Fact: No one really knows how to tell someone you love them for the first time. Navigating the vague, frightening, thrilling waters of a new relationship is beautiful, raw, exciting and terrifying. As enamored as you are by your newfound love, you’re also hungry for a commitment, for the verbal affirmation that the heart you’re increasingly laying on the line is going to be safe. But there’s no faster way to stomp out the fire of new love than by making grandiose promises too soon, and no faster way to drive yourself into an anxious fit than by remaining unsure of how someone really feels about you. You want to make your feelings known, but you don’t want to be too hasty with declarations that might imply promises you’re not ready to make. Quite the pickle, no?
Love, it turns out, is not a word you say—it’s a thing you do. Words can be chosen and changed and manipulated, but actions, as they say, speak for themselves. Knowing whether or not someone loves you—like, really loves you—will never be something you’re certain of just because they have or haven’t said so. Words are inherently empty until time and evidence and experience load them up with truth.
Struggling to figure out how someone feels about you when it’s too early to say things like “I love you” can be maddening, but It really just comes down to the issue of our inability to interpret and decipher nonverbal cues. There are countless little ways people subconsciously show that they care throughout our everyday lives. And when you start taking notice of all the little comments, sacrifices, favors and interests people make and take when they’re around you, you won’t need those promises to know that you are loved.
So here, 14 ways people tell you that they love you, without having to say a word.
1. They reach out to talk with you regular basis, even when they aren’t overtly flirtatious
When someone is strangely reserved with their intentions (but seemingly forward with their actions) it tends to be because they’re very interested and don’t want to blow it by being too obvious or scaring you away (though it’s easy to feel like the opposite is true.) It’s the standard move of people who are in love but too afraid to say it. Watch for it. You’ll know when it’s upon you.
2. They take care of you in the simplest, most human ways
They tell you to get some rest if you’re tired, and wish you a good night’s sleep. They let you rest on their shoulder or share their jacket. They make sure you didn’t forget about dinner (not because you’re helpless but because you’re so busy doing awesome things that you sometimes don’t give yourself the time and care you need, and you’re well-being matters to them). They walk you home. They ask if you need water. You can confuse it for simply being courteous, but the desire to truly just care for someone is unconditional love in its most unbridled form.
3. They share their favorite songs with you, and listen to yours
Music is the first and most intimate thing you can share with someone, simply because the music that most moves people says what they truly want to say (but don’t feel they can). Listen to a mixtape of your new lover’s favorite songs, and know that they’re telling you something about who they inherently are. This is how someone shares the secret, intimate truths about who they are. Likewise, if they remember, look up or otherwise interest themselves in your music tastes, they’re just trying to get to know you on that level as well.
4. They ask about the mundane details of your life
They want to hear what you had for lunch and how your class went. What you’re watching tonight and the latest drama with your co-worker. These little things are interesting to them, as they are the bits and pieces of who you are.
5. And they remember those details, even just the ones you share in passing
When you really love someone, you tend to absorb the little parts of who they are and what they do, without ever realizing (until one day you find you can recall facts at random, and try not to look completely creepy).
6. They talk about the future—and want to know what you want
They genuinely want to know things like where you see yourself one day in the future, where you’d like to live, what you hope to be doing. It’s how they gauge whether or not you could be compatible, whether or not your futures could overlap one day.
7. They find out more about the things you love the most
They’ll sit and watch the movies you love, take you out for your favorite food, and it won’t really feel like a sacrifice or anything. They’re happy to do what makes you happy. Your happiness seems to be theirs too.
8. They touch you in very subtle, non-sexual ways
They fix your sweater or put their arm around you when it’s cold; they lead you somewhere by taking your hand. They just naturally find a way to touch you, or be close to you, even in the most non-sexual ways.
9. They test you
Even if they don’t mean to, they’ll tell you that they found someone they’re interested in, or that they’re thinking about moving away. Look, it’s not the cutest way someone shows you they care, but we’re all human and insecure and weird, and we do stuff like this to each other. You’ll interpret it as them not being interested, but really, they’re just trying to gauge your reaction. Remember, they’re the ones who are scared here, not you.
10. They start adopting your mannerisms
It’s a biological instinct to want to adopt the traits of those closest to you. (It has something to do with wanting to show them that you are part of their tribe so they accept you.) To be honest, I don’t think it’s difficult to see how it would also apply to romance.
11. They apologize when they need to (and sometimes when they don’t)
Being able to admit when you’ve messed up, or were wrong or inconsiderate, is a clear sign that someone cares about you and their relationship with you more than they care about being right. And since being right is AWESOME, they must love you a lot. And their apologizing isn’t always so much that they’re really concerned about you being mad at them as it is that they want to hear you say it’s okay.
12. They’re always mentioning the things they like about you
No matter what you do or how little they understand it, they’ll think it’s wonderful, just because you did it, just because it’s yours, just because it’s your thing. They won’t say that they love you… but damn, they’ll tell you everything they like.
13. They want to know about your past
They want to know where you came from, to understand your foundation, or at least prompt you to want to respond when they share theirs. They want to be able to place where your occasional hint of Southern accent comes from, or how your wild hair is actually a beloved trait among the women in your family. They want to know the little joys you experienced in your life, and who you were before you knew who you were. There’s nothing as saccharine and bonding than this.
14. You can just tell that you’ve been on their mind. You just know.
They pick up your favorite snack at the store, or send you a GIF or YouTube video they know you’d find hilarious… it’s just little things like these that let you know they’re thinking about you throughout the day. (And hey, “I love you” in the form of Cheetos and cat videos is a life anybody would be blessed to live. Amen.)