even slept in the back many nights. One window doesn’t roll down, there is a dent in the bumper, and could use new tires, but we are hoping to enjoying a few more miles with it <3

  2. Anna says...

    This brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!

  3. This is such a beautiful essay. My husband is the biggest romantic and I love it.

  4. Fernanda Abreu says...

    I´m having a hard time to feel in love with my husband due to the lack of sleep (7 months baby girl), work full time, all the domestic labor and deal with the bank, as we are buying our first house. Reading all these comments made my heart full of gratitude, reminding me of why I married this guy. Thank you so much COJ Community. You are amazing! <3

    • Jessica Wiseman says...

      Can’t imagine trying to deal with buying a house on top of having a baby. The stress of buying ours was one of the worst things ever. Hope you and your hubby are kind to yourselves x

  5. Chelsea says...

    Casually sobbing at my desk. This is what love is.

  6. amrita says...

    I don’t know that my husband would refer to himself as romantic but I would. I think what strikes me most – much more then any of the larger gestures in our life together – is that going into our 9th year of marriage he still brings me either coffee or tea in bed every morning. It doesn’t matter if we’ve argued, if either of us is sick, or what time it is. When I had to leave the house at 4am to get to the hospital in time for work, he would wake up, make me coffee and then go back to sleep. Completely steadfast. It is my favorite thing.

  7. Allison says...

    when my boyfriend and i first started dating, i was training for a marathon. by the time the race came, we had only been “going on dates” for a few months (not yet calling each other boyfriend & girlfriend). he was sweet enough to take the day off work to come cheer me on and we agreed that mile 24 is where I’d look for him and he could expect to see me at around 2:30ish. i ended up having severe dehydration issues throughout the race which set my timing back *a lot*. i was about 1-1.5 hours behind schedule and texted him from the medical tent to say “go ahead, not even sure i’ll finish this thing.” but sure enough, when i got to mile 24 he was there with a beaming smile on his face, iphone camera snapping pictures of me coming toward him. in the photos, you can see my hand clasp to my chest as soon as i saw him in the crowd; the truest relief. that was the moment that i knew i was in love with him (and i almost blurted it right out! marathon running does crazy things to your brain …). this year, we’re running that same marathon together <3

    • venutur says...

      Such a warm, lovely story. Thanks for sharing

  8. Sydni Jackson says...

    So many things… I am the only person he follows on Instagram because he wants to see what I’m up to, he played and sang “Belle” (Jack Johnson) for me on my birthday (even though he HATES singing), he used to save his feelings to tell them to me instead of his roommates (because he rarely had anything to share and once he talked it through he would forget to share with me), he planned a perfect day (full of dates to various places!) for our engagement, he surprised me by using my mom’s diamond in my ring but since it’s round and he knew I preferred square, he had it set with the four prongs on the “corners” so it looks square, he waited to say I love you until we were engaged because I only wanted to say I love you to one person in my life, he twice sent me flowers when we were in different countries on our anniversary. You would never meet my husband and think of him as being romantic, but my favorite thing about being his wife is that I get to experience that side of him that no one else does!! <3

  9. Alex says...

    I had appendicitis and asked my then-boyfriend to bring some pyjamas in. He brought his own, very beloved jammies in and said I could borrow them. (he has had the same ones since he went to boarding school – they were his only winter pair and very precious. AND supremely comfortable from a thousand wash cycles) That’s when I knew he was the one. Two weeks ago I borrowed them again when I went into hospital to have our first baby. He was more hesitant this time because of the possible mess factor!

  10. Jessica Wiseman says...

    I’ve never believed in the grand romantic gestures but I have a typical one in my history. I met my husband while travelling around Australia. He went home 6 weeks before me. He played it dead cool, I flew home on a Tuesday and he flew over (from Scotland to Ireland) on the Friday to tell me he loved me. We have been a unit ever since.

    But really, romance for me has always been the little things. He buys me fizzy water every week even though he thinks it is pointless. He comes home from a night out and tells me I am still his favourite person to hang out with no matter how much fun he had. Things like this.

    A few years ago, I discovered an entirely new level of romance. I suffered a depressive breakdown and was suicidal. My Colin was incredible. He showered me. Picked me up and drove me around so ‘we could be sad somewhere different for a while’. Screamed ‘hey world, stop being an asshole’ out the window with me. Sincerely congratulated me for the tiniest wins on my road to recovery ‘hang on, you washed a teaspoon and showered? That’s impressive’. Supported me financially and shouldered the stress of my recovery on top of his own life. For four years, he prioritised me completely. He helped me find glimpses of myself most days when I struggled to see who I was. Like he was caretaker of my personality until I could connect with it again. This kind of love is really hard to describe. To me, it is pure romance. We are so strong now. I would absolutely step in front of a bullet for him. In some ways, he already has for me.

    • Alex says...

      This is beautiful!

    • Jamie says...

      Amazingly sweet story of dedication and an a true acts of love. How I wish I knew this.

    • Ashley Koehn says...

      And tears. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of love (and self love).

  11. Lauren Camille says...

    So so glad you’re back Caroline! I love meaningful articles like these/

  12. Sara says...

    I first felt truly loved and taken care of by my boyfriend when my parents were going through a terrible divorce. I had been the one to shoulder the brunt of helping my mom and navigating the heartbreaking and traumatic process and when it came to move her out, Mike was there. Doing the heavy lifting physically and emotionally, Mike stepped in so I didn’t have to do it alone. He was taking care of my mom, but by sharing the burden of being the support system with me I felt like I wasn’t going to have to do the hard things alone anymore and I felt such gratitude and love.

    What is romance? A shared safe harbor.

  13. Kristian says...

    I could share romantic gestures I’ve been on the receiving end of or have given, but reading all the comments, one thing really struck me. Romance seems to be any act where the other person is truly seen. They are all, to a one, down to being thoughtful and considerate, taking another’s needs and preferences and doing something to meet those. We all want to be acknowledged for the unique and special people we are.

    Maybe that is why some of us are skeptical of romance- we’ve been told it is XYZ (a candle-lit dinner, heart shaped chocolate) when XYZ is not our preferences, but reading the comments shows there can be romance in gestures big and small- so long as they are geared to a specific person and not generic.

    • gsolon says...

      “romance seems to be any act where the other person is truly seen”
      you nailed it. xox

    • I love this so much, what a lovely observation. To me, this is the ultimate best thing — to feel seen.

    • Jessica Wiseman says...

      Nailed it

  14. Katie says...

    My girlfriend surprised me on my birthday with a WhatsApp-d photo of a cup of tea, captioned “I made you a present”. We don’t live together, and I suddenly realised the photo was taken in my kitchen. She then appeared in my bedroom, with the tea, to tell me she had put pastries in the oven and had borrowed her dad’s car to drive me to work so we could spend an extra 15 minutes together.

  15. Veronica says...

    Oh this was lovely to read. And the comments! You attract the best readers, Joanna. And Caroline – beautiful writing as always.

    I always say I’m too practical to be a romantic (also, are we sure everyone “in love” isn’t faking it??), but I think, I, too, am perhaps a romantic who’s just afraid of the consequences of such an admission, and to “let it run amok.”

    I love everyone’s little examples of everyday romance. Honestly, one of my favorite gestures from a recent short-lived relationship was this: even though he was enthusiastically and exclusively a dog person, this man followed 3 different lame cat Instagrams just to send me funny posts.

  16. Pearl says...

    While I love a good grand gesture – having my crush surprise me by playing the piano, singing my favorite song, with a dozen roses in front of the whole school to ask me to prom (yes that happened, it was pretty high-school-dreamy!) – I find the little things my husband does daily to be the most romantic…tucking me into bed, doing the dishes, making the bed, a foot rub after walking home in high heels, picking up something I forgot at the grocery store, etc. It just reminds me that, man, I totally lucked out and married up.

  17. Emily says...

    My boyfriend of 7 years(!) knows I love hallmark cards and that I put so much thought into every card I send. For our 7th anniversary, he gave me a bag of 52 hallmark cards from me to me for the next year whenever I need a card to cheer me up. All the happy tears.

  18. Elly says...

    Caroline,
    Your words are so refreshing to read. I read a lot of blogs (A Cup Of Jo is at the top of my list) and you bring such a lovely voice to this blog and to the internet blog world in general. I don’t often connect with voices of married women or mothers, although I admire them, so it is so nice to listen to a voice that resonates with me. I am a 28 year old, young professional, dating (currently in a relationship but still figuring it out) and I know there’s a lot of us out there! I am a full believer of romance and your friend’s quote at the end of your post hit the nail on the head. Thank you for your words!

  19. Nicole says...

    Many moons ago my brand new husband and I invited a crazy number of teenagers (he was a youth pastor and I was a middle school teacher) to our house for a Super Bowl party. We went all out with a popcorn machine, a hot dog warmer, home made chili, a giant bonfire, multiple couches from the church in our living room, a temporary big screen and old school projector for the game, etc. Needless to say, by the time the last kid left, there was chili-barf and wet mud all over our house and furniture. I just stood frozen in the dining room, staring this overwhelmed stare, thinking about the time and energy required of me to get my house back. He said, “Why don’t you just go to bed?”

    When I woke up that blessed Monday morning, the house was COMPLETELY CLEAN. Like, spotless. He stayed awake all night taking all of the extraneous furniture and junk food machines back to church, scrubbing the floors, washing all of the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, EVERYTHING. I burst into grateful tears. I’ve never felt more loved.

  20. I love it when mundane moments become romantic simply because of the person you are with!
    My boyfriend and I were best friends for years, but we first realized we liked each other romantically while working at summer camp, sharing a can of ravioli beside a campfire.
    Last summer was tough for me and I always took naps around the same time of the day from emotional exhaustion. My boyfriend often used his work breaks to pick up a cup of my favourite ice cream from the local ice cream shop. He would leave it in my freezer to find when I woke up.
    One morning, I was a stressed and annoyed with something and I looked up to find him with tears glittering in his eyes, which is not normal. When I asked him what was wrong he said he was just happy to be in love with his best friend.
    It’s the little things that get me.

  21. nicole says...

    I worked at a fancy chocolate store in high school and one Valentine’s Day this elderly couple came in with a huge red velvet box that looked as old as they. The man told me that they were high school sweethearts. Every year since their first valentines day he filled that box for her full of chocolates. I’m a romantic and their story gave me hope!

  22. Jennifer says...

    My husband shows his love for me with a million small and large gestures every day. In the last week, he has brought me coffee in bed in the mornings, he bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate my last night of class (I am a college professor), and – the most notable to me, though it will undoubtedly sound very odd to others – he bought an alarm system for our house. I realize this does not sound romantic, but allow me to explain! I have had trouble sleeping for the past two years due to a strange paranoia that someone is going to break into our house. (There are reasons for this – but I won’t bore you with the details.) He does not have this fear, but he knows I do and that I haven’t been sleeping well, so he did some research and bought an alarm system. We set it up last night, and I slept through the night for the first time in a long, long time. To me, this is love. As we were setting it up, I kept thinking that I know he didn’t really want this, but he knew it was important to me, so he did it and never complained about it. He’s the best.

  23. Lauren says...

    My ex told me to never send a love letter because it can be used against you, so I never did give him one (and I’m a regular letter-writer to friends, so it hurt a little to feel like I couldn’t). There were so many subtle things he did to kill romance that I didn’t realize until long after.

    With my current boyfriend everything changed. From the start, we’ve never shied away from showing our whole heart – because we’re both super sentimental people, and this love is more than I ever knew could be. Some of the romance is textbook, and some is just the being there and being consistent taking care of each other. The first letter I wrote him was literally a message in a bottle. From there, we’ve sent too many letters to count – especially postcards with photos of us and our adventures printed on them! For all of November, he was talking about his “secret mission”, which he would work on days when I didn’t see him. It turned out to be this handmade Advent Calendar. Sweets, toys, and of course letters line the days. When I look at it, I just melt. He always puts the time in, and more, he always puts his heart in. But then, the last few weeks I’ve been sick. He’s always ready to drop everything to take care of me, whether it’s picking up some food, making me soup, or just holding me.

    One night, when he was having a particularly rough week at work, feeling targeted and down, I scurried around his apartment putting silly post-its on random things as he got ready for bed. He woke up, still grumpy, and went into the bathroom and came out laughing and light again. It can feel like such a small thing – 5 minutes and post-its, but seeing his day turn around before my eyes was such a gift. Love may be the why, but romance is the how. In the end, we just want the other to be there and be smiling or laughing. Working for that is always worth it. And now I’m sounding 100% sappier than I ever thought I would become! He just makes me want to be that gushy happy romantic person.

    • Katie O' says...

      Love this story! I used to leave little sticky notes all around my boyfriend’s apartment when we were first dating… turns out he saved them all and had them in a little box that he pulled out when he proposed! I used to be a cynic, but fast forward a decade together, a wedding, a house, and a baby later and he’s made me believe in the romance of the everyday little things.

    • Maggie says...

      “There were so many subtle things he did to kill romance that I didn’t realize until long after.” This spoke to me. Thank you for putting this into words.
      And “we’ve never shied away from showing our whole heart” – I mean, geez, how lovely.

  24. Aly says...

    It is interesting, I think I had one of the most romantic days of my entire life at The Met on Saturday, all alone. Sharing a museum with someone, letting anyone into the extreme joy it brings me, requires a vulnerability I am not sure I have realized how to tap in to.

    • Christina says...

      I was at the Met on Saturday, too!! I love the idea that I may have passed you.

  25. Kristen says...

    My idea of romance has evolved over the course of my relationship with my husband, and, in fact, my definition of it changes every day. We have a four month-old baby, so we are really “in it”, or so our friends with older children tell us. So lately, romance looks more like the “acts of service” love language- taking a sleep shift when you know the other person could use a good night of sleep, or stopping at Target on the way home from work when you’re exhausted because you know it will make your partner’s life a little easier. My husband, despite having no experience with babies before our son was born, is a rockstar dad, and the thing that makes me fall in love with him all over again, in addition to the myriad ways he makes my life easier every day, is watching the two of them play together and seeing how much our son adores him. I turn to mush every time. I know my definition of romance will continue to change as we get out of the trenches of parenting a newborn, but for now, this is where we are!

    • CEW says...

      Our little boy is 4 months as well! I’m right there with you. :)

  26. Anna says...

    When my now-husband and I started dating, I was a wreck.I had a burn-out for many reasons, one was being totally heart-broken by my recent relationship that had ended the most awful way.
    One day during our first weeks together, we accidently listened to a song that was strongly linked to my ex and I burst into tears and couldn‘t stop crying.
    He gently hold me and just said:“ I am on your side.“(not „by your side.“)
    And he totally is.
    Most tragically, he had to hold our still-born son three years ago.
    I will never forget that expression on his face – that was the purest, deepest, sharpest and most vulnerable pain.I could see that he was on the edge of his capability to live and what kept him going was his promise he had given to me.

    When we celebrated our 4-week(😊)-anniversary, he exclaimed:“the next anniversary we celebrate will be our 10th wedding anniversary!“
    And that‘s what we will do in August 2019.

    • Sally says...

      I am deeply sorry about your son.

    • kaela says...

      Thank you for sharing. Sending you love for that beautiful light you had in your life. Glad you have a wonderful human on your side. xo

  27. My husband is so wonderful in so many ways. He’s not the most romantic always but when he decides to be, he seriously makes me swoon. One of the most swoonable things he’s done was 5 years ago when he was in grad school and I was working my booty off to pay for school loans and our life in DC. I came home from a long day and he had to go to night class, so he’d left post-its everywhere, including on the door knob (it said: “welcome home, love”), the dog’s toy (“we already played”), the dog’s leash (“…and did our business”), the kitchen table (“dinner is in the fridge”), an empty wine glass on the counter (“water or wine? or both?”), the bottom of the sink (“sorry, no dishes here”), the bedroom door (“nap?”), and then my pillow (“I love u”). I still feel melty about it. :)

    • Juliette says...

      Oh this really got to me and made me tear up!

  28. Caitlin says...

    My most romantic moment was definitely meeting my husband. Very long story short we met at a bus stop, exchanged numbers and then parted ways as he had to get on his bus and I had to get on mine. As fate would have it my bus was full and wouldn’t let anyone else on. I ended up walking to another bus stop and who do I find there? My future husband! His bus had been full too. He ended up kissing me quickly right before jumping on his bus. That was 10 years ago and we’ve been together since that moment.

    • Steph Gilman says...

      oh i love this so much!

  29. lomagirl says...

    My husband is not romantic- sometimes I wish he were more so. But he brings me coffee in bed when I message him that I’m awake and fills my car when he sees the tank is low on gas. THAT is the kind of love that you can raise three children with.

    • Carol F. says...

      So sweet. That is the kind of husband I have, too.

  30. LN says...

    Having my attractive (and recently single) co-worker come over to my desk to discuss something and then noticing him seeing this tab on my screen – both blushing immediately – that IS somewhat of a romance

    • Stacey says...

      love it!

  31. Rachel says...

    My then-boyfriend in 2013 woke up early at my apartment and went for breakfast while I was still asleep – he set the table with all of it then woke me up and brought me into the living room. I thought it was so sweet and I was very appreciative.

  32. Gemini says...

    So what I’m gathering from these comments is that romance is… speaking someone’s love language. How interesting.
    It sounds like you need to find someone who gives you those words of affirmation, Caroline… “you are the prettiest in all the land.” Maybe then you will have found romance.

    • Fernanda Abreu says...

      This is perfection!

  33. Alissa says...

    When I’d made the decision to move cross country for a handsome boy I’d met, he created a spreadsheet of all my finances. We’d only spent fifteen days in person together but had logged myriad Skype hours over the preceding seven month, so this felt both risky and also the next natural step. The fact that he’d spent hours figuring out how I could make my new life closer to him a success was so sweetly and subtly romantic that I always think of it with a smile ten years and many romantic gestures later.

  34. Michelle says...

    after nearly a decade together, my husband and i welcomed our first baby this fall. knowing how terrified/nervous/anxious i was about the looming 4th trimester with a new baby, my husband started leaving a small gift and handwritten note each week for me saying how proud of me he is and how i’m crushing it as a new mom (whether it’s true or not ;). every week i look forward to those notes that get me through these crazy weeks. i love that guy :)

  35. Shannon says...

    My husband is a very romantic partner so there are many examples but the most important, romantic thing he has ever done for me is when he had nothing at all and gave me everything! It’s a long story but I think that explains it the best.

    • em says...

      so much mystery, yet I know exactly what you mean. thank you for sharing!

  36. Cristina says...

    On Valentine’s Day, I was leaving work early and heading to his apartment before he would get home. We were just going to stay in for the night, cook a really nice meal and have a quiet night together. When I walked in he had flowers and a sweet note and some treats laying out on the table ready to greet me. It was so small, but I loved that he thought about giving me something when he wasn’t even there to make sure I smiled when I walked through the door. Every once in a while he makes these small gestures that make me so happy, like waking me up from a nap with a wedge of my favorite cheese from the overpriced cheese shop or dropping everything when I had the tiniest medical procedure (most people wouldn’t even call it a procedure) to make sure that I was taken care of and had everything I needed. Sometimes I’m a real PITA, but he always makes me feel loved and important to him.

  37. Rachael says...

    I lost my daughter’s initial charm that my husband gave to me a couple of years ago last night. I noticed that it was missing after I put her to sleep, so I assumed it must have fallen off in her room. When she woke up this morning I searched and searched her room, but I couldn’t find it. I was so upset b/c my husband gave it to me unexpectedly after our daughter was sick for a few days as a thank you for taking such good care of her, which was so sweet and made it mean that much more to me! He was home from work today so I asked him to keep an eye out for it, assuming he’d do a half-hearted search. To my surprise, I got a text a couple hours later that he had found it wedged between her crib railing and the mattress. Meant so much to me that he took the time to search that hard for it knowing how much it meant to me. It’s the small moments like that that mean the most. LOVING all these sweet and heartwarming comments about everyone’s love stories! Also, so happy for your Caroline!! :)

  38. Rue says...

    My boyfriend can make me crack up laughing like nobody else. He says my laugh is the best thing he’s ever heard.

    Last night he came home from a work trip and was clearly exhausted. He arrived right at bedtime and we were stumbling around the apartment doing our pre-bed routine, but he still had the energy to unravel a whole bit for me about how it’s weird to use his electric shaver in a hotel room while he’s traveling, and I was standing in the hallway next to the bathroom laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

    There are plenty of times when I think about how I want to spend my life with this guy, and the laughing-so-hard-my-stomach-hurts moments are at the top of that list.

  39. HEG says...

    When my husband and I were dating, he pretended to go on a work trip, but instead flew to another state to tell my parents that he wanted to propose to me. He wasn’t asking their permission, but wanted them to know about this important decision, and wanted to tell them in person. When he proposed, I was doubly moved when I found out that he had made this trip. Sometimes when I’m having a hard day I think about this and it warms my heart. It also makes me laugh to think of how awkward it must have been to stay with my parents, who he didn’t know very well, without me present.

  40. I feel like romance always strikes me in different ways. Like when my husband of six years sweeps me off on a weekend trip for our anniversary or like when he remembers to put salt and pepper on my morning eggs. There are big things but the longer I’m married, the more I find myself noticing the little everyday things that just show our appreciation and love for each other.

  41. Kady says...

    Mornings are quite hectic in our house, with both of us getting ready for work, getting 2 kids ready, fed and out the door. We barely have time to say good morning and most mornings it’s a quick peck on the lips and out the door. Lately, he’s been pulling me in for quick make out sesh as I’m walking out the door. Then once the kids are dropped off and we’re both on our way to work, he calls me and we just chit chat as we sit in morning traffic. We usually talk about nothing important and just make jokes or talk about the episode of Shameless we watched the night before.
    My husband and I lived 3000 miles apart for the first two years of dating, this time was filled with amazing adventures and grand gestures of love. Now that we have been together for 6 years, have 2 little boys, and both work full time jobs, life has become pretty routine. However, I swear I love him more now than I ever have before. Like so many have said before me, the little things are the biggest gestures of romance now.

  42. Gabby says...

    I was recently hired through Task Rabbit (an app where you can hire people to do odd jobs) to make a sign and cheer at the 21-mile mark at a local marathon race for a lady named Jennifer. It was definitely an odd request, but not out of the realm of possibility with Task Rabbit. The day of the race I stood there with my sign cheering on a woman I’d never met, and when she finally ran past and saw me, she smiled and waved. She didn’t seem that surprised to see me, which surprised me. I messaged the man who made the request, wondering how he handled this on his end (did he tell Jennifer to look out for me?). He replied that he told her to look out for “surprises” during the race. He said that he tried to get as many people out there as he could for her. There must have been a dozen strangers holding homemade ‘Jennifer’ signs! His thoughtfulness moved me to tears and I was so excited to be a part of such a beautiful gesture.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so, so sweet, gabby :)

    • Karen says...

      WOW!! I’m moved. Thank you for sharing, Gabby.

    • Mika says...

      That is one of the most amazing things I’ve heard in a while!

    • kaela says...

      My heart. What a wholesome and lovingly kind thing for him to do. So sweet. Thanks for sharing. xo

  43. Becky says...

    These comments are everything and more. Love this community. Romance is truly unique to the person. I am fortunate to be married to the love of my life who does everything small and large to make me happy. The best are the small things, the back rub in bed as I’m driving off, restocking the chocolate supply, running to the store, laundry, making me a cup of hot chocolate. I knew this man was it when I saw myself having babies with him. I imagine that labor is one of the most vulnerable and tender moments a person can experience. I never wanted to marry before him. He changed everything.

  44. Kaysie says...

    Recently, my father’s already weak and problematic heart became suddenly much weaker and he landed in intensive care for 10 days while his team of cardiologists figured out next steps. My siblings and I decided gift him a tablet since he was stuck in a hospital bed for so long.

    One night, my dad texted me around 11 pm asking if I was still up. I called him and asked him what was wrong and he said, “I love this tablet you guys got me, it was so thoughtful, but I can’t figure out how to watch Netflix and it’s driving me crazy.” I tried to walk him through it over the phone but he’s definitely not the most tech savvy guy and he just grew more and more frustrated. My husband was laying next to me in bed during this whole exchange and he whispered in my ear, “Tell your dad I’m on my way.”

    He threw some clothes on, drove all the way to the hospital, convinced security to let him into my dad’s room (even though visiting hours were over) and proceeded to sit with my dad and patiently show him how to use his tablet. Then, they talked for hours and he didn’t leave until my dad drifted off to sleep around 1 am.

    My mom went to visit my dad the next morning and she said he couldn’t stop bragging to all the nurses about how his awesome son-in-law came in the middle of the night just so he could finish the first season of Ozark. :)

    Romance comes in all shapes and forms.

    • Claire says...

      This is the sweetest.

    • Joana says...

      that is the most amazing, sweetest story. hope your dad gets better soon!

    • Claudia says...

      This made me cry.

    • Yvette says...

      Kaysie, when my father had a stroke, my husband and I had already been together for 10 years, but the things he did for my Father and subsequently now for my Mother now that my Father is gone has made me love him more than I knew I could. You are 100% correct about romance coming in many forms.

    • This made me cry, too.

    • Dallas says...

      That is the type of guy you want to be with. Just confirms your life choices.

    • H says...

      What a guy. That’s love.

    • karen says...

      That’s beautiful.

    • Jill says...

      This made me cry!

    • Emily Wadden says...

      Wow! <3

    • Emily says...

      This, also, made me cry. I was in good company! My husband is making us our traditional Friday night pizza as I type this, and letting me listen to Christmas music 24/7, even though it’s not his favorite. This feels like the coziest love.

    • kaela says...

      Beautiful. What a good and kind human your husband is… Your dad needed that act of love more than anyone knew. Thank you for sharing. xo

    • Kimberley says...

      Oh my heart. What a sweet story, Kaysie xo

    • caitlin says...

      Well Im crying. I love this, so sweet!

    • Helen says...

      Glad to know that I’m not the only one who cried while reading this sweet story : ) Hope your dad is on the up and up!

  45. Caitlin says...

    I love all this and it’s reminding me that I am really a romantic after all!

    One of my favorite romantic memories with my boyfriend is our first camping trip together. I am the seasoned camper with all the gear in our relationship, while he had maybe only gone once or twice and generally prefers to be inside. Waking up in our tent, a little stinky and dirty, all alone in the middle of the desert with the mountains in view, cuddling to stay warm — it’s magical to me. And one morning, while I was making us coffee on the camping stove, he got up out of the tent and hugged me, thanking me for introducing him to all this.

    Sharing something you love with a person you love, and having that person come to see it through your eyes, that’s pretty romantic if you ask me.

  46. Traci says...

    This post reminds me of why I enjoyed reading “The 5 Love Languages” so much; as these comments are all examples of each of them being expressed! Hope to experience this all one day for myself. :)

  47. I’ve never been a fan of romance in the traditional sense, with it’s grand gestures and over-the-top declarations. Instead, I love small gestures that show thoughtfulness. One time when I was with my ex, he was rummaging through my kitchen and stumbled upon a bottle of orange blossom water. He smelled it and said “Wow that smells amazing. I bet that would make a good drink”. The next day I looked up recipes for drinks with gin (his favorite alcohol) and orange blossom water, and the next time he came over I made him a Ramos Gin Fizz (gin, orange blossom water, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white). I guess to me romance means paying attention :)

  48. SJ says...

    This was such a pleasure to read! Caroline, you write so well! I laughed and cried and went down memory lanes…

  49. hahaha I COULDN’T HELP BUT WONDER!!!!! I’m dying. god damnit, I KNEW THAT WAS GOING TO BE A PICTURE OF CARRIE BRADSHAW. i feel like you just rick rolled me, caroline.

  50. Alice says...

    Caroline- have you read Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love? It’s beautiful, and I’m sure you’d love it- it’s about love and romance in all its forms, but specifically about the romance of female friendships. Based on this piece (beautifully written as always!) I feel like you have to read it!

  51. Alli says...

    Caroline! <3 I missed you so much while you were gone and now every time you write I am SO grateful you’re back. Stay forever?

  52. Melissa says...

    My boyfriend asked me to move in with him, knowing my two cats would come with me. He’s highly allergic and takes an allergy pill everyday. He’d say he’s not a romantic, but I beg to differ :)

  53. Anna says...

    Little things I don’t think much of in the moment have come to be some of my most meaningful romantic experiences. I fell really in love with someone I studied abroad with in college–the kind of person who laughs mostly with you but also a little at you, and pokes his head in your tent to check on you when you’re sick, catch you up on the world beyond your germy sleeping bag, and refill your water bottle.
    One night on the trip, the group was feeling sentimental and all snuggled up together in a big pile. He nudged me and quietly made playful little jab about it not being my thing. I didn’t really know how exactly he knew this about me, but he was right: I loved everyone dearly, but I’m really not a very touchy feely or person.
    It was something I didn’t think much of it in the moment, but here I am, two years later, stunned and flattered. I have swoonier memories of him, but damn if that wasn’t one of my closest encounters with romance to date. Clearly he saw and understood true things about me that I hadn’t spelled out for him. This was proof that that he was sincerely curious about me and had been observing me astutely, arriving at some of the same conclusions about who I am that I’ve drawn myself.
    For now, that’s what romance is to me: the sweetness of wanting to know someone so completely that you think about what they’ve shown you–in a million little indirect ways–instead of just relying on what they think to tell you.

  54. agnes says...

    Those comments ! So wonderful. the best christmas present! LOVE!.

  55. Nicola says...

    I got engaged on the weekend, so feeling quite into the romance. But, to be perfectly honest, true romance isn’t the big proposal or the fancy ring, it’s the fact that after the fancy lunch and the celebrations my fiance (!) drove me half an hour across town to pick up a library book that I’d left on a train in all the excitement. True romance is the person whose there for the fun times, but also to help you avoid the library fines that come from being true spontaneous. Don’t stop believing!

    • RG says...

      Well, let me be the first to comment: Congrats, Nicola! Wishing you a life of true romance, however you express and feel it.

    • kaela says...

      As a hopeless romantic and public librarian, your comment is one of my favorites. Congratulations! xo

  56. Amanda says...

    On our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband walked through the door after work with a flower arrangement. It was an exact replica of my wedding bouquet. I totally cried.

  57. Daynna says...

    Never, ever leave, Caroline. And if you must, always, always write. You’re just so damn good at it.

  58. Amy says...

    To me, true romance is the space between breaths – not the big grand acts, but the little things that happen when two people who love each other tie their lives together. It’s making an extra stop to pick up a bottle of sake to go with the fish, but you don’t even like sake, it’s purely a purchase with your partner in mind. It’s giving a compliment in front of the kids “wow, your mom is a great reader and she makes amazing animal noises in the farm book, doesn’t she?” with a wink just to you, to send a special message that there’s nothing as sexy as you reading to your shared progeny. Mr Rogers sang “there are many ways to say I love you”…to me, this sentiment captures it.

    • JennP says...

      YES, oh yes!

    • “The space between breaths” – what beautiful writing!

  59. Abby says...

    Our first Christmas after our daughter was born, I’d been back at work for three weeks, feeling like everything was collapsing, and my husband was struggling to figure out paternity leave. I cried A LOT, feeling like I couldn’t manage teaching and parenting and pumping and my stubborn decades-long dream of becoming a writer, since I was barely finding time to write before we became parents.

    For Christmas, my husband gave me four novels to serve as mentor texts for my own WIP, and a card entitling me to weekend writing sprints at nearby coffee shops, because he believed in me and he believed in my work. I cried even more, of course, but to this day it’s one of the romantic things he’s ever done for me, at the height of one of the least romantic periods in our relationship.

    • That is awesome Abby! I’m in the same situation as you, 5 month old son, part time job, writing aspirations. It’s hard but possible!

  60. Sarah says...

    My husband is more of a romantic than I am. Tonight, I came home from 2.5 hours of gum surgery and an hour of waiting for a prescription with a numb face to my husband plugging in our Christmas tree and saying “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel after all that, so I made you a cozy nest.” He’d piled up pillows and blankets on the bed, and laid out the iPad, cozy socks, leggings, and ibuprofen. Despite all my protests that I AM FINE and it is NOT a major surgery and no, I don’t need special treatment, thank you, I am writing this from the cozy nest and am so grateful for a partner who sees when I need support— and provides it— even when I am too stubborn or proud to ask for it :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh these comments are too much! Love love love.

  61. SarahN says...

    I was in a relationship for 4 years, which didn’t work, but not for my lack of romantic moments! On a bad day, I bought him a desert and dropped it into his office (I was an early start/early finish). Picked him up from work to go to the beach with a bottle of beer. Made a poem that matched the four valentines gifts (which included a laptop) <- thank was well planned, as I damaged his car right before giving those gifts!

  62. The first time my work was published I found my impassive husband sitting in our living room holding the volume with tears rolling down his face. He looked up, said my piece was beautiful and that he was so proud of me before going back to cry-reading. Be still my heart.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, naomi!!

    • Amy says...

      Love

  63. Em says...

    I’m definitely not a romantic type, and neither is my husband. We spent our honeymoon visiting WWII historical sites and didn’t realize that was weird until someone asked what kind of romantic adventures we had planned and I was like “………”? Instead of romance, I guess I favor feelings of comfort and support in my relationship. (Not saying you can’t have both!!!!) Being with my husband, wherever, always feels like home.

  64. Lee says...

    Throwing caution to the wind in believing that what felt like meeting my soul mate actually was. The timing wasn’t on our side but we knew and be held fast to that. If that isn’t romance, I don’t know what it.

    • Amy says...

      I love this! At 28 I felt like I should have met ‘the one’ already, yet when it happened later that year I suddenly felt so cautious. I felt, instantly, the chemistry I always feared didn’t exist, but at the same time I feared I was just imagining it. I stretched out the timing of our relationship a bit (I postponed moving in until over a year from when he initially asked!) but emotionally I was so invested from day one. They say “when you know, you know,” and I don’t necessarily believe that’s true for everyone, but I always had a feeling it was true for me. As it turned out, it was.

  65. Lauren Cesca says...

    My husband and I have been married for 2 years, but dated for 7 before we got married. During our epically long courtship we did our fair share of long-distance. He lived in Mexico and I lived in Sacramento. Then he lived in Iowa for grad school and I lived in New Mexico for my first year of teaching. While we were apart, he would send me lots of snail mail (and visa versa). He is a writer and I am an old school lover of stationary and handwritten cards. Sometimes he would send fancy underwear in a small package for me. I bought letterpressed cards for each month he was away for 1 year, labeling the front of the envelope with the month, and gave him instructions to open them chronologically. He also loves typewriters and during one of our stints away from each other he made dozens of small scraps of paper with “I love you” and “Thinking of you…” typed onto them, hidden around my house. Of course we have both saved every one of these cards and even a few scraps of typed paper. In long-distance relationships, especially if it’s the beginning-ish part of your relationship, you HAVE to be romantic. Because you have to have the hope…

  66. Elisha Guido says...

    When my now fiancé proposed, he did so at Powell’s bookstore while on a trip in Portland, Oregon. We went into the rare book room and I immediately remembered he had mentioned a week earlier that they had an early edition of Les Miserables. When it couldn’t be found, we asked the desk attendant where it went. She pulled the copy from the back room and handed it to me. Inside was the ring and two quotes from one of the main characters, Marius, to his love, Cosette. I turned and he was on one knee saying, “This room is filled with many rare and valueable things, but you are even more so than them all.” Though the book wasn’t truly an early edition, it’s the most valuable one I own.

    • Maggie says...

      WOW. This is the best thing EVER.

  67. Lauren E. says...

    My husband and I laid in bed a couple nights ago and laughed and laughed and laughed and I couldn’t even tell you what about. We both looked absurd in our matching mouth guards and disgustingly old pajamas and then the next day he texted me, “I keep thinking about laughing with you last night.”

    Ro.Mance.

    • EmilyS says...

      What a perfect moment!

    • Caitlin Marr says...

      Yes to this. So often my deepest appreciation for my partner comes from those small moments, where we lay in bed and both get whacky, maybe from exhaustion, and just laugh and laugh. It’s real and I love it.

    • Sydni Jackson says...

      Yes!!!

  68. LK says...

    This January will mark twenty years that my (now) wife and I have been in a relationship. The first five of those years were deep in the midwestern late-90’s closet, and the first two of those five, we were still in high school (together), living in our respective parent’s homes.

    This was at the start of the personal cell phone era, of which neither one of us owned for those first two years together. Right after we’d just left each other’s company, i.e. hanging out until our curfew time allowed, we’d then head home, and using our parent’s landlines, stay up chatting until one of us was required to leave our call due to parental concern for our lack of sleep.

    Because we never knew who was listening, whether on purpose to try and suss out what was happening between the two of us, or simply as a bystander within natural earshot, we selected an everyday word that meant, “I love you”. We didn’t want to get in trouble for loving one another, and be forced apart, but our 16yo love for one another felt SO STRONG, that there simply wasn’t a way to depart our calls, without saying it.

    To this day, nearly twenty years and a massive life together full of love+memories+kid+pets+houses+jobs, whenever I hear that word, it makes me smile to think of those two closeted teenagers, huddled up on our tangled phone lines late in to the night, totally and completely, in love.

    • Laura says...

      Ok what was the word???

    • Lauren E. says...

      Totally teared up. What a sweet story.

    • Maggie says...

      This is precious

  69. Julia says...

    love your writing as always Caroline.

    on another note, has the Cup of Jo team taken the Enneagram? Would love to know your numbers and thoughts on it all! I find it a really helpful way to better understand how others view the world. As I was reading this I wanted to know what number you are, Caroline, as your perspective is really different than mine but you communicate it so well.

    • Ellen says...

      I’m on such an Enneagram kick right now and am learning about all of the layers of it (instinctual variants, tri-types, and triads) and it’s so interesting and enlightening. But the best part is hearing from others of my type and finding out that I’m not the only one who experiences or struggles with certain issues and patterns of thinking (I’m a 4×5, btw, and probably a self preservation type).

  70. Kerri says...

    On a walk one evening, my 17-year-old boyfriend told me that when his first child was born he planned to wear a suit because that’s what you wear to all of the special celebrations in your life. Teenage me was definitely hoping to be the one to have his babies after that!! Fast forward almost a decade, I assumed he would have forgotten but nope! That tender-hearted husband of mine walks into the delivery room with a tie peeking out from underneath his scrubs.

    • Jessica says...

      Oh man, this made me cry. Amazing.

    • Anna says...

      Tears!!!

  71. Julie says...

    In our early days of dating, my now-husband took me to see The Nutcracker. Knowing how he felt about dance and theater (quite indifferent), the gesture itself was rather sweet. He knew I grew up going to see it, and I had told him how much I loved the music, the story and the dancing. After the show I asked him what he thought and without skipping a beat he said, “I loved watching you watch the show. You smiled almost the entire time.” I was so taken aback by his comment. That he took pleasure in my delight was such a simple, genuine demonstration of his feelings for me. And while no relationship can be all romance, in that moment my heart swelled with affection for the thoughtful and observant man I would one day marry.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet and loving.

  72. Dee says...

    I feel that romance is not always the big gesture. My teen daughter is profoundly disabled and nothing moves me more than when I see the love between her and my boyfriend, who had zero kid experience before we met and who sees her shining beauty, which is so apparent to me. My mom also told me he is a keeper when he told me to relax one morning because I was unwell while we were over visiting, and he got her showered and dressed. He also bought rubber gloves from the pharmacy so he can help her with toileting although she is incontinent with all the issues that brings, and he loves nothing more than bringing her to school on Mondays, which is their thing. I will never let this kind hearted man go.

    • Oh….this is just…something one would not think of when the word romantic comes up. But it IS. What a wonderful man.

    • Vivian says...

      He sounds lovely.

    • Hannah says...

      Hilary – what a disrespectful and wholly cynical thing to say to someone you have never met.

  73. Diane says...

    The most only-happens-in-the-movies-kind-of-romance I’ve ever experienced (and still makes me smile) happened when I was a teenager and took the bus to school every day. Boarding the bus, I’d often see my crush, a boy from another school. This continued for months until one rainy morning I found him waiting at my stop! I couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything to him and when the bus arrived we got on and took our seats. Then, as he passed me to exit the bus he dropped a piece of paper onto my lap and smiled at me. On the paper, were written some lyrics from Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ We started dating after that. The boy was a musician and definitely knew how to woo a teenage girl, lol

  74. Millie says...

    My husband was an army brat and never lived in one place for more than a handful of years. We have lived in our current home for 13 years and brought home all 4 of our babies there (plus 2 dogs and countless chickens!). Every now and then he looks around in wonder and says, “Thank you for making a home for me. You did this.” Something about the way he says it is the most romantic thing in the world.

    • Kelly Libby says...

      awww. love love love. And, want this life someday (soon).

  75. Andrea says...

    For the solo part of a trip to Paris this year, my husband gave me a card with 300 euro in it. The card said that I should use the money on whatever I wanted in Paris. It was so liberating to be able to indulge whenever I wanted—something he knows I never really do back home. Such a loving gesture!

  76. H says...

    This is silly compared to others’ comments, but I met my husband at a super bowl party. For an anniversary, he revised the Wikipedia page for that super bowl to add a line that we met, took a screenshot before it got taken down and sent it to me.

    • Jo says...

      hahhaa! this is the best.

    • Liz F. says...

      I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!

    • Rachel says...

      SO great!!!

    • Bronwen says...

      Haha! How absolutely wonderful!

  77. Lisa says...

    During our college years, my childhood friend was diagnosed with cancer and it became clear that he would not survive. Just before leaving for class one day, I received the call I feared. I headed to class dutifully, but shortly after stepping outside, ran into my boyfriend who lost his father to cancer no long before. He saw my face, knew what had happened, and quietly helped me off of my bike, saying, “You’re not going to class.” I cannot remember where we went or what we did, but I remember feeling so very supported and loved.

    He is not my husband for a million and one reasons (and happily my husband is amazing in a million and one different ways) but we remain friends and I will always thank him for being there for me when I needed it most.

  78. Laura says...

    The most romantic thing on earth to me is how my fiance deals with my sleeping issues. I’m a sleep talker, walker, yeller, scratcher, night-terror-haver etc- I’ve made phone calls and run around the apartment naked in my sleep- and recently developed sleep apnea which means I sometimes just stop breathing in my sleep and snore very loudly. Instead of getting frustrated and exiling me to the couch, he’s sweetly woken me up to hold me and helped me try different routines/ products. Being supportive and loving even when I’m at my worst is true romance!