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When I first read about the five love languages, a light dawned. Angels sang in chorus, and my third eye opened.
Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but I’m isolated with nothing but a bunch of words, so what can you expect? Regardless, learning that different people communicate love differently was enlightening.
The languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. You can even take a quiz to find out which language you speak.
I think we can all come up with examples of a time when our loved ones do not seem to be speaking the same language as us—and I’m not talking about some Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus hooey. No, love languages aren’t a cop-out that claim members of the same species actually originate from other planets and that’s the root of any miscommunication.
But what about when you care about someone, so you make them a collage, windchimes, and a set of dishcloths? And the person is grateful, sure, but even though you spend a lot of time together, you aren’t sure they return your feelings because they haven’t so much as made you a cupcake
Well, you’re speaking the ‘gifts’ language, and they’re talking ‘quality time’. And if we communicate about this, maybe we can all get on the same page with what love means to us.
And what about love in the time of coronavirus?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to communicate when you aren’t in the same room as someone. When you can’t hold off on important conversations until you see each other in person because you don’t know when that’ll be. When confrontation and misunderstandings are rampant because it’s so easy to misinterpret tone over text or email when there’s no body language. How do we maintain our relationships during isolation?
When I use my tried-and-true ‘words of affirmation’ language to express love, I can feel conflicted when the person I’m speaking with immediately wants a hug. What’s this? I am using all my best words, and you want a hug? But that’s the physical touch language, and it’s very common. And that’s the one we’re struggling with right now. All those people whose primary love language has been swept aside may be feeling particularly vulnerable or out of sorts right now. So I’m offering a mini translation guide. How to speak another language, or how to communicate lovingly at all, if it’s new to you.
Words of affirmation come easily to me. I’m used to putting words together in a pleasing way, and I’m also practised in gratitude, which means when I am feeling love(d), I can express it. However, you don’t need to be a poet or a part-time thesaurus to express yourself in this love language. The best combination of words is always just heartfelt, honest, and kind. In fact, sometimes wordiness gets in the way of this language, especially with someone who’s speaking another one. So write a bad poem for someone who delivered your groceries; compose a short note of appreciation to your neighbour; meet someone in their six-feet-away eyes and tell them how much you care about them. Use your words, halting or effusive, to speak with love.
‘Acts of service’ is an extremely popular love language, especially among women. As the primary volunteers globally as well as the managers of most households, women are fluent in this language. Doing things for one another, for our community, for our families, speaks very loudly. Taking your friend’s dogs for a walk while they’re at work; accompanying someone to a medical appointment; picking up someone’s prescription for them while they’re quarantined are all acts that are committed from love. Caregiving, in every sense of the word. I would argue that this language is one of the more challenging ones, because without recognition, gratitude, or reciprocation, it can become exhausting to speak.
‘Gifts’ is a language that most will be familiar with. It can also be the most loaded. For example, a woman whose abusive ex used to bring her gifts after a violent episode may be cautious accepting gifts, not trusting that there aren’t strings attached. Awareness of the potential triggering nature of indeed any of the languages is vital—always try to understand where the other person is coming from when they explain why something isn’t working for them. The solution isn’t to ‘fix’ the problem, it’s to understand it. Some examples of gifts include filling up your partner’s gas tank, knitting the grandkid some socks, or making homemade masks for cancer patients in your community (true story, I received one today!).
Receiving gifts is also an act of love. It can be difficult to accept gifts, if we don’t feel worthy or if we know someone we feel is more in need. However, you know that feeling you get when you give someone The Perfect Gift? Well, when you accept a gift, you allow that person to feel that amazing feeling. Also, you are worth it and don’t you forget it.
‘Quality time’ is another language, and another one we’re struggling with during isolation. Maybe we’re spending an awful lot of time with the same few people in our household and we’re not getting what we need outside that core group. Right now, we are seriously lacking in our circles. Our bridge buddies, our double dates, our sibling soirees. The people who don’t live with us but still reside in our hearts: we are missing them, and that’s okay. If you can, tell them. Or do something cool for them. Or make them a thing. But if quality time is truly your love language, don’t lose your fluency just because you can’t practise it the way you once could. Plan a night where you watch a movie together, from your respective homes, on the phone or using an app. You could both go for a walk at the same time during a phone call. Find innovative ways to spend time together without being physically together.
For those of you whose language is ‘physical touch’… well, this is crap, isn’t it? The three-minute hugs upon greeting and departure, watching TV pressed up together on the couch, placing your hand, consensually, on someone’s arm or shoulder to indicate how much you care—we have had this method of communication taken from us. At the risk of sounding so very sad, what I like to do is give myself a hug. I reach my arms straight out, then wrap them around myself, trying to get my fingertips around my shoulder blades. Then I switch the arm that’s on top and do it again. This does not need to be a time in which you become mute. Maybe now is when you use this love language to fall for yourself. The scar you hate, the freckles that just keep coming, the jowls, the stretch marks. Become familiar with yourself; stop avoiding the pieces of you that you think aren’t lovable, and extend your love to them. Let physical touch become the language you speak to yourself.
I encourage you to take the quiz and have your loved ones do it too. Maybe this is old hat to you, or maybe it could begin to heal some chasms and offer new opportunities to love. And whatever language you speak, try to add more words to your vocabulary every day. The world needs it.
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