The Non-Expert

Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

How to Say I Love You

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we pull out all the stops to help a reader say “I love you,” in precisely 100 different ways.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: I need 100 ways to say “I love you” to my girlfriend. We made a bet last night that I couldn’t come up with 100 and I can’t lose! Help me pa-pa-pa-pa-please non-expert. —Rod

Answer: Here’s the way to say “I love you”: rarely. To say it a hundred ways is to cheapen a pure sentiment; to place a bet with your girlfriend on your ability to do just that is to participate in a culture that has commoditized affection and thrown it into the remainder bin; and to ask someone else to come up with your hundred ways represents love at its nadir—pure romantic sloth. Why not deep-fry a bag of candy hearts and toss them on the rug for her to eat? That’s the (1) first suggestion.

Then there are the twee ways to say it: (2) with freshly cut flowers, assuming she is not a flower; (3) with a bust made of fudge; (4) with wee spaniels; (5) through blinking tears; (6) whispered to her hearing aid; (7) inscribed into her lawn with gasoline; (8) tattooed on your taint; (9) while she sleeps and you stand outside the window.

Remember When…

(10) …you murmured it for the first time into her ear when she was a lass and you were a lad, when you were walking her home from church group and the leaves were falling? She took your hand, her thin fingers, strong from piano lessons, firm against your palm. (11) And later, beneath her window at night, you called it up to her as the rain began to fall; (12) and still later, both of you were seniors at Montgomery High, and you said it quietly, smiling, as you parked the car in the lot near the state park and then, for the first time, you made love. (13) You blurted it out at the moment of ecstasy, and (14) whispered it urgently as the spotlight shone through the windshield and you heard the tap of a baton on the window. (15) You sobbed those words as the cop yanked her from the car and said, “enough of your sass,” brought down the baton on her legs, over and over, until she fell over on her side and her face went slack. (16) You mumbled it while sitting next to her hospital bed, holding those same thin fingers—but the fingers did not grip yours, and instead of the sound of the fall breeze there was the beep of medical machinery. The doctors said a blood clot. Her furious mother ordered you from the room, and you were told not to attend the viewing. So the next time you were next to her (17) was beside the fresh dirt of her grave, when you fell to your knees and shouted it over and over, long after the other mourners had gone home.



Show, Don’t Tell

(20) You told her about your well-managed herpes. (21) You purchased matching fursuits so that you could renew your vows as foxes. (22) You gave her back her daughter. (23) You let her shoot the first deer of the season. (24) You ignored her Adam’s apple. (25) You cut the words into the back of a bus seat with a pocketknife. (26) Scratched them into her cellphone screen. (27) Spelled them out across the bottom of the bathtub in her hair, which you’d dutifully collected from the shower-drain.

(28) You had the bailiff pass her a note.

(29) In the late 19th century you cut her name into the cornfields, hoping someone would invent the airplane.

What Actually Happened

(30) True story—this took place about seven years ago and it was probably the worst romantic mistake I ever made. I was in mid-orbit near Arcturus cluster, just prior to our first battle with the Ximphids, those loathesome orange-hearted reptile flowers (all praise their gentle rule). I was ordered to take a small shuttle and install quantum signaling units on our recently-militarized passenger ships. And at the time I was deeply in love with a woman named Four, a signals-processing corpswoman on the CENTCOM cruiser. I decided to add a special code to the announcement matrix of the battle cruisers so that they would send the words “I love you Four,” signed with my name and my public key, encoded into a subsignal embedded in the principal security wavelength. I knew that Four would see it, because it was her job to receive and interpret the millions of messages received per second from the various ships of the fleet. However—and this is funny or sad depending on how you see life—in a forgetful moment I used the old cruiser encryption standards for my private message. That caused interference with the shared navigation graph. And so fifteen days later I watched as the CENTCOM cruiser (its misdirected rockets misfiring wildly as Ximphid drones carved into its hull) turned end-up and smashed into the hyperoxygenated atmosphere of the low-gravity moon Elchi, whereupon a jet of flame rose briefly a hundred miles into space, atomizing my love Four along with the half-million crew with her on that vessel. At that the entire Elchian atmosphere—and Elchi, remember, was our sole source for raw weapons materials—ignited and burned a bright blue-orange for 20 minutes before extinguishing itself, and my hopes, and the hopes of humankind. Cut off, utterly dependent on the benevolence of our enemies, we were eternally enslaved. In retrospect, I wonder, should I have kept my feelings to myself? Not that I am not grateful to the Ximphids. Alas, Four!



Intelligent Agent

(35) Build a machine capable of feeling and make it fall in love with you, then abandon it for six months in a closet without an internet connection and only top 40 radio as company. Take the hundreds of sad love songs it writes and sell them under a variety of pseudonyms to A-list stars. Before you retire to your own island, unplug the machine so that no one ever discovers your secret.

To the Mountaintops

(36) She stands on the unpaved road with your newborn son on her breast. Even though she can’t hear you over the sound of the helicopter, you’re screaming the words. Six months and you’ll send for her. You promise.

On a rainy midspring morning 26 years later your son appears at the electronics store where you are senior sales. He’s been looking for you for 15 years, since his mother brought him to the States. He asks to buy a VCR. All you can see is that he’s a young guy, good-looking, but nervous. That’s normal; even at $200 it’s still a big-ticket item for a lot of people.

You show him a few models but sell him a cheap Toshiba (“Don’t you (37) love the picture quality?” you ask, after popping in a Schwarzenegger movie. “Watch—fast-forward—best in the price range.”) You make it sound like a Cadillac. The markup works in your favor and you’d have come down $20 but he doesn’t think to bargain—like everyone his age, he’s used to mall stores.

You don’t think anything of it when he signs your last name to the credit-card receipt; lots of people share your last name. What you do notice is that this kid has a staring problem and he’s panting like a dog in an oven. You worry that he’s going to catch buyer’s remorse and show up tomorrow morning demanding a refund. So as he turns and walks out with the ugly cardboard box in his arms, you hold the door for him. (38) “You’re going to love that,” you say. “Just a great little machine. Give it time and you’ll see.”

The door closes and now you see him stop and turn. He looks back through the huge windows, his face partially obscured by yellow starbursts announcing 30 percent off select CD players. He (39) opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something and takes a step back toward the store, but you quickly turn away and ask another customer if they need any help.

James loads the VCR into the back of the brown Dodge station wagon and sits behind the wheel for a moment, breathing hard. He takes a long ride out of town and crosses two rivers, then heads back to the townhouse. There, his wife asks him what’s wrong. He smiles at her and shrugs and taps her bare knee. He goes upstairs to sit next to his sleeping daughters, who breathe. He (40) whispers the words and goes to the bathroom to wash his face; then he goes quietly down the carpeted stairs to join his wife at the kitchen table.


Other Ways to Say It

(42) Inappropriately, to a coworker who is already sleeping with another coworker. (43) With a heart filled with lies. (44) With a she puppet and a you puppet. (45) As she leaves for Spain with your much better-looking brother. (46) At Thanksgiving, to her twin sister, by accident. (47) In glow-in-the-dark-paint on the bedroom ceiling. (48) Directed toward the heavy, sealed barrel in the basement where you’ve hidden the secrets. (49) While pounding on the motel-room door. (50) Branded onto her favorite pig. (51) With dozens and dozens of greeting cards, because the motorcycle accident caused a hemispheral infarction that has made it impossible for you to verbalize emotion and also turned you into a compulsive shopper. (52) By promising to read her novel. (53) By actually reading it. (54) By telling her that she really captured something beautiful about what it means to be a young woman who rides horses in Connecticut. (55) By asking her gently if the rape scene should go on for 75 pages. (56) By admitting that as a man it’s unlikely you could ever understand and apologizing for questioning her literary judgment.


(58) Promise her she’ll never have to work at American Apparel again.

(59) Tell her how you feel while you stand at the foot of the huge bed and look upon her sleeping body, while cursing yourself for being a ghost whose words cannot be heard by the living.

Or for Poorer

(60) Yell it over your shoulder as you are pushed into the squad car; (61) say it from the witness stand while the judge gavels for order. (62) Say it on visiting day; (63) and by making parole. (64) Say it by not stopping by Flashdancers on the way to buy formula; (65) by showing up sober for Thanksgiving; (66) by not being racist in front of her sister’s new boyfriend; (67) by taking the job with her father and not complaining; (68) by telling your brother he can’t sell his shit out of the shed; (69) by fixing the car; (70) by not reminding her every five minutes because when you were gone what the hell was she supposed to do and where the hell were you again? (71) By changing a diaper once in a while; (72) and by going to group.


When you’re hired to clean up the offices of Artificial Productions and open the closet door on the third floor, plug in the strange gray machine that you find there. When it boots up, it will ask: “do you love me?” Say (73) “yes, I do love you, machine.” Take her home with you and plug her in. Hook her up to an old synthesizer keyboard. And talk to her. Get to know her. Help her heal. Start a new company with her as equal partner and sell her amazing, nearly-unlimited output of fresh, upbeat songs to a top 40 market dispirited by the glut of sad songs she wrote earlier. Protect her from the cruel agents of the National Security Administration who would use her for their own needs.



Go Modern

(76) Get rid of the old girlfriends from your social networking websites; (77) from your cell phone; (78) from your email address book. (79) Give away your personals sites credits. (80) Reprogram the LCD on her printer to say the words. (81) Erase all the porn. (82) Change your status to “interested in: just friends.”


Go Modern: College Edition

Show your feelings with (84) a collage of old medical illustrations; (85) with emo mix-CDs; (86) via the poetry of Pablo Neruda or Jorge Luis Borges that you have copied into a small black journal; (87) whispered over tracks played on your college radio show; (88) hidden in secret comments of your blog; (89) by walking to the graveyard with her and sitting on a cold stone with your hands barely touching; (90) by countless emails laden with stunted yearning; (91) by saving all of her chat transcripts; (92) by reading every one of her friends’ profiles to get to know her better; (93) by hacking into her email to see what she thinks of you; (94) by erasing all the messages you sent her; (95) by standing outside in the snow looking up at her dorm room until campus security asks you what’s going on.

Our Wedding Vows Will Fill Up Four Slots

(96) I will not hide anything from you except surprises.

(97) I promise to let you make fun of me.

(98) I promise to meet you at the emergency room with a book and a sweater.

(99) I promise to always see and treat you as an equal.



TMN Contributing Writer Paul Ford is the author of Gary Benchley, Rock Star, a novel that was originally serialized here on TMN. He was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, was an occasional commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, and is now sole proprietor of (which has a Facebook group). More by Paul Ford