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Decoding Men's Oddball Love Signals

His gifts are terrible. He talks when you want him to listen. His idea of a date is take-out pizza on the couch. Is this your guy's notion of affection and romance? Well, actually, yes.

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Ty Wenger
Redbook Magazine Logo

Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a romantic pickle: Cheryl, a woman I had been dating for about three months, was nearing her 25th birthday. The birthday gift in any three-month-old relationship is a dicey one, and I deliberated over it for weeks. Too big too soon and it could look like I was trying too hard. Too little and I might appear indifferent. Too romantic and I'd run the risk of setting the bar too high.

And so it was with great enthusiasm that I finally unveiled the gift. It was heavy — about 8 pounds. And big — the size of a bowling ball. In fact, as Cheryl discovered after excitedly tearing off the wrapping paper, it was a bowling ball. And not just any bowling ball, but a blue, personalized bowling ball ("The Spanker," the twin to the 12-pounder I had bought myself: "The Wanker"). And the pièce de résistance: Both balls came in matching brown pleather bags.

Hoisting the ball onto her lap, Cheryl turned to me. I saw several emotions pass across her face: shock, confusion, profound disappointment, then her dawning realization that how she responded to this present — this idiotic present — might well determine the fate of our relationship. She looked down, collected her thoughts, and raised her eyes to mine. "I love it!" she lied. "Let's go bowling tonight!"

Four years later, despite the bowling ball, Cheryl consented to marry me — and we have lived happily ever after. (And, yes, we still have the balls, and the pleather bags, and we bowl about as much as we did in the first three months of our relationship, which was almost never.) In fact, it could be argued that the success of our marriage owes, in part, to that very moment. Because on that day (and many, many days thereafter) my wife made a conscious choice: to see my hapless effort at romance not as a personal affront but as a love note written by a man in his own foreign language.

"Men do affection in ways that are not easily recognizable to women," explains couples coach Warren Farrell, Ph.D., author of Why Men Are the Way They Are. "The fundamental difference is that men tend to do, and women tend to talk — and much gets lost in translation. He feels frustrated, misunderstood; she feels like he just doesn't care. If you can learn to read the signals he's trying to send, however, he's going to feel like his method of loving is being appreciated. He'll probably feel like a good person. And then he'll be more open to hearing something else — like how he could be even better." The point is, once you recognize your guy's less-than-smooth gestures as the clumsy signs of affection they are, you'll probably realize that he is grateful for you in more ways than you ever knew.

So how, exactly, do we big dunderheads express our love for you? Let us count the ways.

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