Since I was about fifteen years old, I have always been the love guru in my friend circle. The matchmaker. The wingwoman. The dating profile hacker.
Though I didn’t date a ton myself, I spent three years researching everything that was out there in social science about friendships, romance, and relationships. Then I applied it to my twenty-somethings friends who were down on their luck and desperate for love.
And I started to notice a pattern. There were certain steps along the process to falling in love that almost everyone used, subconsciously or otherwise. Something would feel right — and two weeks later, they were dating. Or something would feel off and it would predict a nasty breakup. So I watched from the sidelines and started taking notes.
When I realized I wanted to make closer friendships, I started applying some of the lessons I learned to my own relationships. I’d heard a lot about platonic love and had missed out on close childhood or high school friends. Over the next few years, dozens of my friends fell in romantic love with me (often much to my chagrin and confusion) and I eventually had to learn to dial it back.
So these are lessons learned both the easy way and the hard way. Now, here are the secrets.
Step One: Make sure they are open to falling in love with you and you actually want them to.
When writing this article, I almost wanted to say these tips are only for women. This was not because these tips don’t work for men but because, in my experience, men cross so many boundaries when they can’t recognize they are making women uncomfortable.
So if you take only one thing away from this article, take this. Walk away if they say “no.” First of all, if they’re actually interested, they’ll express interest later (it’s now their turn and being busy is attractive). Second, stalking people and making them uncomfortable is never okay and no one finds this romantic, no matter what movies have led you to believe.
Also, make sure you want them to fall in love with you. Spend at least two weeks after you first meet learning about their interests, passions, and lifestyle. Make sure you’re actually compatible. Falling in love is serious business and you should keep it casual if that’s what you really want. Don’t play with people’s hearts because you think it’s fun. I’ve lost a lot of friends over unrequited love and that’s a huge risk if you’re not going to open up to them as much as they do with you. (I.e., this is not a “how to get in someone’s pants” article.)
Step Two: Flirt.
Maintain eye contact. Touch them. Squeeze their hands or reach out to their arm in sympathy. Smile genuinely. Make them laugh. Master the art of the back-handed compliment. Play with your hair, go for hugs, and tease them lightly.
Use the usual tips, but keep it classy. An often forgotten tip, apparently from the kama sutra, is touching people’s shoulders. It’s an intimate gesture, one that shows fondness and love, but it’s not sexual, offensive, or too much.
Another tip is to tell people they look good and do so boldly. I used to tell my law school friends they looked great in suits because I heard that men don’t get enough compliments from women. Later, many of these friends told me that’s what made them start falling for me. I’d confidently compliment them and they knew I meant it.
When people speak, lean in and listen to them. Don’t get distracted. Ask questions, keep your stance open, and mirror their movements. Let your eyes linger on them just a moment longer than they need to, before snapping them to the next person who talks and doing the same with them. (This is actually a technique I learned for networking, not flirting, and it’s a miracle worker.)
An important note for flirting: make sure they’re okay with any physical contact. One of the things that made my now-husband closer to me is that he didn’t like hugs and I was one of our few friends who didn’t hug him. There’s nothing more attractive than respecting boundaries, trust me.
Step Three: Get them to share their deepest personal feelings with you.
Basically, be there for them. In today’s busy world, you’ll be surprised how few people care about what’s going on in other people’s lives. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and no one listens. To this day, very few people I know ask how I’m doing or check in on me if I say I’m not well. Those very few people are my friends. I have become close friends with several big shots just because I was one of the few people in their lives who gave a damn.
So give a damn. Ask them how their day is. Remember about their families and their relationships. Work the thirty six questions that lead to love into conversations. Share pieces of your heart and ask about the story behind theirs.
Step Four: Genuinely be in high demand.
Confidence, hobbies, friends, other healthy relationships, and exciting lives are highly attractive in everyone. One of the best tips I’ve ever heard for flirting is to drop things like, “I’m gaming with friends this weekend” or “two of these guys in class keep flirting with me.”
The key is you can’t do it to humble brag, ego boost, or name drop. It has to be genuine. According to one friend who had a crush on me for years, one of the most attractive things I ever did was announce we should go out to dinner with friends and get twenty people to show up on a school night. Apparently, he was jealous for a while and then it turned into something more.
Once you have a lot of friends, interests, and hobbies, start including your love interest in them. Make sure they know they’re special and will take priority over other aspects of your very busy life. Answer their calls and make time for them, but be honest if you have other things to do or someone else needs your help one weekend.
Step Five: Say really heartfelt, true things about how special and important they are to you.
I wrote a whole article about this. Write gorgeous texts when you know they’re welcome, when they’re quirky and honest, and when they’re authentically vulnerable. Take people out to dinner and tell them the world stops when they smile and that they’re so friggin’ important to you.
Almost all my friends who said they were in love with me confessed after a lunch or dinner when I’d said something that they’d read as an opening: something where I’d made them feel so close to me and so affectionate, they just couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Again, stop if they’re uncomfortable and don’t make it creepy. But everyone likes receiving love letters and as long as you focus on your feelings and not what you want from them, you’ll probably be fine.
As I was writing this article, I noticed I didn’t including one glaring, obvious part of falling in love: being hot. And it’s genuinely because I think it doesn’t matter.
It might sound optimistic, naive, or ignorant— and I know there’s a stereotype that people are shallow — but beauty is not that important, at least not in this case. We’re talking about falling in love, not a one-night stand. No one cares what you look like when they’re thinking of growing old with you.
When I got frustrated that people were falling in love with me and my friendships were failing, I kept citing the fact that I intentionally dressed down to hang out with them. I emphasized how bad I was at style, never did my hair, and talked up other women. One of my friends once fell for me and I intentionally wore makeup around her because she said she preferred women who didn’t.
Absolutely none of this actually helped. In fact, it did the opposite. Later, my friends told me that people don’t want pretty people. They want interesting, funny, dependable people. They want people who care enough about your friendship to fight for it. They want touchable, real people slightly outside the realm of what they’d typically find good-looking.
Meanwhile, while dressing down didn’t protect me, keeping physical distance, maintaining a standoffish attitude, and cooling down emotional conversations did. If you don’t want someone to fall in love with you, do the opposite of what this article says and be a bit of an aloof jerk.
But if you’re looking to connect with someone, whether via a Zoom call or an actual date night post-vaccination, try searching for a deep connection based on confidence, mutual affection, and sleeve-worn hearts. Make the effort and then do it again and again.
Falling in love is worth it.