#8 Speaking in love languages 💖
How do you love? Have you ever thought about that?
On Sunday I walked with a friend who I hadn’t seen in ages. We picked our way along a rocky hillside, down to the choppy sea. Tall glassy mansions shone in the watery sun, tinted floor to ceiling window after tinted floor to ceiling window. Like coke bottles smashed across a quiet salty hill. The breeze was cold, but the sun was hot, and as we clambered (up) and braced (down), we tied our jumpers around our waists and wiped our brows.
There was a lot to catch up on, so much had happened in our months of pandemic induced estrangement.
I don’t presume you’re interested in the twists and turns of a reunion conversation between two old friends, so I’ll spare you the twists and give you just a singular, interesting turn.
My friend reckons the discovery of love languages changed her life. Am I exaggerating? A little. But are love languages this week’s topic? Um, yeah!
In case you don’t know, the notion of love languages was popularised in a 1992 book called The Five Love Languages, written by a Baptist minister called Gary Chapman from Winston-Salem.
In a crude distillation of Chapman’s philosophy, everyone has a preferred mode or language of loving, of which there are just five. Chapman insists that by observing the way others demonstrate love and care, or by listening to their complaints – you can work out how to love them best.
The five lingos are:
· Quality time
· Acts of service
· Words of affirmation
· Physical touch
· Receiving gifts
There’s a quiz you can take and upon completion, you’ll find out whether you’re an angel from heaven who wants to be cuddled and have quality time with the people you love. Or whether, like me, you’d rather just be showered in compliments (and pressies!).
I’ve known for a long while that my love language is fluent vapidity. I wish desperately that I was the kind of person who preferred cuddles and hand holding and playing with people’s hair. Meaningful touch, soulful conversation, long honeyed glances or a hand on a knee. I love people like that. They’re also the people who know how to roll joints, cook a really good dahl and enjoy walking around the house naked. One and the same!
In all my years of dolling out love, I’ve tended not to look at that practice through the lens of anyone else’s needs but my own. It’s been a real ‘you get what you get and you don’t get upset’ vibe.
When I was 19 and loving someone properly for the first time, I had a boyfriend who was quiet and watchful, a real Rubik’s cube. And I was not patient or cluey enough to figure him out. I loved him clumsily. I ignored his subtle hints, his soft pleas for space and I invaded him like a kelpie puppy that’d been left in the laundry all day. Relentless, and actually, not that cute.
But I was young and silly then, so smothering someone and disregarding their quiet entreaties to be loved differently was understandable, forgivable even.
Is it so forgivable at 31?
When I really think about it, my way of loving these days is no more tailored to the needs of the person (or people) I love than it was 10 years ago.
Now I’m just a little less tender hearted; age-hardened by the compounding of heartbreak and other sad things.
Still, when I feel like a cuddle in bed, I cling like a limpet to my partner’s back, squeezing the air out of his chest as he begs me to “please get off”.
I remain a clumsy physical toucher, but I send very romantic texts.
For me, this single-minded approach to the practice of loving is no surprise, given my generation’s great love of introspection.
We’re contemplative, we reflect, we go to therapy, we so desperately want to figure ourselves out. But the flip side of this aggressive self-examination, this undying love of doing the work, is the way we sometimes forget to look beyond where our being stops and where someone else’s begins. And it would seem that our elite dedication to navel gazing has led us to co-opt and perhaps even gravely misunderstand the life’s work of a Southern Baptist preacher.
To us, photos of chunky sausage dogs are a love language. A perfectly poached egg, houseplants or Kath and Kim memes are all love languages in their own right. And most crucially they’re our love language. As in, me, myself, I. It’s a combination of enforced absurdity and the broadcasting of self.
As with our generation’s nostalgic fixation on astrology, it would seem we love to study and marvel at our own snowflakey uniqueness within the bounds of generalised irony. I’m a Libra, ie. I’m a flirty materialist who can’t make decisions!
The appeal of things like star signs and love languages and personality types et al, for many of us, is the permission to scrutinise ourselves through the lens of something trivial and also, reductive. But what if, in the pursuit of studying ourselves, albeit ironically, we miss the beauty of understanding and tending to the quirks of others? And the importance of being earnest.
So yes, on one hand the idea of just five ways of loving is a preposterous oversimplification of our complex ways of interacting. On the other, it’s a sweet premise for starting the decidedly un-ironic and often prickly work of mastering the way other people need to be loved.
After all, not everyone would rather exclamations of their uncanny genius over a nice cuddle.
That’s just a fifth of us.