Want to know if someone loves you without saying it out loud? You should watch their body language instead. Did you know that 60 to 90 percent of the meaning of our communication is delivered non verbally -- and in romantic situations, this jumps to 99 percent? That is exactly what anthropologist David Givens says, he is a director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, and author of Love Signals.
"When it comes to emotions, our bodies do the talking more than words," Givens says.
Here are nine wordless ways the body telegraphs, "I love you."
Love sign #1: Mirroring your actions
You splay your right fingers around your coffee cup; so does he. You take a sip; he takes a sip. Anthropologists call these synchronous actions "isopraxism" (iso being Greek for "same" and praxism meaning "behavior"). Couples tend to do this unconsciously as they fall in love; their bodies can't help themselves.
"The more alike you are, the more you like each other," Givens says. "It strengthens your bond."
Love sign #2: Locked eyes
If an object of attraction gazes deep into your eyes, your heart just may skip a beat. Eye contact is a potent emotional link -- in ordinary circumstances, both parties feel a strong urge to break a gaze after three seconds. (Note that people make less eye contact when they dislike each other, feel intimidated, or disagree.)
But if you like someone, you tend to hold the gaze for an extra few beats without even being aware of it. This says, "I'm really, really interested in you."
Love sign #3: Sitting close by
Does your loved one move in close to you -- maybe your hips touch when you sit side by side, or your knees knock into his or hers when you sit across from each other?
"Reducing the distance between you and the other person is a strong way our bodies send a message of love," says Jamie Comstock, a professor of communication at Butler University in Indianapolis.
Someone in love almost can't help the urge to be physically near his or her object of affection. When you're drawn to someone, it's almost literal: Often the body knows the attraction before any words of love have been exchanged, Comstock says.
Love sign #4: Head tilts
When you're talking, watch your listener. Does he or she cock his or her head, either to the left or right? In a friendship, a tilted head fosters rapport. In courtship, it reads as flirtatiousness.
Leaning the head toward the shoulder connotes harmlessness and submissiveness, the Center for Nonverbal Studies' David Givens says, which makes the relationship "softer." A tilted head is a gesture that adds warmth and immediacy to the dialogue between you. Subtle? Yes. But like many aspects of body language, these cues speak volumes about the relationship.
Love sign #5: A fingertip caress
Being lightly, casually touched -- on your shoulder, your forearm, the back of your neck, a little side hug -- instantly registers in the brain as warmth and reassurance.
The emotional centers of the brain register touch more quickly than messages that come through the language center, Givens says. The touch doesn't have to be long to register as warm and reassuring.
"The presence of touch is a sign of affection because it sends a message of inclusion: I want to be closer to you," says Butler University's Jamie Comstock. "You can say, 'I love you' 30 times a day, but if you only touch the person minimally -- rarely hug, kiss, or show appropriate physical affection -- that 'I love you' will ring pretty hollow to him or her," she says.
Love sign #6: A warm smile
Smiles warm our hearts -- but not any old smile is a sign of affection. What to look for: a genuine smile (called a "zygomatic smile"), the kind that can't easily be faked because it's produced not on demand but by pure emotion. In heartfelt smiles, the zygomatic muscles are strongly contracted, so that corners of the mouth curve upward and the outer corners of the eyes wrinkle into crow's feet. Pay attention to the eyes: In a genuine smile, they tend to be crinkled more tightly.
The face is more expressive than any other part of the body because all facial muscles are controlled by visceral nerves, which are connected to emotions. Some people say they can see their dog or cat smile, but these animals have little facial flexibility compared with our evolutionary kin the primates, who developed this ability in order to communicate. Reptiles, in comparison, can't move their features at all, save to open their mouths.
Love sign #7: A higher-pitched and softer voice than usual
Notice how a parent talks to a child: The voice takes on a slightly higher, warmer tone -- not loud, no edge to it. This same love-infused relationship is the model for the tone that people in love use. It's a softer pitch than usual. "It's innately friendly," Given says, "and suggests a non aggressive, non hostile pose."
That doesn't mean that if your crush isn't speaking to you in baby talk or falsetto, he or she doesn't love you. The tone of a voice in love isn't that exaggerated. It's simply more loving.
The tone of voice is so important -- and so revealing -- because we "hear" the way words are delivered separately from how we process the words themselves. Tone of voice carries both emotion (love, hate, anger) and social information (sarcasm, superiority).
In fact, humans are so good at reading voices that you should probably trust what you hear in the tone more than the words themselves -- especially when that "I love you" rolls off the tongue of the object of your affection. Comstock says, "When there's a discrepancy between the words and the tone" -- whether it's detached, mono-tonal, defensive, sarcastic -- "people believe the nonverbal."