A Robot’s Guide to Valentine’s Day: How to Show Your Feelings

For folks of the geekier persuasion, expressing our feelings is hard. What’s the best way to say what you feel?

Because of this human-to-human difficulty, many of us find comfort in the familiar contours of a certain fandom. It’s easier to express your feelings via the medium of your contempt for Borsk Fey’lya, for example, than it is to explain why you have a hard time connecting with other humans on an emotional level.

Some of this might be due to legitimate psychological difficulties. If you suspect that you may be living with a mental illness, acknowledging that is not a weakness. Seeking treatment for mental trouble is both wise and courageous.

But not every quirk of human variety is something to be solved and flattened. Sometimes, we need to find a way to be more comfortable with ourselves. If you feel like you just don’t know how to say what you feel, here are a few tips.

This is not a guide to wooing your lover. Those guides are stupid; do not follow them. People are not machines, simply requiring the right inputs to get the desired output. Any “system” that purports to work in fact relies on personal charm and charisma, which is what we all get by on, system or no system. Plus, negging is gross.

As a general rule, you need to be ready to be vulnerable. If your reaction to rejection is anger, fear, or rage, that’s something to work on before you express your feelings. We’ve all seen messages from “nice guys” that start pleasant but quickly turn sour. Consider these exchanges an example of what not to do.

Share Your Warmth

Ask around on the street, and you’ll quickly discover that the most attractive thing a person can do is be interested in someone else. Not everyone can describe this. But when someone laughs at your joke, leans in to hear your story better, and clearly cares about you, that’s the kind of thing that gets people’s motor’s running. It’s the human connection we all crave. Sometimes, you need to give a little of that to get a little of that.

When you’re mulling over how to show your feelings, you don’t always need to use words. Not everyone is good with words. Speaking your mind is hard and nerve-wracking. But through appropriate application of body language, you can easily indicate that you’re into someone.

So what’s appropriate body language? First, don’t touch other people unless you are absolutely sure they want to be touched. If you rush into touching too quickly, it can be off-putting or confusing. Instead, focus on non-contact ways of conveying interest. Give them all your mental attention when you’re interacting, and your physical body will naturally express your interest.

Tell a Story

When you attend a wedding and listen to the toasts, what ties them all together? Stories. Stories of the time shared between people, of funny events, emotional moments, or memorable hijinks. Through those stories, we can often tell more about our relationship that we could by simply stating our feelings.

Think of an event in your life with this person that made your feelings clear to you. Did she find a typo in a crossword and you suddenly realized you wanted to marry her? Did he ask you to finish a story that got cut off by your more gregarious friend? These little moments crystalize our lives into discrete chunks, and by telling the story of the moment and why it mattered, you can convey your feeling more clearly.

Don’t Practice

If you’ve got a big moment coming up, it’s natural to want to practice. Do NOT do this. Nothing is more damaging to your authenticity and clarity that stumbling over lines or giving a clearly rehearsed speech.

This doesn’t mean you can’t prep at all, but your wording should be extemporaneous, on the fly, to keep the natural rhythm of your speech intact. Do you know how you can tell when someone is a poor actor because they read all their lines with exactly the same inflection? That’s what we’re trying to avoid. Sure, you will hit some ums and ahs, but that’s totally fine. We’re not running for election; we’re sharing our feelings!

If prepping helps you control your anxiety (that’s me!), then prepare a list of bullet points. These should be topics you want to hit, but not full sentences. You don’t want to be reciting: you want to be sharing.

You Cannot Fail

If you hope that your confession of love will somehow woo another person, I’m sorry to say that it won’t. Simply knowing someone cares about you is not enough to inspire feelings of love. Either someone likes you, or you don’t. So we should recalibrate our success criteria. Let’s not focus on whether or not we get the guy or gal, but whether we were able to communicate what we meant.

When you’re sharing your feelings, you cannot fail, provided you are honest. Sure, you might be able to phrase some things better or more clearly articulate a difficult thought with some thinking time, but overall, so long as you are honest, you have succeeded.

Don’t Sweat Perfection

Perfect execution is not our goal. As already elucidated at length, our goal is honesty. But what if you screw up what you’re saying? No problem. There’s a built-in solution for that.

If the person you’re talking to cares about you, all those little quirks you hate, your ums and ahs, those are suddenly charmingly human and romantic. Think about stories of engagements you’ve heard, about how the groom was “so nervous.” No one makes fun of the groom for that. The nerves are human, relatable, and we like reliable people.

For a personal example, take my girlfriend. She is absolutely awed by flowers. She feels silly when she expresses this to me, and if I didn’t like her, I might dismiss the interest as childish. But because I love her as deeply as I have ever loved anyone, an interest she feels abashed about is instead sweet. I can’t help but be filled with love for her because her emotion is so genuine, her feeling so honest.

The Value of Gifts

Words do a lot, but not everyone likes them. A gift is a way to show people you care about them. However, buying a gift can be a delicate social process. The best gifts combine the giver and the receiver. Combine something you like with something they like, and find it in an object. If you’re totally stumped, pretty much everyone likes getting a good book. Think about your recipient’s interests and find a volume that connects to that.

More traditionally romantic gifts like flowers or chocolates should generally be avoided until you can sense your partner has an interest in you. Don’t bring a bouquet to a confession of love, because you might just end up walking home with it.

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