People say, “I love you” differently. Some say it through cooking, some do it by checking in on you, some offer you a sweater, some give you small gifts and some explicitly use those words. It varies from person to person.
Love is something we all want and need — but how we give it and receive it comes in so many different forms. Sometimes, we worry love isn’t there because the way we show our love isn’t returned in the exact same form — just as we overlook love offered to us because it’s sometimes presented in a practice unfamiliar to what we know. Love, as well all know, can be complicated.
When my partner and I started dating, she asked me what my love language was — she had already taken the test online to identify her own. As our relationship progressed, she often reminds me of how she speaks love — though, as it turns out, my language is completely foreign to hers.
This, of course, stems from the fact we were raised very differently. I hear her on the phone with her parents and they offer words of affirmation often — she enjoys questions and the act of considering thoughtful answers. Her family participates in traditional gift exchanges and keep up with important occasions. Her family is polite — they are sensitive to each other and are careful with their choices of diction during discussions. They end conversations with I love you.
My family, on the other hand, a Chinese Canadian family, offers love while boycotting sentimental language (and affection) — they primaily offer it through acts of service. My mother will shame me through blunt words but make me dinners catering to my palette (and offer me leftovers). My father has never uttered I love you in my entire life — but he has brought me a restored vintage Ariston turntable (with a new receiver and excellent speakers) on a random day in July for absolutely no reason other than he knows I love records. Interestingly enough, he has never been about holiday gift-giving or especially careful about occasions — he’s big into practicality and randomness. He’s never given me a gift on the day of my birthday, but when I was 6-years-old he randomly brought me home a Power Wheels jeep in the spring.
While all of this is love, adapting to each others’ languages can be challenging. As you can imagine, I’m uncomfortable with too many compliments and sh
e’s waiting for words of affirmation. My acts of service are nonchalant and can be reduced easily to my typical behaviour. Understanding, recognizing and growing on both sides is necessary — meeting in the middle and appreciating each other for who and what we are.
Male stereotypes often speak to a man’s tendency to be forgetful on ‘special’ occasions, for their lack of desire to use ‘sweet words’ and other types of behaviour that set thm up to be criticized for their languages of love. This, to be clear, isn’t exclusive to men — and can even be a simple cultural difference. People often tell me I’m ‘like a dude‘ in some ways — but this isn’t an actual thing. Love isn’t a gender thing — it’s individual and the environments we’re brought up in often dictate which languages of love we’re going to speak more fluently.
Love in mature relationships goes beyond taking cute photos with adorable captions and plugging your connection on various social media platforms. Growing love requires regular personal needs assessments and figuring out how to communicate that — it’s about active listening, developing methods of understanding, creating standards within the relationship and meeting them. It’s work — that should be ultimately satisfying and should be rewarded in orgasms.
Of course, self-love should always be relevant and considered. If we find ourselves in relationships that are harmful — leaving our hearts empty often, love is about having the courage to walk away from connections that no longer serve us. This refers to love of every variety — from the platonic to the romantic, from the familial to the friendships. Relationships are both a responsibility and privilege — love is freely given and received — figuring out how to manage both things can be tough but should be worth the effort.
Ultimately, love is the desire to understand someone and inevitably accept them — and the act of appreciating their value. It’s about taking the time to learn a new language of love and explore your own. After all, connection is reflection.
*If you’re curious about your own language of love — take Gary Chapman’s test here and find out if you are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch.