Making Romantic Small Talk

Men, do you struggle with romantic expression? Here are some sweet-talking tips for the tongue-tied.

By Bob Strauss

kay, guys, here’s a multiple-choice quiz for you: You and your girlfriend of three weeks have just spent a beautiful spring afternoon in the park. After a simple but superb picnic dinner, you’re both snuggling and cooing as you watch the sunset. Conversation fades as you both marvel at the reddening sky, the cool, crisp breeze, the distant sounds of bird calls and crickets. Then you give her
Carefully applied romantic patter is of those little-known relationship skills.
an affectionate squeeze and say:

A. “Hey, isn’t that a poison sumac over there? Once I was out drinking with my friends, and we wandered over and...”

B. “I wonder what’s happening on Big Brother tonight.”

C. “You know, I don’t think this night can be any more perfect.”

If you chose anything other than C (or hesitated for more than a quarter of a second), you clearly need a refresher course in romantic small talk. Carefully applied romantic patter is of those little-known relationship skills — like choosing the right herb when seasoning your couscous — that can make the difference between a weekend of debauchery and one of those “let’s just be friends” speeches women so enjoy making when it doesn’t work out. Here’s everything you need to know.

Choose your moments wisely.
A common mistake guys make is thinking that romantic sunsets (or the closing credits of movies starring Sacha Baron Cohen) are the best times to try out their suave, romantic personas; in these situations, though, a comfortable silence is both safer and more effective. It’s when you and your girlfriend are up to your elbows in dishes after a stressful dinner party that a simple “wow, you look pretty” can work wonders. (Don’t get too cute, though; women don’t want to hear, “Gosh, I wish I was that gravy boat you’re scrubbing right now.”)

The most important thing, according to Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, author of Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary, is to make sure the object of your adoration is in a receptive mood. “If a guy has been dating a woman, he can try out his romantic, loving comments whenever she’s paying attention to him, but he shouldn’t say anything if her mind or attention is elsewhere, or if there are other people around and it may embarrass her,” says Dr. Lewis.

Quit while you’re ahead (or behind).
Every now and then, even the most pleasant piece of attempted romantic fluff can be sabotaged by a) a passing airplane, b) a squirrel darting into the middle of the street, or c) a sudden, unexpected shift in conversation (as in, you’re about to announce “When I’m with you, I feel like all my cares have melted away” when your girlfriend suddenly inquires, “so, how has your IBS been lately?”). The trouble is,
Women are delighted that a man cares enough to find out what went wrong.
repeating a ripe snippet of cuddle talk is like repeating the punch line of a joke; your girlfriend probably caught at least a piece of it the first time and will be annoyed, rather than amused, by the encore.

Sometimes, too, whatever you say (however innocent it may seem to you) will be taken the wrong way by the object of your affection. Dr. Lewis advises starting your romantic patter with key phrases like “I think,” I feel,” or “I’m happy to,” but if this doesn’t work, she says, go ahead and ask exactly where you went awry. “Unfortunately, too few men are comfortable asking these types of questions, yet this is just what is necessary to learn from the woman. Often, women are delighted that a man cares enough to find out what went wrong … it might turn around a bad situation.”

Sincerity is the most important thing.
One of the key ingredients of enduring relationships is being in tune with your partner and occasionally saying what you know she wants to hear, even if you’re not really feeling the moment yourself (or just want to flop over and go to sleep). Simple pillow talk, like “I really enjoy being with you” or “I’m so glad I met you” won’t cost you much, and assuming that that’s how you really feel, it won’t make you dishonest or manipulative.

Of course, it’s possible to take this strategy too far. If you trot out the tried-and-true canned responses too often, your girlfriend will realize that you’re simply parroting things that have worked well for you in the past without making sincere, emotional statements. Look on the bright side, though: If things don’t work out with your current flame, once you’ve practiced peppering romantic statements into your conversational repertoire, you’ll have better success with new dates!

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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