On being … expressions of love

 By Ingrid Sapona        

This is the day after Valentine’s Day, which means we have 366 days (it’s a Leap Year!) to plumb the depths of our love language(s) before Valentine’s 2025. Regardless of whether yesterday was a day of delight, disappointment, or an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday, the day has prompted me to think about expressions of love. 

The notion of “love languages” was introduced by Gary Chapman in: The five love languages: how to express heartfelt commitment to your mate (first published in 1992 and reprinted many times since). I first heard about the book in 2018 when a speaker on a panel discussion recommended it. She said understanding what someone’s love language is helped her communicate more effectively. One of the reasons the book recommendation jumped out at me was that it was made at an electricity sector conference – not some self-improvement seminar. I was curious about love languages, so I read the book. 

The idea is that all of us speak and understand emotional love in certain ways, which Chapman calls languages. (For those familiar with Chapman’s work, forgive the oversimplification.) Based on years of speaking with married folks, Chapman believes there are five love languages: 1) words of affirmation; 2) quality time; 3) receiving gifts; 4) acts of service; and 5) physical touch. Chapman also mentions there can be different “dialects” within the various languages and that some folks are “bilingual”, meaning two love languages are equally important to them. Your primary love language is the main way you feel loved and valued. 

At first, I didn’t really feel any of the five languages applied to me. I’m not big on receiving compliments or gifts, and I’ve never been much of a hugger – so that eliminates three right off the bat. And, I’m pretty self-sufficient, so acts of service aren’t that important to me. But I love having in-depth, one-on-one conversations with people. That’s why at parties you’ll often find me off in a corner chatting with just one guest, rather than laughing with the group. My primary love language is quality time, no doubt. 

But knowing your own love language is just half the equation. The real trick is in figuring out what others’ love languages are. The key to happy, loving relationships, according to Chapman, is communicating using the love language of the person you are trying to reach. If your primary love language is words of affirmation but the other person’s is receiving gifts, complimenting them for being beautiful or brilliant won’t mean nearly as much to them as bringing them a flower or trinket. In other words, if you don’t speak to someone in their primary love language, whatever you say (or do) will be about as effective as speaking to them in a foreign language. 

Recently, in an email, a friend was telling me that she was looking forward to her kids’ visit and that she was planning a few nice meals for that time. She then joked that food is her love language. I knew that she wasn’t talking about her emotional love language, as Chapman meant. She was talking about one of the ways she expresses her love to others. Anyway, I was amused by the idea of food as a love language and I said so, adding that I can relate. 

She wrote back right away and said she was sure that I did “get it”. She mentioned the way I try new recipes, making detailed notes on them and then sharing those (comments included) that I think are good, and my cookie of the summer phase. She then wrote, “I see those as acts of love.” I was flattered that she cared enough to pay such close attention to my behaviour and delighted that she appreciated my efforts. I felt both heard and validated by my friend, and closer as a result. 

It seems to me that the first step to becoming closer with others – intimate partners and friends – is paying attention to what matters to them. It’s not rocket science – most people give plenty of hints (like annotations on a recipe). And, once you figure out what they appreciate – assuming you care about them – pleasing them will come naturally. 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona


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