I Tried The 5 Love Languages — & It Helped Me Find Joy In Quarantine

"I'd prefer Chanel. Birkins are ugly," my friend Iman responds when I ask what her love language is.
The term 'love language', while not new, has been popularized over the last year. Take a look at the results when you search it on Twitter and you'll discover that most, in explanation of their own love languages, cite 'sarcasm', 'sharing memes' and sending playlists. When I explained what love languages were to another friend, he laughed and said he thought they were 'some horoscope-y thing'. Are we getting love languages all wrong?
The concept of love languages was introduced in 1992 by a Southern Baptist pastor named Gary Chapman and was aimed mostly at married heterosexual Christian couples. In his book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts, Chapman established the theory that everyone has a primary love language: a category of behaviours that they most immediately associate with affection. Based on his observations as a relationship and marriage counsellor, he writes: "Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express your love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other."
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Ignoring our partner's love language is like ignoring the needs of a garden: if we don't weed, water, or fertilize, it will die a slow death.

gary chapman
Chapman, who is based in the United States, says that in order to enjoy a fulfilling relationship (or marriage, in his context), we must be willing to learn our partner's primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love. There are five emotional love languages that people speak and understand: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
While sharing memes and playlists may be a lighthearted joke, the concept of love languages has clearly resonated with millennial and Gen Z audiences. There are countless Reddit threads dedicated to the topic in the r/Relationships and r/Ask Women subreddits where the subject is taken more seriously than on Twitter, with advice seekers writing about dilemmas that are variations on a small handful of themes: "My partner and I don't share the same love language" and "I'm failing to 'speak' to my partner's love language."
Pop star Ariana Grande even referenced the trend in her sixth album, released last week. On her track "Love Language" she sings: "If you gon' keep speaking my love language, you can talk your shit all night. You're the medication when I'm feeling anxious, that's the kind of shit I like." This season's Bachelorette filmed a whole group date centered around the idea of love languages.
All this is to say that people today discuss their love languages as shorthand to indicate what they want in a relationship as casually as they would refer to their horoscope or Myers-Briggs personality type (FYI, you can find out your love language by doing this quiz) but interestingly we don't advertise our love languages on dating apps. If we spent less time poring over our SO's birth charts and more on understanding and communicating our love languages, would it finally cause the death of the doomed four-month situationship? According to Chapman, it would.
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"Ignoring our partner's love language is like ignoring the needs of a garden: if we don't weed, water, or fertilize, it will die a slow death," he writes. And love languages aren't just for romantic relationships, he adds. They can be used in platonic relationships, friendships, families and working relationships. Being able to recognize and understand love languages could help bolster your relationships throughout your life.
If you'd prefer your boss to highlight your strengths and wins as well as give constructive criticism, you might be someone whose love language is words of affirmation. Or if your love language is quality time, you might want to spend less time texting your friends and more time gossiping over Zoom with a glass of wine.
Chapman insists that love languages are a great way to form deeper connections and knowing them are vital for platonic and romantic relationships to succeed. But do they work in modern society?
Relationship expert Cheryl Muir believes so. "Love languages are super important," she tells Refinery29. "It's a model that helps us understand what our needs are and how to get our needs met and the needs of other people. It's a great way to understand ourselves and others on a practical level." She also doesn't believe that love languages becoming a meme is necessarily a bad thing. "It's obviously become internet slang but at least people have familiarity of the concept, and with that familiarity we can educate them further."

Understanding your love language is proof that you are someone who is willing to improve their personality, has gone deeper into themselves and is a really great person to build and partner with.

She does think that the term 'love language' can be daunting for some. "If there was a different way to say it – like 'communication language' – that didn't involve the word 'love' it might be more palatable in the early stages of a relationship." But she adds that, like those who put their Myers-Briggs type on their dating bios, adding your love language could show that you've gone through personal development and reflection, which could be an attractive trait for others. It is proof, she says, that this is a person who is "willing to improve their personality, [has] gone deeper into themselves and is a really great person to build and partner with."
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I discovered that my primary love language is quality time and my secondary love language is physical touch. Both of which, during a global pandemic, are unattainable for me.

With this information, I decided to take a long, hard look at myself. What was my love language? Out of 30 paired statements, I selected the ones which best reflected what is meaningful to me in a relationship. These ranged from "spending uninterrupted leisure time with my partner" to "friends or family reacting positively to something I've accomplished." I discovered that my primary love language is quality time and my secondary love language is physical touch. Both of which, during a global pandemic, are unattainable for me.
So I looked to see if I could fill my 'love tank,' as Chapman (really) calls it, in other ways while living at home with my family during lockdown. I discovered that my mother doesn't respond to physical touch as she swatted me away every time I went to embrace her. My father, meanwhile, responds diligently to quality time — we sat in silence in the living room, enjoying each other's company without saying a word.

If there was ever a time to learn each other's love languages in order to strengthen our connections and survive, it's now, when we can't all be together.

And so I gave myself the challenge of actively trying to speak my loved ones' love languages. I cooked dinner for my family (my mom's love language is acts of service, my dad and my brother's love language is quality time), I sent my friend a small gift in the post (her love language is receiving gifts) and I've been praising and encouraging those close to me whose love language is words of affirmation.
And do you know what? I think it's working. My family was visibly more buoyant for the rest of the evening after I cooked and we spent time together. My friend said her confidence grew after receiving the gift. Understanding what people need and filling those holes is a validation of themselves and during this difficult time, it's exactly what we all need. What I need to do now is the difficult task of asking them to understand and begin speaking my love languages back. However, I've noticed that doing little things for other people brings me joy, which could mean my third love language is acts of service.
"In a time of crisis, more than anything, we need to feel loved," Chapman writes. "We cannot always change events, but we can survive if we feel loved." When we crave intimacy and deeper, more fulfilling connections, we need to show our partners, friends, family and colleagues that we love and appreciate them. If there was ever a time to learn each other's love languages in order to strengthen our connections and survive, it's now, when we can't all be together.

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