Twenty years ago, Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages a book exploring how each of us have specific needs in partnered relationships. the five languages: physical touch, receiving gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, and quality time. His feeling is once we learn what our own languages are it’s easier to communicate specific needs to a lover and in turn fulfill the needs of our lover. Win-win. I didn’t discover this book until last year and it really moved me forward in defining what I want from a relationship and helped me understand myself within the context of relationships.
My love languages are “physical touch” and “receiving gifts” The physical touch is not sexual touch either but casual, squeezes, hand holding, fleeting embraces that sort of thing. And the gifts aren’t necessarily boxes wrapped in foolish paper with equally foolish ribbons and bows. No I’m overjoyed by random bits: “I found this rock and it reminded me of you.” Thinking over the loving ephemera I’ve received over the course of my life makes me smile and is a more ready memory than re hearing those three words.
Being told I am loved isn’t meaningless to me. I treasure those words but they are not necessary for me to hear them. It’s more important to me to feel that love and to bestow my love than to speak about it. Once upon a time I was big into saying “I love you!” frequently. My husband and I exchanged those words frequently. But over time they lost their meaning and luster as we were caught up learning to be partners and parents simultaneously. The words were said by rote by year eight and a lie by year ten. There were a few years after my divorce the hollowness and the complete insincerity of this habitual greeting soured me to being told, “I love you”. I couldn’t trust it.
Certainly the first time my amazing lover and the man who will forever be The New Boyfriend said it to me was a moving and wonderful experience. I was pretty sure he was falling for me through the tender gift of a feather he found after I blogged about a poem featuring birds; and making me a necklace with tiny alphabet beads spelling out: G-I-R-L-F-R-I-E-N-D. I don’t need to hear it everyday. I feel it in the timbre when he says “good morning sunshine” or when he takes my hand, enveloping my fingers into his own. But there is an instance it is important for me to say and to hear those words: when he (or any of my family) are at the airport before boarding.
Telling my lovers and family by either voice call or text just prior to boarding has been important to me for a long time. September 11th hangover? Perhaps my glass isn’t as full as it should be and I should leave off the fatalistic thinking? I didn’t realize just how important it was until New Boyfriend told me he loved me just before powering down his phone on an outbound flight. God forbid if something happened that would be my last memory of him. Such a quirk to have when flying is truly safer than driving. But even knowing the rational fact of air travel, I still savored his return flight text: “Love you too. Getting on plane now.”
My children and those three words are a given because I have no conscious memory of being told by a parent or any family member I was loved until I was well into my thirties. My father didn’t say it to me until I was in my forties. Mind you, this didn’t devastate me but it was in the pile of crap I had to own and forgive via therapy. This “neglect” was in part their upbringing and in part their generation just beginning to realize children aren’t tiny adults. But their inability to say they loved me until I was middle-aged helped me as a mother. I wanted to parent differently and I wanted my sons to know they were loved. I told my children daily I loved them. And even when they were acting like pissheads I told them because it helped me love them. Those words to my sons were never empty or habitual like they became to their father. And when they started to drive and pull away from the curb? Like the airplane farewell…but even more important. Many times I would rush to the bedroom window and shout down to the retreating young man loping towards a car: “I love you!” If I keeled over dead in the kitchen or they succumbed to a fiery crash on I-25 I wanted them to have that cellular memory of how much their mother loved them versus “Clean your room when you get home from school, it’s a sty.” (That was said just before the love thing.)
I have retreated from saying those words unless I am fully aware of what I’m saying. No more habitual chanting. I’m more apt to reach for your hand, hug you, give you a favorite fortune from a cookie, or a card with a few lines scrawled in my sideways lefty handwriting if I love you.