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Romance: It’s a beautifully mysterious thing. Kind of like men. Well, the mysterious part, anyway. And if not mysterious, then at least curious, right? As in, I get the sense that many women wonder if men consider anything at all to be romantic—other than sex, that is.

The older I get the more I realize that my romantic tastes are increasingly nuanced. It’s fascinating to me how seemingly normal, everyday connections I make with a woman draws me toward her. Simple things like a lively, thought-provoking conversation or a shared interest in exploring new things can sometimes leave my heart all aflutter. I even surprise myself sometimes by my evolving sense of the romantic.

But I’m not the only one. Since learning more about my fellow man’s Valentine’s date preferences, not to mention their movie preferences, it occurs to me that while men don’t typically get credit for their emotional intelligence or romantic intricacies, it might be time they did.

Sometimes getting guys to talk about relationships is a bit like pulling teeth, so you can imagine my surprise when the guys I polled provided more responses on the subject than any before. Turns out, men have all sorts of things to say about what they find romantic.

So whether you need ideas for the next date night, you’re wondering how to better understand your man’s romantic tastes, or simply want to better understand the not-quite-as-fair sex, this one’s for you.

Show him that you get him.

Guys love planning dates, but what makes a date romantic is the time and intention put into it. When they set out to romance the woman in their lives, they like to let her know they pay attention. Well it shouldn’t be a surprise that the door swings both ways. If you want to make your guy weak in the knees pay attention to the little details.

“I think sometimes it is expected that the guy always plans the date,” Justin said. “But I find it extremely romantic when the girl takes the initiative and surprises me with a date including all my favorite things—maybe my favorite restaurant, favorite wine, favorite movie.” But favorites or no, “It almost doesn’t matter what we do, just that she wants to enjoy the same things I enjoy.”

I can definitely relate to this, and it was a very common theme among the responses I received. It might not seem like much, but the simple gesture of a woman showing interest in the things we get excited about really goes a long way. I’ve written about how much I enjoy it when a woman talks sports with me, and I’m not alone. It’s like... she gets me.

Make it an activity.

Your romantic ideal might be a candlelit dinner, but chances are the man in your life dreams of something more action packed. Research by Deborah Tannen, Liguistics Professor at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation shows that men feel more comfortable communicating side by side. Rather than conversing face to face men feel more connected and emotionally close when doing an activity, and this certainly seemed to be true among the men I interviewed.

“We went golfing at an ‘old person’ nine-hole par 3 course,” my buddy Jay said. “I liked golfing, she didn't, but I knew she did it because I liked it. I found it romantic to bond over an activity, and I felt more connected after that.”

Of course, sports don’t always have to be involved. For Pablo, his most recent birthday was particularly romantic thanks to an added surprise element: “My wife literally blindfolded me and drove me around to various locations for our date,” he said. “Might it have looked weird to the outside observer to see a man blindfolded in the front seat of a car? Sure! Did I love it? Yes!” He went on to say that there was just something about having to trust her through the process that added to the experience. “It was awesome,” he said.

Thoughtfulness and creativity make a difference too. “Something inexpensive, yet out of the ordinary/creative, like a stadium tour, or a sports car test drive” makes for a romantic date, Enzo said, adding that it has everything to do with a perceived “intentionality” and attention to what he likes.

Food really is the way to a man’s heart.

Sometimes true romance doesn’t need to be more extravagant than a favorite meal. As Tom explains when it comes to a romantic date with his wife: “Perhaps not surprising, but still a classic: making my dinner with all the things I like, including some candlelight!”

Whether it’s cooking our favorite meal, making reservations at our favorite restaurant, or even, as Chris says, just telling us to treat ourselves with a glass of scotch, there’s something about a woman knowing what we like and wanting us to enjoy that thing that moves the needle, so to speak.

“When Devon makes my favorite foods, even when she might not want it herself, that really means a lot,” Pablo said. “I had a few months of really tough training in the Marines, and whenever I got done with four or five days in the woods, she would make my favorite barbecue chicken pizza, from scratch, for dinner and then a big omelet the next morning. That was one way she sacrifices for me that I really appreciate.” Sounds like Pablo found himself a keeper.

Embrace emojis and pet names.

Remember the days when men and women would write long love notes in ornate penmanship sealed with a kiss? No? Well, it might be worth doing some research because there’s definitely still magic in letters and words.

“We communicate affection by using X's and O's. Whether it’s an email or a letter, sometimes we don't even have anything to text each other more than ‘xoxoxo,’” Pablo said. “We let each other know that we are thinking about, missing, and loving the other through these two letters.” Actually, Pablo is starting to make me blush (and/or a bit nauseated).

Has the digital age killed love notes? Not according to John who feels the love “when she sends little hearts in her text messages [insert heart emojis].” It really is the simple things in life, apparently.

Other guys described to me how simple words, phrases, or monikers, spoken in love of course, really do the trick. It might seem cheesy to outsiders, but nicknames given out of love carry weight. “There’s romance in spur-of-the-moment nicknames, like being called handsome, good-lookin’, and so on,” Al says.

“When a girl calls me sweet, and not in a patronizing way but in an authentic, appreciative way, it totally melts my heart,” Keven says.

Use words of affirmation.

Anybody who’s been in a good, healthy romantic relationship has likely had a sense that he or she was cared for, thought about, and loved during the day. But there’s still nothing like hearing it.

“Sometimes, my wife will say, "I was thinking about you, and thought you'd like ‘X’" Al says. “It doesn't matter what it is, really, even if it's not actually my favorite,” those gestures really stir up the feels, if you will. “Anything that shows she was thinking about me and wanting to make me happy while I wasn't around.”

Being told that we are doing things right, that the woman you love is happy to be with you and is thinking about you throughout the day is pretty romantic for us men. It means so much to hear that you like us, the more specific you are the better!

Don’t forget about physical touch.

Sex is great, obviously. But there’s so much more to physical intimacy, at least according to the men I talked to. Let’s just say that the loving touches of a woman do not go unnoticed. “I really like it when she holds onto my arm in public, whether walking or sitting,” Tom said.

I’ll admit, there’s just something about a woman who isn’t afraid to show that we’re together. I walk a little taller (which still isn’t very tall) when I have a beautiful woman on my arm. It’s like a natural reaction. Tom describes it well: “I know that she can stand or sit on her own, obviously, but when she does hold my arm, it makes me feel like the strongest guy around—and everybody notices!”

Pablo can relate. “We hold hands, and I love it,” he said. “When she curls up nice and close and grabs my biceps, not only do I get to flex my pipes for her, but it usually means she is holding me tightly and shows me that she trusts me and seeks warmth and protection.”

And yes, in case you were wondering, we totally “flex our pipes” to try to impress you, ladies.

It might not sound like much, but there’s more going on here than what meets the eye. Gustavo, who does marriage prep for engaged couples, says that simple expressions of physical intimacy can have a profound effect on a man’s self-esteem. “If he has half a brain he'll be all too aware of his own foibles and weaknesses and what he needs to work on,” he said. “But what those natural gestures of intimacy and affection reflect back to him is that there is something about himself that is lovable, important, and worthwhile, something good that she recognizes.”

It’s clear that there’s more than just physical stimulation going on. These signs of physical affection seem to go much deeper. Like they’re going straight to the heart.

So you heard it from the men, a sense of romance is alive and well in the male heart. I hope you will use this insight to plan an awesome date or to simply make him feel ten feet tall.

Photo Credit: Manchik Photography