21 Unexpected Ways to Say I Love You.

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1. Treasure maps. Make them yourself, lines and roads and rivers and words drawn in ink on paper. Maps for the heart, or the apartment, or the city, or the psyche, treasure waiting to be found.

2. Kindness. It’s free. It never gets old or used up or worn out. It is sometimes more important than all the other things, to simply be kind.

3. Laundry service.

4. Letters and love notes written in unsuspecting ways and places. Chalk on the sidewalk. Written in sand and snow. Post it notes on the car windshield. Large poster board taped to the brick wall by the coffee shop frequented every morning. Tucked in the coat pocket or backpack or lunch box. Lipstick on the mirror. Sharpie on the wall and sheets, because some things deserve to be permanent.

5. Time. But not just any time. Time with your full attention.

6. A box of favorite scents: sweetness of orange blossom, rough of worn leather, ponds cold cream, rose water, tobacco and clove, dark perfume, old books, memory of geranium oil, comfort of cotton that has dried in the heat of summer sun.

7. Amnesty. For what was done to survive. For what was done in the fumbling of finding the way. For forgetting dates and numbers. For never being on time. For not being able to make it work. For wanting what we want. For being human, living.

8. A nest.

9. Wake him up. Shake her from the shelter of sleep. Pull them from bed, outside, to where the moon hangs low to the ground. To where the air is cold. “Why”, he says, tugging on sweater and shoes. “What are we doing?” she asks, pulling the door shut behind. “To see the sky”, is the answer. Walk to the backyard or get in the car and drive for as long as it takes. In the night. When it is quiet, and so dark, and the stars shatter and are so, so many. This. This is the present. To be here, to see this. Unable to count their number, and how, forever then, you both remember that night, when sleep was abandoned and the sky was given as gift and grace.

10. The truth. A clear no. A real yes.

11. Paper airplanes, with secret messages penned inside the hidden folds and creases of wings.

12. A new beginning. Not the same as a second chance. This is knowing there is no going backwards. So this is where things now begin new.

13. The gift of seeing someone. And naming what you see.

14. An antique frame, with nothing inside. Four cornered and blank space, hanging on the wall, asking for the freedom of emptiness or the curiosity of filling with whatever is found. An empty frame, and all the words on scraps of paper, and love notes, and question marks that will come to rest there on any given day, an ever changing conversation.

15. A compass. A list of navigation. Ways to remember how to come home.

16. Raw honey.

17. The gift of giving to yourself, whatever it is you want. Taking good care. Treating yourself like someone who is deserving of the things saved for special occasions, and can have them whenever they would like. One who needs good sleep, and good food, and good loving, and is sovereign, responsible for tending to the life that is your own. So give yourself what you want. Take yourself to buy new face cream or beautiful underthings. A trip to France. A hot bath. A week, or month, or year with no obligations. Going to the matinee, alone, eating popcorn and getting lost in another world. The room with the window that lets in the sound of the ocean while you sleep, and wakes you to the feel of heat, where, even inside, you can taste the salt in your mouth.

18. Give questions. Curiosity. Suspending assumption and the belief that you ‘know’, willing to wake up and no matter how many years it has been, to still be able to be surprised and delighted, asking questions, wanting to know more.

19. Holy water and the savage sacrilege of having no answers, just the seeking of a hunter heart, that will come find you, again and again.

20. The gift that was always wanted, but never received. Track it down. Find it now, and give it. Which is the gift of memory, and completion, and love. The baby doll in the basket. The sheet music to the song whose name couldn’t be remembered, just the melody hummed. The coveted pocket knife, smooth and cold to the touch. The telescope. The charcoal pencils and liquid ink pens, speaking the language of who you were going to become.

21. Stories written on the lines of your palm, waiting to be discovered.


Relephant reads:

10 Ways to Say “I Love You” Without Words. 

How I Think of You When We’re Together.

When I Say I Love You, This is What I Mean.

And once you’ve tried all of these, the only thing left to do is this:

And, at the end of the day, don’t forget to say “I love you” to the person who matters most:


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Assistant Editor: Ffion Jones/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image:Alvin Mahmudov/Unsplash

The Elephant Ecosystem

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anonymous Apr 12, 2016 4:28am

…"a laundry service"? 😀 that is original

I will also live in a small apartment of my own real soon. I have been hesitating for a while, but today have decided to take a plunge anyway. A lawyer told me it will be ok

anonymous Jan 27, 2016 8:53pm

A wonder! A reminder to realize… we are welcomed! loved it.

anonymous May 27, 2015 10:10am

The number 9 is a divine number…I am going with that….

anonymous Mar 7, 2015 3:54am

Really unique ways to say I Love You, without words. Though we’ve allowed words to define us and our emotions and experiences. Thank you for writing. May I add to this list what I did once: spray painted a love note on snow for him with pink spray paint. There’s a lot of snow around here.

anonymous Jan 27, 2015 7:18pm

I love all of these! Such special ideas. I know my boyfriend would love if I did all of these things, and he deserves them from me. Where do I start…thank you ❤️

    anonymous Feb 14, 2015 11:49am

    I'm so glad they served as love inspiration,
    Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

anonymous Oct 8, 2014 7:26pm

Love 7 and 12!! Beautiful. Thank you.

    anonymous Feb 14, 2015 11:50am

    You are so welcome!
    Thank you for reading.

anonymous Sep 29, 2014 10:19am

Gah this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing

anonymous Aug 30, 2014 6:05pm

~I love time with your full attention a clear no a real yes the gift of seeing someone!~

    anonymous Sep 1, 2014 6:59pm

    it is such a true form of loving, isn't it?
    thank you, for reading and taking the time to share your reflections.
    your words are so appreciated.

    – isabel abbott

anonymous Aug 30, 2014 1:58pm

“12. A new beginning. Not the same as a second chance. ” Thank you for knowing the different and for stating it.

    anonymous Sep 1, 2014 7:00pm

    it was a knowing that came through a hard and important learning.
    and yes, there is a difference, isn't there, and feels good, to know now the distinction.
    may your new beginnings be good to you.
    – isabel

anonymous Aug 7, 2014 4:36pm

I absolutely love this. It is so beautiful and it definitely made me cry. Thank you for this!

    anonymous Sep 1, 2014 7:01pm

    thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words.
    – isabel

anonymous Jul 6, 2014 8:43am

This is wonderful, Isabel. Thank you for reminding us what giving really looks like. May we all recognize these gifts when they're given, too, and not brush them aside in favor of what we think we want more, even when it's just glitter and trash.

anonymous Jan 2, 2014 6:16am

That is absolutely extraordinary Isabel What a magical gift you have given. Thanks for writing and sharing!

anonymous Dec 29, 2013 6:10pm

Lovely to see you on Elephant Isabel! I hope you are well and thriving these days post Goddard. Sending my love and blessings to you! xoxo

anonymous Dec 29, 2013 1:17pm

Thank you for this. These are beautiful!
#9 and #17 are my personal favourites.

    anonymous Dec 29, 2013 6:59pm

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
    Thank you for reading.
    Here's to all the ways of saying I love you!

Gisele Scheidegger Serrano Aug 30, 2016 3:36pm

lol. same thing! :o remote control car! :p

Jacqueline Liddell Sheehan Jun 20, 2016 2:43pm

LOVE this , especially #5!! In this crazy/busy world the gift of quality time is a gift of Love indeed!!

Lily Savage May 9, 2016 10:25pm

20 is my personal favourite. A remote control car

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Isabel Abbott

Isabel Abbott 
writer. activist. corporeal artist.
sanctuary in birth, sex, and death.
author of salt + honey: secular psalms for the human and hedonistic hearts. You can also find her at here.