Dr. Gary Chapman has counted the ways. Apparently, there are five of them. (He has not, to my knowledge, expressed them in iambic pentameter, but no one’s perfect.)
Anyway, in his book The Five Love Languages, Chapman notes that people express and receive love by several different means. Understanding the five love languages not only helps you realize when people are showing you love, but also enables you to care for others in the way most meaningful to them. And when you tell someone what love language you’re most receptive to, they can start speaking your language and translate the love they’ve always had into something you really get. (All this assumes that love is an action and not a cuddly feeling, which sounds legit to me.)
You can have more than one language, of course, and it’s unlikely that you’d be completely unaffected by a certain one. But as I’ve experienced, determining your top languages is like Miracle-Gro for your relationships. Okay, maybe not Miracle-Gro. Maybe more like dusting the aphids off once a week. It’s good stuff either way.
So what are these languages? The five Chapman has identified are: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
I do think that the good doctor has made a grave omission, though: the love language of food. As my pastor Matt Robbins says, “Food equals love.” Henceforth, these shall be known as “The Six Love Languages.” Let’s take a look at each one:
Words of affirmation
That’s a fancy-dancy term for “saying nice things.” For some people, a genuine compliment will stick in their minds and keep them smiling for days.
Since this is my mom’s language, a great way to make her feel loved would be to send her an e-mail saying how great it was to see her last weekend.
In my extensive sociological research, I’ve noticed that people avoid people they don’t like. So I figure if someone’s making an effort to spend time with me, they probably have some affection for me. Not only this, but the fact that they’re giving up the time in which they could be doing other worthwhile things (studying for a midterm, earning next month’s rent, reading The Aggie) shows me they value me.
Last Saturday, my roommate and I trekked out to a co-op in Berkeley where my friend Dan’s band was playing. We spent more time driving than we did at the event itself, but I was willing to put in the time because I really wanted to see Dan and be there for his show.
Conversely, if people have the chance to spend time with me but don’t, I can get kind of pouty. If you’re responsive to a certain type of love, its absence is likely to hurt.
I gotta be honest: gifts are not my style. I’m too much of a minimalist to grasp that people like getting stuff they don’t need. But since learning that someone can care for me in a way that doesn’t automatically give me the warm-and-fuzzies, I can honestly be thankful for the thought that goes into gift-giving.
The giver has to sacrifice something – a chunk of their paycheck, or the time it takes to go to Target and search for the perfect thing. I can appreciate that. (And I do get really awesome stuff pretty often. I’m not a total ascetic.)
Acts of service
Helping a loved one out with their daily tasks doesn’t just make their life easier, but it can make them feel valued, too.
When I once again exercised my vehicular brilliance by locking my keys in my Jeep, my roommate Elena went through the trouble of digging through my desk, retrieving the spare and handing it off to me on her way to campus. (Thank you, by the way, all you people who saw my keys sitting in the ignition and refrained from breaking a window and making for Vegas.)
Other acts of service include washing someone’s dishes, taking their shift at work or helping them recapture their escaped chinchilla. True story.
You know how some people have to embrace everything with a pulse? You know how other people will punch those people in the face if they sense a hug commencing? This is a really touchy (ha!) love language, and it illustrates how not understanding each other’s affectionate expressions can lead to strained relationships.
Touch is one of my top receiving love languages. When someone initiates a hug or a shoulder-squeeze, it boosts my mood 10 cookies (my unit of emotional measure, as you’ll later understand). But this is actually pretty low in the rankings of how I express caring. I often have to push myself past feeling awkward to initiate contact with people. It’s normal to have different giving and receiving love languages.
I know I said I’m not very reactive to gifts, but food is a different story. If you buy me a cookie at the CoHo or share your dinner with me, I will treasure our obviously deep, loving relationship forever.
Even if you’re kind of a jerk to me, I can be fooled by a gift of noms. That’s how powerful a hold this love language has over me.
A few months ago, I told my family about the six love languages and admitted my preference for food. So for my birthday, they gave me a ton of crazy-delicious food that has lasted over a week. I felt darn loved.
Maybe there is something to the strange idea that communication builds up relationships. Do some sociological research of your own and see if awareness of the six love languages rocks your world, too.
BETH SEKISHIRO wishes her band son Frankie a happy birthday! Hey, are those words of affirmation? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.