What Men Consider Romantic

Men may not melt over flowers or candlelit dinners, but there are ways to sweep them off their feet. Here’s how.

By Steve Friedman

alentine’s Day is approaching, and at no other time of the year are so many women consumed with so many frightening questions about the guy they’re dating. Questions like “What does he have planned?” and “Surely he’s original enough to figure out something beyond flowers and an expensive dinner and some chocolate, isn’t he?”

The simple answers to these two questions, as most women know,
The problem isn’t that men lack romance. We’re unbelievably romantic; the problem is that we define romance differently than you.
are: Flowers, an expensive dinner and some chocolate, and no.

Perhaps that’s why so many women consider men romance-deficient. However, I can say with confidence that these women are wrong. The problem isn’t that we lack romance. We have plenty of romance. We’re unbelievably romantic. The problem is that we define romance differently than you do. And, just as the most clueless guy can learn to buy tickets to a night of interpretive dance followed by a rousing morning of flea-market shopping, you members of the fairer sex might do well to consider what he wants. Hint: It’s not interpretive dance and flea-market shopping. So, here’s a primer for understanding what gestures men consider romantic. I’ll start with me:

Romance rule #1: Don’t expect anything in return
Michelle and I had been dating a little over a month when Valentine’s Day occurred. She’d invited me over to her place, where she was going to cook dinner. I brought some flowers and chocolates, because I’m a guy. When I entered her apartment, I could smell the steak broiling, the apple pie cooling. Very nice. But what was even nicer was her: A low-cut little cocktail dress. High heels. A string of pearls. An apron. (I’m not presumptuous enough to say it was every man’s fantasy, but being mine was good enough.) We kissed, we hugged, we ate. And all was good and romantic, until, just before dessert, Michelle rose from her chair, walked behind me to nibble an ear, then said, “OK, now help me clean up.”

Women, we men folk are all about sharing and caring and doing our part to ensure fair wages and an equitable distribution of housework and whatever else we’re supposed to be all about. But when we think of romance—and we do, we really, really do—we do not think of enforced reciprocity. Just as you want us to buy you things and treat you to dinner and tell you how beautiful you are because we want to, we want you to be affectionate and giving and do the steak and apple-pie cooking because you want to. You don’t want us to say, at the end of a romantic evening, “OK, now help me with the check,” or “I shelled out a lot of cash, sweetie, now it’s your turn to pony up.” Likewise, we don’t want “will you please help clean up” to be part of a deeply romantic gesture. In most guys’ eyes (and hearts and other parts of the anatomy), romance means giving. Not sharing or swapping
Call us simple-minded brutes, but for men, sex and romance are so inextricably linked. Pretty much any effort you make in the bedroom is automatically romantic.
favors. Giving. We like it when you understand that.

Romance rule #2: Take charge
Men are generally left with some or most of the burden or organizing outings, so the day you turn the tables on him and arrange the whole deal will be close to his heart. My good friend was really struck when his wife threw him a surprise birthday party on the beach, complete with a bar full of tequila and cable TV so he wouldn’t miss any football games and lose track of his fantasy football league. For one friend of mine, having a weekend-long mountain biking trip planned in Big Sur was a highlight—especially because there’s something about the view from a mountaintop, and you with him, that gets a guy feeling very amorous.

Romance rule #3: Add a humorous twist
Men generally don’t go for sappy love notes, but if they’ve got a sense of humor or something else going for them, recognizing that can be very effective. My friend Dan says he still fondly thinks of the girlfriend “who made her own fortune cookie fortunes—not the cookie, just the fortune—and would hide them throughout my apartment in my wallet, a book I was reading, bedside stand and even luggage. I don’t know how she did it, but she had them printed in red ink, with those little half cut holes that come on real fortune cookies. She would come up with great quotes and would print the date next to them. Like, “Time spent with you multiplies my happiness exponentially.”

Romance rule #4: Sex should be involved, almost always
Call us simple-minded brutes, but for men, sex and romance are so inextricably linked. Pretty much any effort you make in the bedroom is automatically romantic. Not just fun, but romantic. He’ll feel closer to you—and you to him as a result, which is really what this is all about. If you’re not sure how to jump-start things, know that lingerie will usually do the trick. What you should wear and how to spring it on him depends largely on the guy. As my friend Jack put it, “If you’re 30 and under, a romantic gift to a guy really is (sad to admit) a woman in some clichéd, too-small, black and red lingerie outfit. We don’t need dinner,” he says. “If you’re over 30, a romantic gift can sometimes be a ski weekend (or any other activity-oriented getaway). Lingerie is still part of the equation, but not the trashy kind at this stage.”

Romance rule #5: Prove you’ve got him pegged
One man’s dream of the perfectly romantic day might be drinking 40’s of Budweiser together and going to Yankee Stadium for a baseball game. Another might prefer a day of hiking followed by a trip to the hot springs. For another it is going out for brunch and lazing around in the café, drinking coffee and reading the paper. What’s your guy’s favorite activity? Once you figure it out, give it to him. The more I heard from my friends, the more I realized how different we were. Not just from women, from each other. I have never gone for fancy lingerie—it’s always seemed too calculated, too cheesy. And I prefer to read novels and biographies over fortunes, no matter how sweet the intentions of the fortune-teller. Fantasy football? No thanks. All a woman has to do is to show she understands me and is deeply fond of the guy she understands. Then, I’m all hers.

Steve Friedman is the author of seven books, including Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City. More information at
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