The boyfriend whispers those words into my ears. It’s 5:45 am and I can barely open my eyes. I have floor to ceiling windows in my condo and I face east, so my bedroom is like a sauna, a very unflatteringly bright sauna.
I make a pathetic whining noise and hide my face in his shoulder.
“You’re pretty.” I say, as if I’m challenging him.
His compliment is genuine and sweet, but I do not believe him – especially in the early morning light.
But the thing is, even if he was saying those words while I was sporting effortlessly perfect hair, a sexy spray tan and my dream outfit, I would still have a hard time letting those words sink in.
Low self esteem? Not really. Ungrateful bitch? Some might say. But I think there’s more to the story.
Dr. Gary Chapman, relationship expert and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Five Love Languages, claims there are five different methods people naturally gravitate towards in how they give and receive love. These include words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
After reading Chapman’s book, I’ve come to the conclusion that simply put, words of affirmation just aren’t my jam.
A LESSON IN COMMUNICATION
Hopeless romantics out there might not like hearing this, but you know that euphoric feeling you get when you “fall in love”? Gary Chapman says that’s not going to last.
In fact, you’ve got about two years max.
I almost closed the book when I read this, die hard romantic that I am. It was like learning that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren’t real all over again.
But I kept reading out of curiosity. After all, the subtitle to the book is “The Secret to Love that Lasts.”
I needed to find out the secret.
So after the “I’m so in love” fireworks settle down, things get a little trickier. In a very non-romantic way, Chapman explains that one of our basic human needs is to feel loved, but how we actually have that emotional need met after the euphoria dies, is not the same for everyone.
After years of research and counseling he found one fundamental truth: “People speak different love languages.” Someone could be expressing their love for me in Italian, but I don’t understand Italian, so I’m not going to get the message.
When expressing your affection for bae, it’s the very same thing.
“Language differences are part and parcel of human culture,” Chapman explains . Just like how we don’t all speak the same languages around the world, in order to be “effective communicators of love”, we need to communicate in the love language that our partners understand.
Hearing about how pretty you are in the morning might fill you up with love and emotion, but it does nothing for me. And on the flip side, just because I don’t feel the need to hear how much my boyfriend loves me five times a day, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to hear some kind of verbal affirmation himself in order to feel secure in our relationship.
In other words, knowing each other’s love language is basically the secret to not fighting with your significant other.
That’s a bold generalization, but if you’re curious, read on.
After reading “The Five Love Languages” and becoming more aware of the “expressions of love” in my life, I’ve discovered that I’m quite needy. I think depending on my relationship status, time of the month, how things are going at work, how tight my jeans are fitting, and where Mercury is in rotation, I need a combination of everything.
Here’s a look at three of the five love languages.
Acts of Service (You’re a Brat)
I can list the moments in my dating career where I felt the most love rushing through my veins.
- When my boyfriend in high school helped me with my math homework
- When my one night stand last summer made my bed for me
- When one of my Tinder dates fixed my kitchen cabinet
- When the jerk I was dating last fall said he’d do my taxes for me.
- When my boyfriend picked me up my favorite flavor of toothpaste when he saw that I was running low.
It’s very clear that my top love language is ‘Acts of Service’. I love it when people do things that make my life easier or take a burden off my shoulders. Sometimes I feel like a lazy little brat, especially when my boyfriend does something that I could totally do myself.
But no matter how many times I take the love languages quiz, single or taken, I always score the highest in ‘Acts of Service’.
Tell me I’m pretty? I get upset with you.
Buy me toothpaste? You’re getting lucky that night.
Quality Time (Dating You is Very Time Consuming)
“You never talk to me.”
“Do you have to have the TV on right now?”
“You’re always on your phone.”
Chapman explains, “People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need.”
If quality time is your thing, you need undivided attention, real conversation, and probably a lot of it. And you’re likely to point out when your partner isn’t giving it to you.
Where I get critical, and this was a big clue as to which love language is foreign to me, is when I hear disgusting things like, “Has anyone told you how beautiful you are today?” or, “I missed you baby.”
When an ex said those things, it took everything in me not to yell, “DON’T CALL ME BABY.” I was critical of every nice thing he said.
That brings me to another love language worth talking about.
Words of Affirmation (Dirty Talk Doesn’t Count)
“I knew I loved you when you drooled on me and I wasn’t mad.”
Even though ‘Words of Affirmation’ aren’t my jam, hearing this made me pretty damn happy. I guess when it’s the right guy I don’t mind a little verbal acknowledgment.
There’s no doubt that during the beginning phases of dating someone, it’s a dream to hear how they feel about you (even if it’s a reminder of the time you fell asleep and drooled on their shoulder), especially if what they’re feeling is L.O.V.E. After you’ve been together for awhile, a common question you’ll get from your friends is, “Have you dropped the L bomb yet?”
This conversation is a marker.
But after that initial declaration of one’s feelings, some of us need more consistent affirmations than others do.
After seven years together, my girlfriend and her fiance took the love languages quiz. She realized that she had spent the last seven years expressing her love through ‘Acts of Service’, constantly doing things for her love that would make his life easier.
Except he hardly seemed to notice. This drove her nuts.
But as they found out, her fiances love language was not acts of service. They did nothing for him. What he really needed wasn’t being taken care of, it was words.
“You mean all I have to do is say nice things to him and he’ll be happy?”
Could it really be that simple?
“This damn book changed my life,” she tells me now on the regular.
She has a difficult time expressing her feelings through words, so now I remind her weekly that she should probably tell him that she loves him, appreciates him, finds him sexy, etc. Sometimes I even write the text messages for her.
But he doesn’t need to know that. He’s finally getting his words of affirmation, and therefore, he’s a much happier fiance.
LOVE & CHOICE
The heart wants what the heart wants. At first, it doesn’t feel like we have much choice in the matter. Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s chemistry, maybe it’s Cupid. Whatever it is, when sparks start flying there doesn’t seem to be much logic in falling in love.
But as the months and years go by, choice seems to play a larger part in that love actually lasting. This is where Gary Chapman’s logical approach to relationships makes a lot of sense.
There are mornings when I might fight the urge to yell “Get OFF of me,” but I don’t, because my boyfriend’s love language is ‘Physical Touch’. Falling in love with him wasn’t a choice. Letting him get his morning snuggle in is definitely a choice.
Seemingly minor interactions with one’s partner can add up, for the better or worse of the relationship.
Chapman concludes, “If I have not learned her primary love language or have chosen not to speak it, when she descends from the emotional high, she will have the natural yearning of unmet emotional needs. After some years of living with an empty love tank, she will likely “fall in love” with someone else, and the cycle will begin again.” (136)
I don’t like the sounds of that.
It really is the little things that end up mattering. That one phrase, “I knew I loved you when you drooled on me,” or that one hug that you ran back for, could make the difference in your lover feeling happy and secure.
So learn your love languages, speak them, and fill each other up. This just might be the secret to our generation defying the odds and actually having love that lasts, decade after decade.