20 July 2007

Starving for Love

If you haven’t read the book “The Five Love Languages”, I highly recommend that you read it (or one of its variations). It’s been more than a year since I last read “The Five Love Languages for Singles”, and I intend to go back and re-read it sometime in the next few months. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m an avid reader, and my goal is 65 books, this year. Last year my goal was 52, and I hit it in September, then slacked off the rest of the year. I’m actually behind where I’d like to be for this year, though. It’s almost the end of July, and I’m only around 30. Sigh.)

The basic premise of the book is that there are five primary ways in which people give and receive love. Not everyone is familiar with all five ways. Most have one way that means more to them than the other four, and if you don’t speak to them in their “love language” they won’t feel loved, even if you’re speaking to them in yours. Sometimes the love language they use to receive love is different from the one they use to give it. Knowing all five makes it easier to learn to communicate your love and appreciation effectively to everyone. The five love languages are Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Acts of Service.

By way of an example, I’ll use my family. My mom’s primary love language is Acts of Service followed by Physical Touch. She feels most loved when we do things for her. She expresses love by doing things for others. She’ll drive cross-country with her steam-cleaner in her car (something she’s done many times for many people) to go clean someone’s carpets. That’s a classic way (if you’re looking for it) that she says, “I love you.” If you don’t speak that language, you might not catch it, though. My dad’s primary love languages are Quality Time and Physical Touch. Something that he might do to say, “I love you” is take me on a motorcycle ride. I’m right there with him, spending time with him, and he can reach back and pat me on the knee, or feel my hands on his shoulders, so that speaks both of his love languages. My brother’s primary love languages are Words of Affirmation and Acts of Service. He needs to hear, “I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re the best big brother in the world.” If I step in to help with the dishes or something, while I’m staying with them, that’s another “I love you.” Having been raised in this environment, I am fluent in all five love languages. I can usually comprehend that when someone is speaking their own love language, it’s their way of telling me they love me, even if it’s not how I’d choose to hear it. I’ve learned that to tell my mother that I love her is nice, and to spend time with her in conversation or in person is wonderful, and to send her cards or give her gifts is fine, but if I really want her to grasp how much I love her, I will brush her hair, clean her kitchen, cook her meals, drive to Missouri in the middle of the night and be there while she’s in the hospital, pluck her eyebrows, fold her laundry, wash her car, shop for her groceries, etc.

A friend of mine and I have had some discussion about it, recently, and the conversation stimulated my thought processes. My primary love language (just barely, by 1 point, from the quiz) is Gifts. One point behind Gifts are both Quality Time and Physical Touch. I had an “aha” moment, this morning, because of the conversation about love languages.

I moved to DC from the MidWest about 2 years ago. All my life, to that point, I had been surrounded with many, many, many sources of Physical Touch. Most of my friends and family are very touchy-feely people, and I think that’s much more common in the MidWest than it is here in the Middle East. I had been used to receiving Physical Touch on a daily basis from many people. I had close friends that would hug me, pat me, fix my collar, brush off lint, play with my hair, etc. My family could SMOTHER you with the amount of personal-space-invasion that we do. While I’ve always had an independent streak a mile wide, it was just part of life, that the people who love you touch you. Hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling, poking, prodding, bumping, holding, snuggling, cuddling, pinching, elbowing, tapping, patting, nuzzling, and all that kind of stuff just reminds those around you of your affection.

I’ve tended to think that I don’t have many friends out here. If you ask me to name my friends, it takes some thinking on my part to come up with people to populate that list. Here’s my “aha” moment: it’s not that I don’t have friends out here, it’s just that the friends I have don’t touch!

I’m serious. This was a huge thing for me to figure out, because I’ve spent the last two years of my life feeling absolutely lonely and starved for affection. There is literally no one in the DC area (or east of Kentucky, for that matter) that I can go to for a hug. Period. That’s why I’ve been so lonely! It’s not that they don’t love me in their way, it’s just that they don’t love me in MY way. I have noticed that, while most of my background in love is in the areas of Physical Touch and Quality Time, the way most people out here express love is in Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation—neither of which are ways that I would choose to receive love.

When I long for “home”, I think of the physical proximity of people. I think of my church, where people greet you by shaking your hand and patting you on the shoulder, or with a big, tight hug, or with a kiss on the cheek—where it’s not uncommon for friends to sit closely together with arms around each other, and where hand-holding isn’t reserved for significant others. I think of my friend, Kelsy, who gives the best hugs ever. I think of Nellie, who helps me get dressed and puts on my make-up and plays with my hair. I think of Karrisa, who came over one time just so we could take a nap, and who would invent some excuse to drop by the bank where I used to work to see me. I think of my friends who stand too closely, until we burst into fits of giggles, or who hug me and kiss me and groom me, or who drive across town just to be there and hold me when my heart is broken, or who make excuses to stop by where I work to just say hello and get a hug. I think of my beautician, who hugs me when I leave. I think of my “surrogate moms” who treat me alternately as a peer and as a daughter. I think of my Aunt Polly, and lounging on the couch with her, nestled into her side. I think of my family—none of whom have any concept of “personal space”—who think nothing of coming and climbing in bed with you, who sneak up on you to hug you or “get” you, who tumble over each other, even in large, open spaces, who are equally likely to pinch your earlobe or pat you on the bottom as they walk by, who issue your wake-up call in the mornings by climbing over you or snuggling up to you, who touch, touch, touch, touch, touch, because that’s what you do to the people you love.

When I’m asked how I like living in the DC area, my response is inevitably, “It’s a really beautiful city.” It’s not that I dislike it here, it’s just that it’s much less friendly. It’s not that I don’t have friends, but the friends I have here are different, less warm, on the whole, to my way of thinking. No, it’s not because they like me any less (or I like them any less), but it’s just because they don’t speak my language. After awhile, you begin to grow tired of speaking OTHER people’s languages, and you wish you could just have a conversation in your native tongue. For two years, I’ve felt lonely, starved, deprived. My only salvation was a trip to Kansas or Missouri, or a houseguest’s arrival. For two years, I haven’t been able to grasp the depth of the friendships I have here. Now I know why.

Much Love.

Coming soon: How Starvation Helps You Grow.


Amy said...

I totally need to read this book- actually, Dave and I totally need to read this book! I gaurentee that our love languages are different. I've seen the book everywhere, and many times I've picked it up to almost buy it. Next time it's giving me the eye from the shelf...I'll bring it home w/ me!

DCBrownie said...

I don't think it's a DC vs. Midwest thing. I grew up in the Midwest and lived there for the first 20-some years of my life. None of my friends or family in the Midwest are very touchy-feely kind of people. Not at all. You could still come to me for a hug, and I'm trying not to feel affronted that you think you can't.

Sara said...

Quite insightful. Consider yourself good and hugged! Love you!