It was at university that I was first introduced to the theory of ‘love languages’. Not, believe it or not, within the context of my formal education, but from a fellow undergraduate who, counselling me through Heartbreak of the Week, explained her personal favourite relationship theory. ‘You’ll find the One,’ she reassured me over the God awful Ribena-Strongbow concoction we drank in those days. ‘He just has to speak your love language’.
But no number of Snakebite ‘cocktails’ would convince me to listen to that crap. Love languages? I may have made poor romantic choices back then, but I wouldn’t do myself the further disservice of rationalising it with Carrie Bradshaw inspired pseudoscience. After all, I had some standards.
And yet, I never forgot that conversation. My pub partner, I later realised, had been paraphrasing The Five Love Languages, a 1995 book by Gary Chapman. For those who spent more time learning vocational skills at university than they did slurring into pint glasses, here it is in a nut shell.
There are five love languages, which mean the way you express and experience love. If you don’t speak the same one as your loved one, it can be a cause of conflict and misunderstanding in a relationship.
These five love languages are: receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. Chapman believes we each have a primary and second love language, and receiving affection in this way is how we feel loved by those close to us.
Years later, that ridiculous theory has held a nagging insistence for me as I navigated the minefield of interpersonal relationships. While identifying your own love language might be problematic, thinking in this framework helps you acknowledge that the love you receive from those around you comes in myriad different forms.
My mother, for instance, is allergic to ‘schmaltz’ – the ‘words of affirmation’ with which some convey their love, and yet, as someone very word orientated, for so long I was beguiled by just that. It took some time before I appreciated the sheer emptiness of social niceties, false compliments, terms of endearment and appropriately named ‘sweet nothings’ in the face of the truly loving gestures she has shown me all my life. Compare the ‘sweetie darlings’ of Ab Fab’s Eddy with the mother in Greta Gerwig’s brilliant Ladybird, and you’ll known what I mean.
My own love language? According to my boyfriend, it’s all five. I suspect, however, it may have changed. While ‘words of affirmation’ once held a pull for me – waiting for those long SMS messages to load sent my heart all a-quivering in high school – I have now developed an allergy for these showy displays which is almost as strong as my mother’s. So I think we learn different love languages all the time.
In effect, this means we learn different ways to love and be loved. While I once told my best friends I loved them while chinking vodka lemonades at Oceana Watford, now sharing emotional guidance over cups of Earl Grey feels far superior. While a hug from my boyfriend sends a rush of dopamine through my body, the hours he spends mentoring me through my career is the true stuff of romance. And, while it’s nice to text, the quality time I spend with my family never fails to make me feel lucky and, above all, loved.