Sometimes all it takes is one simple statement: "You're the only woman I want."
Confession: I haven't been anybody's girlfriend in a long time. This year will be my thirteenth wedding anniversary, so it's been a minute since I had the kind of concerns you have when you're straddling that fence between single and legally committed.
At heart, though, I think we all have a similar list of things we really want but are really hesitant to ask for, whether we've been dating someone for a month, or been married to them for a decade. Things like...
1. Compliment her.
Listen, I'm an intelligent, well-read, deep-thinking feminist type of woman, but I still like it when my husband tells me I look beautiful. I know I'm good at a lot of things, but I still like it when he tells me he's proud of me. It's not just generic "you're pretty" compliments we're looking for. Be sincere about it.
Focus on the things you really do love about her, and tell her. Tell her how her eyes are the color of the first sky you remember really seeing. Let her know that the way she dances across the kitchen when she thinks no one is looking makes your whole face smile. Ask her if she knows how her hair falling over her face in the morning light before she wakes makes you swoon. Tell her she's funny, tell her she's brave. And yeah, tell her she's beautiful.
2. Hold her when she's crying.
I'm a crier. I cry, a lot. Movies, books, commercials, songs, people winning something, whatever. If there's an emotional component involved, I'm going to need a box of Kleenex. I don't expect my husband to comfort me when I'm losing it over a ten-year-old episode of Friends, but there are times when I really need him to intuitively understand when I'm craving the comfort of his arms around me.
Don't be afraid to do the same for your girlfriend. She didn't get the job she was dreaming of, she had a massive fight with her best friend, someone she loves is dying — go to her, pull her close, make yourself a safe space for her to fall to pieces. And definitely have tissues on standby.
3. Express tender gestures.
We don't need our life with you to resemble a romance novel, but there are many small, sweet things you can do that will make her feel both desired and cherished. Tuck her hair behind her ear. Hold her face in your hands when you kiss. Scratch her back until she falls asleep.
Paint her toenails when she's pregnant. Put your arm around her in the movie theater. It may not seem like much, but this kind of intimacy is so important, and it's something that's almost impossible to ask for.
4. Reassure her every now and then.
It's human nature to invent worst case scenarios at two o'clock in the morning before a big meeting at work the next day, or to dream about your partner cheating and wake up pissed off and upset. Needing reassurance does not equal neediness.
Sometimes all it takes is one simple statement: "You're the only woman I want." Logically, we know that, but there are times when our rational mind is overcome by insecurity or hormones or the current cover of Maxim. I'm not saying you have to indulge that, just, you know, extend a little bit of gentleness.
5. Do stuff.
Wash the dishes. Fold the laundry. Change the sheets on the bed. Rinse your plate and put it in the dishwasher. Mow the yard. Give the kids a bath. Search for the missing socks. We handle this junk all the time, you guys, and you're guaranteed second base at minimum if you would do some of these things unprompted from time to time.
Most of the time we don't ask because we don't like to nag, but seriously, just vacuum the living room or sweep the kitchen. Coming home to a clean house is powerful aphrodisiac.
6. Encourage her.
It's so easy for women to lose themselves in the girlfriend/wife/mother roles. Remind your girl of the things she's really good at and encourage her in her hobbies. Give her a gentle nudge out the door to go hang with her friends.
Make sure she has space to grow on a personal level that has nothing to do with you, and don't feel threatened by positive change. She had an entire life before you, and she might need to be reminded of that sometimes. You might need to remind yourself of that sometimes.
7. Commit to her.
Don't stop reading! Don't close the browser! I'm not advocating an immediate proposal. This isn't about spending two months' salary on a ring or immersing yourself in brochures for honeymoon destinations. I'm talking emotional commitment.
If you're going to be with your girlfriend, BE with her. Don't half-ass it. Don't split your time between her and the memory of your ex or the possibility of the future. Listen to her. Love her. Look at her when she's talking to you. If she trusts you enough to share her heart with you, you have a responsibility to handle it with care.
No relationship is perfect, and none of us are mind readers. There are things we want from our significant others that are tough to put into words because we don't want to be seen as needy or nagging, or worse, we don't want to put our vulnerability on display.
So don't make her ask! Apply the things I've talked about here to your relationship, and watch the way she falls even more in love with you. Thirteen years, remember?