Opinion: Why we should place more care on the language of love

Mia Miller/The Occidental

On the 30-year anniversary of the introduction of “love languages,” it’s easy to find ourselves demonstrating our love for others these days with a quick double-tap or a plethora of emojis (personal favorite: flaming heart). Expressions of love change over time, but we can categorize them all under the umbrella of Gary Chapman’s love languages, which he defines in his book, “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.” Your love language would be the specific way you prefer to receive love. If I were to tell you my love language, I’d say it would probably be putting my used plate away for me in the Marketplace tray drop, or telling me that my newly dyed and cut hair looks phenomenal (new year, new me?).

If those seemingly trivial but personally valuable expressions are the ones that mean the most to me, Chapman would say my actual love languages are acts of service and words of affirmation. Besides those, the other three love languages he presents are physical touch, quality time and receiving gifts.

The language of love, like any language, evolves over time as culture does — but we shouldn’t get accustomed to the simplicity of interacting over social media to validate relationships. Although our thumbs may be working hard tap-tapping on friends’ pictures hundreds of times a day, that isn’t quite the right form of physical touch that many of us are looking for. Reacting to a BeReal is nothing in comparison to a hearty compliment given to someone in passing whose favored love language is words of affirmation. If we want to continue to foster human relationships in a time where your life is online seemingly as much as it is in person, we need to dedicate effort to understand what those around us value and search for — things that are meaningful or tangible, not something that will disappear after 24 hours. You can find out your own preferred love language by reading Chapman’s book or taking a quick quiz — but I believe it is especially important to find out the love language of those closest to you.

The reason we should care about the love languages of others, especially those you value in your life, is because they enhance relationships and combat conflicts. In a relationship — be it with a close friend, important family member or romantic partner — it isn’t enough to just know your own love language, because that defeats the purpose of language itself; any system of communication fails if it is not reciprocal. I’m not saying that your love language is invalidated if you do not receive it, but rather, a relationship may fail if the participants’ love languages are misunderstood or ignored.

Let’s say you took the quiz or suddenly had a revelation about yourself while reading this, and your love language is acts of service. Because that’s the method that means the most to you, you start to express this to your close friend: you open the door for them, help them carry their packages and pick up their coffee for them from the Green Bean. But your intention to express love may not be fully conveyed if acts of service is not a love language they value or seek. It may begin to create obstacles: your purposefully meaningful gesture of love was not reciprocated with the same energy, or not even noticed at all. Maybe this begins to make you feel insecure, or your friend starts to believe you don’t care about them as much because you aren’t giving them what they value; if their love language was quality time, just sitting with them in the Green Bean may have left a much more heartfelt impression in comparison to those other actions.

Expressing love is important, and when you do it compassionately, it can enhance your relationship with those you care about and the experiences you have with them. With an understanding and continuous practice of speaking love languages, we can learn how to love others and how to love ourselves (corny, I know…). Consider your love language as deeply as you would consider others’ — ask for what you want to receive and try to give others what they seek. There’s nothing wrong with being selfish about the way you want to receive love (don’t settle for less!) as long as you express your sincere appreciation when it is fulfilled. Relationships can be hard to nourish when two people value very different things, so it’s important to understand the connection between the way we want to be loved and how much we can rely on the people around us to be considerate of that.

You don’t have to worry excessively about love languages or act on them every time you see someone you care about — just try, as lovers and humans, to remember what makes your friends smile a little harder or your partner’s heart beat a little faster. By expressing love with a bit more thoughtful intention, relationships can flourish beautifully. Attention to acts of service, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and words of affirmation can help you navigate the language of love with ease.