I was pretty stoked when I read this month’s Carnival of Aces topic. I’ve mentioned love languages a couple of times on this blog already: in this post on platonic touch and in this one about sex ed. I’m glad I finally have an excuse to discuss them in more depth, because love languages are something I firmly believe we don’t talk about enough.
I was first introduced to the Five Love Languages through my involvement in the evangelical Christian community. God is Love, and all that, and so this community tended to put a fair amount of emphasis on (non-sexual) love and (platonic) relationships. But they’re not something I’ve seen talked about much in other communities, and I really think that’s too bad. It’s not that I think the official model of the Five Love Languages is perfect, but I do believe that more understanding and appreciation of love languages would be very beneficial.
For one thing, it would remind us that there are many ways to express affection besides sex. Just as we can sometimes talk about sexual love as though it’s the only type of love that matters, we can talk about sex as though it’s the only love language that matters – or, at least, the only one that deserves any serious thought. Focusing so much on sex makes it seem like everyone should want it, and also prevents people from expressing and understanding their non-sexual needs.
As someone with a high need for affection but little interest in sex, I’m glad a language exists to help me articulate that need. True, I would always have said, “I like spending time with my friends”, just as I would always have said, “I’m not much interested in sex”. But having a specific terminology gives me an extra feeling of validation. It’s nice to be able to say, “Quality time is my love-language”, just as it’s nice to be able to say, “I’m on the asexual spectrum.”
For another, love languages are a reminder of the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would be done by.” Not everyone likes to be shown affection in the same way. For me, touch is way up on my list of preferred love languages; gifts are right at the bottom. It’s good for the people close to me to know that presents do little for me but that I’m constantly craving hugs. Conversely, it’s good for me to remember that this may not be true of them. Some people are very touch-averse but love receiving gifts. It’s important that I respect this and express my affection for them in the ways they like to receive it.
This respect for differences is related to two issues of great contemporary relevance: the issue of building consent culture and the issue of asexual awareness. Both hinge on an understanding that not everyone likes the same form of affection or wants to engage in it under the same circumstances. Currently, “sex” is the form of affection that gets the most emphasis, but the statement is true of other forms as well. Talking more about the other forms would help to normalise the principle and make it easier to introduce to children. Imagine if kids grew up learning that some people like gifts, hugs, or praise, while others do not. When they got older, all you’d have to do is substitute “gifts”, “hugs”, and “praise” with “sex”, and you’d have a fairly good explanation both for why some people are asexual and for why “no” means “no”.
Love languages are also a way for us to understand our relationships better, which ones are likely to work, and why. Part of the reason my best friend and I get along so well is that we both have “quality time” as a top love language. Neither of us requires anything fancy from the time; we’ve spent many happy hours together cooking, cleaning, or folding laundry. It’s the fact that we do these things together that makes us both feel loved.
Our love languages aren’t all the same, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s one of the people who likes it when others do “acts of service” for her, whereas “acts of service” do nothing for me. (I mean, I appreciate them and all, but they don’t make me feel loved.) But here I have to nuance the concept of love languages a bit, because while I don’t enjoy receiving acts of service, I really enjoy performing them. And that works out very well for our relationship, because when I help her I feel like I’m expressing love and she feels like she’s being loved.
“Touch” is the other love language we don’t share: it’s a high priority for me but not for her. In this case, our desires don’t mesh as neatly as in the other two cases, but at least we have a language to talk about it. She knows that touch is my love language and I know that it isn’t hers. And, hopefully, knowing that allows us to have a relationship where we can both respect and accommodate each other’s needs.