There’s a surprisingly insightful book called THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman. The premise is that, either through nurture or nature, we all have a dominant way in which we express and receive love. It’s our love lingo, if you please.
The five love languages:
- Words of affirmation: compliments or words of encouragement.
- Receiving gifts: symbols of love, like flowers or chocolates.
- Quality time: their partner's undivided attention.
- Acts of service: setting the table, walking the dog, or doing other small jobs.
- Physical touch: hugs, hand holding, back pats, or sex
The “AHA” of this book for me was that it’s entirely possible for someone to love greatly and for the recipient to doubt the magnitude of that love.
Some people express love and receive love with words -- compliments, affirmation, encouragement. Give them a gift, an endless hug, feed their dog when they’re away, and they still won’t read “love” --not until you tell them that you love them and why. Conversely say something “you didn’t really mean,” and that careless, reactive thing you said will never be forgotten.
Others speak “gifts”. These are the people who would never return from a trip without some kind of gift for each person they love. I have a friend who was devastated when her husband didn’t fill her hospital room with flowers and balloons when she gave birth to their first child. No words could avert this, no words could correct it. The only remedy was to show up with her favorite ice cream flavor or wrap up those earrings she was admiring last week -- if he wants to have his love become comprehensible to her.
Acts of service: These are the people that cook your favorite dish or do the dishes to tell you how much they love you. And no matter how many gifts you give or words you say, these same people are not
going to be convinced of your love unless you learn to speak “acts of service”: lift a burden from them -- do the laundry or shake the throw rugs without being asked.
Quality time. This is a phrase that has been thrown around alot, and it’s easy to get quality time confused with some gifts (taking someone out to dinner or the ball game) or some acts of service (painting the baby’s room or getting the shopping done --together). Quality time means you are entirely focused on the other person -- listening responsively, talking from the heart, appreciating the moment together. Lee and I call it “being in the bubble.” Almost all young children are fluent in this love language, and crave this kind of absolute attention from their parents.
Physical touch is life-saving to at-risk infants, according to many studies. Sex is important to good health and a lot of fun, but hand-holding, hugs, pats on the back, hand-shakes, backrubs -- all forms of benevolent touch make us feel fundamentally accepted and appreciated. When Lee was in the hospital for weeks, he says the leg and foot rubs I gave him several times daily helped him immeasurably to forget what hurt and what was going to hurt soon -- for just a moment.
There’s the prototypical story of the woman who is doing dishes, and her husband comes by and pats her bottom. She’s loving him through her primary love language -- acts of service (making sure the dishes are washed and the kitchen put to rights) -- and he’s expressing his love language of physical touch. If she reacts with irritation, this means he needs to take the sponge away from her, pour her a glass of wine and lead her to her favorite chair, AND finish the dishes for her -- thus speaking HER language -- acts of service. And she would do well to rub his shoulders and give him a lingering kiss when he’s done -- making the effort to tell him in his “first language” that she loves and appreciates him.
Even occasional, imperfect fluency in your loved one’s language will get the message across.
So love is not a universal language; there are many dialects. And we would do well to learn to recognize when someone speaks a different love dialect and make an effort to speak their language.
It occurs to me that although love is not a universal language -- food IS. Food can be a gift, an act of service, a tribute, an occasion for quality time, and if you feed each other, it even fulfills the physical touch requirement.
I find myself mirroring my mother in preparing favorite dishes to let people know I love them. This always seems to get through to their love detectors.
Maybe this is why some women finish off a pint of ice cream when their heart is bruised or broken. It’s a poor substitute, true -- but the action, I believe, is the psyche saying, “I’ll feel better if give myself some sweet, creamy, chocolate-loaded LOVE.”
Loving someone else with creme-brulee (my daughter), or with chips and onion dip (my sweetie), or whatever delights them should never be the ONLY way we show them how we feel, especially if they have food-related health concerns. Still, a bowl of cherries or single square of chocolate does more than raise the metabolic rate. A culinary gift needs no translation. It says -- unequivocally -- “I love you.”