“Winning the girl.” “Falling for a man.” “You complete me.” “I need you.” These have been the phrases of lovers for the last hundred years, if not the last thousand.

And they all need to be retired.

Starting with the last, let me say it plain — need is unattractive. It is also no compliment to be needed. I need air, water, food, shelter. I cannot live without those things. To say “I need you” is to say I have no choice, it is not under my control. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have heard someone say they needed me, I went running for the hills. It’s not flattering, it’s demanding, it’s tantamount to blackmail. “I have needs, and if you say no you’re heartless!”

What’s attractive? Desire is attractive. Even when I haven’t reciprocated, I have always enjoyed being told someone finds me interesting or desirable.

More attractive than desire is choice. “I choose you,” is the height of attraction — so long as it is said in love, not in ownership. Someone choosing me means I have qualities in me that the other person finds compelling, rather than they have a hole in them that I fill.

Which leads us to Jerry Maguire’s famous line “You complete me.” If you need me to complete you, I’m not interested. That’s called co-dependence, and is as unattractive as need. What’s preferable is if you bring out the best parts of me, if we compliment each other, match each other, make each other better people. (See The Only Relationship Question You Ever Need To Answer)

“Falling for a man” might sound lovely, until you know its roots. It isn’t derived from fainting or being made to feel lightheaded or dizzy in the rush of first love. No, it comes from “fallen woman”. To “fall” for a man was for a woman to give up her chastity for a man, to disgrace herself. No wonder men find that romantic — it means they’re so attractive women are willing to debase themselves. Even “falling in love” implies a helplessness, an inability to resist. It troubles me.

Finally we reach the one that should be the easiest to remove from the lexicon of love, but may prove hardest to shake: “Winning the girl.” In 2019 it should be obvious, but a woman is not a prize to be won. Yet our culture teaches the opposite. In films, on TV, the woman is the prize. The guy needs to make one grand gesture, one humbling admission, or just simply persevere in “wearing her down” (how romantic!) and the woman will relent and fall into his arms, just before we fade to black.

Great! You’re in love. What happens next?

We never see what happens next. We never see him, trained by society and the entertainment we consume, grow bored with having “won” the girl and set out to win the next one. Because that’s our programming. Romantic comedies are all about bringing the couple together, then the film ends, full stop.

We have far too few examples of how to maintain a relationship. Because it’s not a one-and-done victory. Relationships are work, and take constant effort and communication. That work can be fun, it can be hard. We fall in and out of romance all the time. What we’re not modeling is how to be friends, how to keep the relationship going when that first excitement of love has faded.

So let’s rethink our romances. Let’s let couples choose each other, rather than suggesting it’s beyond their control.

Let’s stop making women into objects, or suggesting that by hooking up with a man somehow takes something away from them.

Let’s show them how to keep a relationship going after the initial rush and flutter, when your lover can’t put the cap back on the toothpaste, or for some reason throw trash in the sink when the garbage can is right there, or doesn’t wash the pan after making eggs so it’s impossible to scrub clean, or never makes the bed, or cannot put the clean clothes in the closet (for the record, more than half of these are me).

And for God’s sake, let’s stop thinking that a good relationship can “fix” the parts of you that are broken. That’s not up to anyone but you.

I say we retire these phrases, and start using better ones. “I choose you.” “You bring out the best in me.” “I am who I want to be when I’m with you.”

One, though, that never goes out of style is the simple, “I love you.” Said without expectation. Without pressure. Only with truth.

That’s romance.