Hi everybody! I hosted the Carnival of Aces in April 2019. This is part 1 of 3 of my submission.
So after I posted the Call for Submissions for this carnival theme on The Five Love Languages, the thought crossed my mind that if I’m hosting a whole Carnival of Aces on the topic I should probably dive deeper into the source of the ideas. And then I got kinda carried away.
I decided to write three posts on the topic of The Five Love Languages. I had a lot to say.
The first post, below, doesn’t have to do with asexuality—but this post was inspired by me having chosen the topic for the Carnival of Aces, and it provides good context for my thoughts that will be touched upon in parts 2 and 3. Parts 2 and 3 will be much more relevant to asexuality (& aromanticism). However, of course in all 3 parts I am writing from my own perspective which is always influenced by me being ace but in terms of drawing direct connections that will be few and far between.
Holding tightly to my worldviews that I knew would clash with a super heteronormative/amatonormative and Christian book, knowing not to take things too seriously like Myers-Briggs personality types that still can be fun as a tool or game but aren’t scientifically sound, keeping my own ideology in mind and feeling braced for almost anything and unsure what I’d find, I listened to the audiobook version of the original The Five Love Languages book for married couples.
After that, I still craved exposure to some of the other books I knew existed for a more fleshed out perspective and found myself having listened to not just one but actually three audiobooks. Yeah I definitely got extremely carried away.
But I have takeaways, if you bear with me!
Secondly, I read (listened to) most of the book the same guy, Gary Chapman, published in partnership with Child Psychologist Ross Campbell about these love languages as applied to Children although I didn’t get through the whole thing although I got fairly close to the end before switching again, and at that point I listened to the entire audiobook of the book he wrote for “Singles” (Basically it’s a catchall book for all relationships you might have that aren’t with a spouse. It covers a little of nearly everything including dating and friendship, roommates, and varied family dynamics (siblings, parents toward children, adult children toward parents), and co-workers. It even repeats stuff from the children book.)
All this gave me a lot of thoughts, some of which were very critical and frustrated, and some much more introspective, philosophical, and intrigued. I have a deeper understanding of what is meant by each of the five categories. I have a deeper understanding too of what the phrase “love language” is supposed to capture.
I will explain some of the MAJOR ISSUES in the books in part 2 of my Blog Post series here, but let’s start on a more positive note.
When Chapman discusses these 5 umbrella categories of “communicating love”, he means to say both that intent is often not enough. It’s kind of like the Golden Rule vs. The Platinum Rule, the basic idea that you need to not forget to take into account what the other person actually wants and not just project what you want onto them. While people may be trying to express care/appreciation/love, attempting to express it alone is not enough. Two questions that need to always be asked is “what makes people feel loved by Person X in their life” and also conversely, “what makes people feel like Person X doesn’t sincerely love them”.
The latter negative experience can happen after a lack of behaviors of a certain type, however the books also address and unpack explicitly negative versions of “words” and “physical touch” and how those make people feel rejected and actively hurt in a way that makes them feel particularly unloved.
On the pure “lack” end of things, his qualitative research (which may or may not be overly anecdotal, I’m not sure) appeared to conclude that people only feel unloved via “neglect” if their primary love language is never being expressed (or is only expressed exceedingly rarely) by the person they wish would love them. He also stated repeatedly in these books that if your primary love language is Physical Touch, then being slapped by your, say, parent would hurt you more deeply (on an emotional level) than if Physical Touch was not your primary love language, although the action hurts all children. Somewhat similarly it was stated that if your primary love language is Words of Affirmation then your spouse constantly chastising you verbally will make you feel particularly rejected. (More-so than if you have an alternate love language.) I’m… skeptical, but I’ll get into that later.
There are different ways people might define “feeling loved”, but this book’s focus and emphasis seemed reasonable enough, where feeling loved is a very positive emotion. Exactly what feeling loved by Person X means wasn’t unpacked in depth in the books, but the way it seemed when I read between the lines was that for you to feel loved, Person X must see the nuance and details of who you are, care deeply about you and think positively of you even when you two are apart, appear to truly believe you possess traits of value, and seem to intrinsically want to help when you are struggling (rather than feeling obligated to help). They must want you to feel loved as a goal in and of itself, and none of the love languages “work” if done as manipulation to get what you want out of a situation (despite certain parts of these books where it is recommended that to get loving behavior in return you need to first act loving).
As a thoughtful listener to these audiobooks, I started to hypothesize a bit about what makes a person value certain love languages so highly, however, and thought back a lot especially on my own experiences as a child. I felt deeply loved by my dad. My mother was abusive and I didn’t “feel loved” by her in the way feeling loved is defined in this book. Although I also reject the notion that she “didn’t love me”. (See my Gaslighting and Love blog post.)
My mom and dad were married for a total of 5 years. They separated when I was too young to even remember (I was 3), and despite that, my dad always expressed his love to me in ways I clearly understood deeply despite living in Maryland and for 6 years him living in California. He would go out of his way to spend Quality Time with my brother and me, making sure he was physically present at all holidays and ballet recitals, making sure we talked on the phone for a whole hour weekly to hear about my life even when I was in kindergarten (I remember the long phone cord and getting all tangled in it) and judging by how he acts around other little kids (my dad is such a kid person) I know he was fairly big on Physical Touch in the form of hugging as a greeting, and carrying you on his shoulders, and I do remember him letting us kind of cuddle with him in his bed even when it was just the pull-out couch when he’d come to visit. (I just spoke with him while writing this blog post and while he commented on the noticable lack of hugging in recent years of our lives, he also shares that he used a baby carrier!) When he moved to an apartment over an hour away from where we lived with our mom, we learned to value every second of the maybe 30 hours a week we spent together despite 8+ of those hours being us sleeping.
Do I remember specific Words of Affirmation? I guess they don’t stick out in my mind as much but surely he gave them to me. I think, in fact, one of the biggest ways he affirmed me verbally is a way I too often crave, to this day, despite being a full grown 29-year-old adult—when my mom was abusive, and doing things that were not okay, he was verbally defensive of me and validating of my experiences. Many abused kids are not so lucky and I am so immensely grateful that despite him not actually rescuing us from the abuse until we’d been stuck in a traumatic environment for far too long, he still was able to provide validation within the gaslighting environment, and in contradiction to the gaslighting words of my mother. He still was also able to in many ways make my brother and I feel loved. I say that I still crave this stuff because I’m constantly doubting my worth as well as my perceptions and my memory. My queerplatonic partner wants to break up with me and the first thing I ask is, “Is it something I did??”. My friend perpetrates a murder-suicide and I think, “Am I crazy to remember what he had said to me and how he’d behaved in this or that way?” I ask for validation not just once either, but over and over for months and months, still full of self-doubt. And it’s not just those examples, but the tiny things in life, how much I probably hope to be told ‘it’s okay” every single time I apologize for little tiny things. I need explicit validation frequently in many areas of my life, and it’s not necessarily healthy. But that is a tangent for another time.
When I was 16 and started vidding, I started showing my dad my fanvideos, and 12.5 years later I have not really stopped that practice. He’ll watch them for me (maybe kinda an act of service) even if I’m not in the room with him but he prefers the quality time experience of watching them with me, and being able to pause/rewind occasionally and ask me questions and engage in the experience, or at least just be in the same space. I mainly have him watch them for the Words of Affirmation though, and often though he doesn’t say anything after the video is over so I have to request a word of affirmation. “Did you like it?”/”What did you think?” etc.
It goes a very long way that when I request Words of Affirmation, I then do indeed get them. Even if he doesn’t think to provide them often on his own, he doesn’t leave my “love tank” empty if I explicitly ask. (The “love tank” silly metaphor is used repeatedly in the books, especially in the marriage one. Talking about an individual person’s “love tank” being full vs. not full yet, levels of how loved one feels essentially, one act not being enough to fill it all up.)
As for Gifts, I think my dad doesn’t speak this love language too well, but occasionally he does express his love via this as well. I remember it less from being a child but because I still live with him as an adult it has come up. Throughout my entire lifetime, I’ve seen him try when it’s basically socially obligated. The art of being a good gift giver is not intuitive to many people. He’s very willing to spend his money on things I spell out that I want on my Christmas Wishlist or something, but if it’s not something extremely specific such as “I want a large new external hard drive for all my video editing,” then it’s not necessarily in his wheelhouse. This past Christmas he got me earrings that I actually really love, but I know it took a lot of effort and prompting for him to end up getting me them, and years of watching me pick out earrings (during “Quality Time” outings where I’d shop for gifts for my cousins etc). However he was still very appreciative when receiving gifts such as a homemade Father’s Day card on construction paper and would cherish it and keep it. He knew it was an expression of love, and valued the love. More recently the “little gifts” to excite me and help “fill my love tank” that he’s given me would be food related, usually. A treat given at his workplace/that he walks by in the grocery store—cookies, cake, etc—makes him think of me and/or my brother and how much one of us would enjoy it. He takes it and delivers it as a mini surprise with the hope it will provide us a joyful experience.
I was skeptical of the Acts of Service love language and not quite sure I believed it as a true way to express love, even as I completed the entire original love languages book for married couples. The examples there were so focused on household chores like laundry, vacuuming, doing the dishes and they fell flat. I was trying to understand them but I wasn’t quite getting it.
Then I listened to the book on the 5 Love Languages of Children and it clicked for me when the example was given of helping a kid with their homework. Mainly because I actually did feel loved when even though my mom or little brother couldn’t help me with math in middle school, I could always call my dad and no matter the distance he was from me, via the phone call he could indeed help and he would. He would patiently go through all the effort. The book explained in depth how even though all of parenting in general is of course an act of service, there is nuance to the concept and certain “above and beyond” helping actions really make a person feel loved. I realized that part of the issue with the marriage book’s examples was that the context implied was so outside my own… cultural context? I mean the extremely gendered expectations and what types of “services” are so “necessary” for life don’t ring true to me as a person who has not been raised witnessing much of what was described. Vacuuming happens maybe a few times a year in my world. You know, things like that.
I realized when a person feels like they are overwhelmed with their responsibilities, or confused as to how to even do something by themselves as maybe they never learned, or won’t have time to do other fun things because they have all these responsibilities, or knows doing a certain task will drain all their energy… Getting help or someone to do it instead feels like a truly compassionate and thoughtful “gift” of love. It feels like the person cares about you. They didn’t have to take time and effort out of their day but they did anyway. Often for no reward but the interpersonal joy of having helped you. The “taking out the garbage for you” example only really works as a way you’ll feel loved if you deeply feel having to touch the garbage bag is extremely gross, or having to go outside at night is particularly unpleasant because of bugs, or you feel you can’t remember to do it on your own, or something that makes it an extenuating factor, in my mind. Maybe even just if it’s a piece of a larger whole situation where half the household tasks are no longer your responsibility, you might deeply appreciate knowing your life is easier overall than it might otherwise be.
I suppose it also can be a key to not feeling loved if you feel there is something the other person “should” be doing in your worldview but is not doing their end of your bargain. Feeling “taken care of” can be powerful and feeling “like everything is on you” can be very overwhelming. A man who is grateful his wife does all the housework probably believes he’d struggle on his own to get all the chores done. A man who is grateful enough feels loved by those actions. But if someone is just doing what you expect of them I don’t think their “acts of service” successfully communicate love.
So yeah my dad is definitely a guy who has provided acts of service in so many ways over my lifetime. He helped with homework like I already implied but also would help me pick out girly clothing items like bras and dresses, things I knew that he could’ve insisted my mom do but rather than subject me to the emotional turmoil of clothing shopping with her he exerted great effort to figure out how to help me shop for items of clothing I was unfamiliar with. There were other examples too, like helping me with college applications or my taxes or with learning how to drive, how to read recipes, and so many more. This isn’t just quality time. His acts of service definitely were not unnoticed.
I think other things made me feel loved that aren’t exactly covered by these 5 categories though. Things like my dad smiling with clear genuine and not forced joy to see me after a lengthy separation or to watch me enjoying something in my life. Maybe that’s covered by Quality Time but maybe that’s also forcing it into a box unnecessarily. Similarly, a loving tone of voice goes a long way and you can say that’s Words of Affirmation, maybe—in fact the books do stress that how you say whatever words matters greatly—however, I think tone of voice matters during the times you’re engaging in every single other part of life including when love languages nought be irrelevant, as well as when all the others are indeed relevant: acts of service, quality time, gift giving and receiving, even in the midst of physical touch.
With my mom, she was abusive in both physical and especially verbal ways, and I might think that affected my love languages and why physical touch is at the bottom of my list, or why Words of Affirmation is near the top for me, but that seems to be contradictory evidence there.
The theory goes that what you complain about most also is a huge clue as to a primary love language you’re lacking in your life, and my first thought is that after we stopped living with her but she got weekly visitation, especially once it was 3 hours in a bowling alley, I’d comment on how she did not cherish that time or try to make the most of it and never even tried to insist we stay for the full 3 hours. I think that was me explaining that the “proof” my mom didn’t love me was that she didn’t even value quality time. The stark contrast in how horribly painful spending time with her felt, to the point that I’d rather be bored and lonely/emotionally neglected at my grandmom’s or at school or anywhere but at home with her… But how much I always enjoyed every single hour-and-15 min car ride with my dad, or even just a 5 min car ride with him to an errand—time at friendly neighbors’ houses, time spent that possessed “quality” was always everything to me. This amounts more to quality of conversation and the loving feelings one gets from it, even if the time is spent over emailing, texting, phone calls, or other ways.
My mom failed to use any of the love languages in a way that I could perceive as loving, and in fact when she gave gifts she often did it in ways that were frustrating or altogether painful – often attempts to prove she was a good mother that felt like the opposite, or to make up for the abuse she herself shouldn’t have inflicted in the first place almost like hush money to try to appease our upset – the candy and flowers stage of the abuse cycle.
In Lib’s submission for this carnival topic, Lib discussed:
Well, we’re back to the age old question of your grandmother gave you a shit gift, what do you do? No, seriously.
The last time I got someone a gift that wasn’t obligatory I got the standard, “Oh, you didn’t have to do that!” Yeah, I know I didn’t have to do that, but I did anyway and you know what? It hurt my feeling when they said that because and that was the last time I gave a non-obligatory gift.
Which I found kinda… very off from the spirit of this “Love Language”. If someone gives you a gift you hate, that’s not them effectively communicating love to you, showing how well they know you, etc. The same is true if they simply do not want that amount of money spent on a gift, or you don’t know each other well enough for that kind of gift, or anything like that. There is a very careful and important art to gift giving and gift receiving and both can make someone feel “unloved” as much as it can make them feel “loved” – when my mother didn’t even seem to know how to show any appreciation the time and energy spent to pick out earrings she’d enjoy for her 40th birthday, or specific knick knacks for her shadowbox about the beach which she supposedly loved, or whatever else I tried extremely hard to do well for times gift-giving felt frustratingly obligatory toward a woman I hated… I felt less appreciated as a person to not have my effort count for anything. Years later my mom would still leave voicemails I didn’t want her to leave when I had gone No Contact with her and was trying to not have to hear her voice, and she’d say she wore the earrings I gave her and think of me. She valued gifts so highly but nothing was good enough for her in the moment, only years after the fact when it was too late and the truth is I didn’t give them out of love, but out of fear and obligation.
But having had such experiences makes gifts given out of love mean all the more to me. The experience of being able to give someone something that will make our relationship closer after they realize how I thought about them while we weren’t together and went through all the motions to get them a gift in time for a specific designated time, perhaps, like Christmas… it’s such a wonderful feeling, as is the “Wow I was worth getting a gift and you know me well enough to know I’d enjoy this gift?” – I felt overwhelmed by my friend giving me a sweet “Winter Solstice” gift this past December when I wasn’t expecting it, even if he only remembered not to leave it at home and actually give it to me like 2 months later. I cherished it.
The way someone says “You didn’t have to do that” matters greatly and a person who is a jerk in their tone of voice would be hurtful to me, for sure. But the people who mean it in a surprised wonder and joy way, like “Wow you did it even though you didn’t have to and I’m so grateful” might make you not know how to respond, but I still can appreciate the sentiment behind that. It’s complicated and there are so many ways this goes, but overall I think my mom taught me with so many examples of ways gift giving goes WRONG and I try to learn from that and improve on it. I don’t know.
I suspect if people experience wonderful love from someone in particular love language, they learn to speak that love language more “fluently” than they would’ve without that person. They learn how to value it because it’s modeled how much it’s valued. But it needs to be expressed in a way where the love is so undeniable and not seemingly “selfish” or hard to read. It needs to be bursting with smiles and positive tones of voice and all sorts of other things combined with it.
Meanwhile also if people experience someone abusing one of the ways humans can communicate with each other, criticizing a person and implying the person themselves doesn’t have value (Words of Degradation, basically!), avoiding time spent together or making time spent together feel unpleasant (or worse) for the other person (Uncomfortable Time), Physical Abuse or Sexual Abuse or other ways touch can be used in ways that feel bad, instead of comfortable and safe, Making Gifts into a torturous activity of obligation and frustration and feeling unseen or unloved, and having opportunity to help but choosing to prioritize other things over helping your loved one and making them feel undervalued… or insisting they need help beyond what they do, helping when it’s not wanted, etc… these are also ways people can become attuned to what would’ve been the opposite, the loving way to do all this, and can make them crave it in a loving way all the more. It can also make people shut down altogether around that particular language because it was used negatively too much in their life, so they’d rather avoid it altogether and are fairly numb to it having the possibility to be positive.
This is not a fully fleshed out idea, but it’s a start.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.