Thursday, September 17, 2009

Love Languages

(I know I said I wasn't going to write huge blog posts any more, but this is another one that was already mostly written.)

Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. The concepts are incredibly basic, but yet so profound. It's one of those books that changes your perspective, and once you've learned the principles, you wonder how you never knew them before. The principles can apply to any relationship - romantic, family, workplace, friends, etc. I'm going to write from a romantic perspective, because it's the most familiar and obvious, but these really can be modified to fit any relationship.

The basic idea is that we receive love in one or more of the following five ways:
(See Gary Chapman's site for a more detailed explanation of each.)
Words of Affirmation - Verbal appreciation, compliments, and offering encouragement
Quality Time - Focusing all your energy on the person, quality conversation, sharing experiences/thoughts/feelings/desires, sympathetic listening, self-revelation, and quality activities
Receiving Gifts - Any kind of gift, from a flower picked from the roadside, to expensive items
Acts of Service - Household/outside chores done out of love (not out of guilt/duty)
Physical Touch - Massages, holding hands, cuddling, caresses, hugs, kisses, sex

Dr. Chapman's books have detailed quizzes to help you figure out which is your primary love language. Many men will assume their primary love language is physical touch, because they like sex, but physical touch is usually different. In Dr. Chapman's book for men (which is the one I read, since it's what the library had), he completely separates physical touch from sex, but on the website, he blurs the distinction.

Problems arise in relationships when the parties speak different love languages, or even different dialects of the same language. Think of a wife whose love language is quality time. Her husband's love language is acts of service. He spends his entire Saturday cleaning the house, washing the cars, and mowing the yard. At the end of the day, he is pretty pleased with how much he has done to show he loves her, and she is feeling terrible because he hasn't spent time with her. Once you figure out your own love language, you need to figure out which one your spouse/child/friend prefers and learn to speak it. This can be a very difficult process, as many families grow up expressing love only in certain ways. It's very hard for some people to break out of those habits and learn to express love in different ways.

My primary love language is physical touch, no question about it. I have a very strong desire for all the things I listed above - holding hands, cuddling, massages, and hugs. I like frequent sex. I also desire quality time and words of affirmation, but they are not quite as important to me as physical touch. I do appreciate gifts and acts of service, but they just don't speak 'love' to me strongly.

Even though my primary love language is physical touch, I have never been comfortable with casual touching from acquaintances. I need to be close to someone before I can feel comfortable touching them. At work and even with women friends, you'll find me backing away when people get into my personal space. They move closer, and I move back. Sometimes we move several feet down the hall! If I am 'trapped' I feel very uncomfortable. (If I am attracted to the person, I feel completely different - go ahead, lean in closer! Woot!) I am OK with a short/medium-length hug from a female friend at the end of a conversation, but anything other than that feels weird. As I read blog posts about women getting ready to go to BlogHer and spoon with their roommates, I realized that either the bloggers I read are really strange, or I am not normal (likely a combination of both). I find it very strange that I feel this way. I intensely desire these things, yet reject them under most circumstances.

Now That I'm Single
Having Physical Touch be my primary love language presents quite a bit of a problem to me as a single person! Male and female friends can appropriately show love/concern/friendship through any of the other love languages, but not very much with physical touch. I guess friends can share a hug here and there, but that's about it.

Is love from others in the form of physical touch an actual need for me, or is it just a want? I'm sure you could get into hours-long discussions of what are needs and what are wants, but here are two theories: Maslow's Hierarchy and Max-Neef's Fundamentals. They list sex/sexual intimacy (Maslow) and affection (Max-Neef) as needs. That doesn't really clarify whether this is an actual need that I should seek to fulfill or a want that I should 'get over'.

Since I mainly desire physical touch from men I am attracted to, that leaves my options pretty limited as a single woman. I figure that I can do three things:
1) change myself so that I no longer have this perceived need/desire,
2) acknowledge the need/desire, but suppress/ignore it, or
3) fulfill the need/desire

I am actually pretty good at turning off my feelings or talking myself into something. I could probably talk myself into no longer desiring physical touch, or at least not desiring it as intensely. And I've done this before. My husband was not able to speak this love language the way I needed him to. He tried, but it wasn't easy for him. So for the past 8 years, this desire has gone somewhat unmet. A quick example: I love to cuddle at night. My husband would lay there like a board and 'allow' me to cuddle 'on' him (not really 'with' him). Then after 5 or 10 minutes he would say "OK, it's time to go to sleep now." Just as I had a hard time falling asleep without cuddling, it was hard for him to fall asleep while cuddling. It doesn't mean he's bad, we were just not compatible on that issue.

Now that I write this out, I think that changing myself to no longer desire touch and suppressing the desire are probably the exact same thing. Dr. Chapman says that love languages shouldn't change over time. I'm fairly certain that phyical touch is my love language and don't think it would change no matter what. And of course life isn't fair. *Everyone* has unmet needs. Sometimes you just have to cowgirl-up and deal with it.

So what if I decide to try to fulfill this desire? I've thought of a few ways. I could go get massages from students (female!) at the local school. I could go dancing. There's a local country dance every Saturday for ages 0 - 99. The kids and I would all love that. I think that other types of exercising would help. It wouldn't fulfill the need directly, but I would be using my body in a healthy way and it just seems like it would help. The final thing I could do is obviously to seek out touch from men.

Having a strong desire for touch has and will complicate my friendships with men. I can't picture being just friends with men, because I desire to show my friendship through touch. And in our society, you just don't cuddle with a friend! In my lifetime, I have kissed four men. I have held hands with six. You can see that I don't just hold hands with or kiss anyone who comes along. So when I do those things, it's a big deal, and means a lot to me. But I'm not ready to have a relationship of that magnitude any time soon. But I do want that kind of touch. Such a dilemma!

If you lived in Provo within the last 10 years, you've probably heard of NCMO - Non-Committal Make Out. I don't think I'd ever go for NCMO. But I might be up for NCCHH -- that would be Non-Committal Cuddling and Holding Hands! I guess cuddling and holding hands are probably what normal people do on dates, but as we all know, I'm not exactly normal. Everyone else just does it; I make it into a huge dilemma with a 30-page blog entry.

If you've made it this far, what is your love language? Any advice for me?


Marly said...

I know I read this book in my marriage class, 10 years ago, at Weber. I can't even remember what my love language is. I think I like it all. Ok, I'm probably physical touch and time. If Ryan goes one day without touching me in any sort of way, I usually freak out. I also hate it that he likes to stay up and watch things or read books at night and isn't with me.
I don't know what to do for you though.

Katie said...

I like the freaking out part ;-)

Chandelle said...

I was surprised to see you reference the nosurf blog. I read her blog for quite a while after she did a series on fMh last year (on pornography).

I took the FB quiz for Love Languages and got Acts of Service. I took it again with slightly different, but still true answers and got Quality Time. Both of these resonate with me, though I feel bad about the Acts of Service - it seems kind of selfish! But it's true - if I come home from a trip, the last thing I want to see is a messy house. It makes me feel as though he doesn't value me, because he doesn't care enough to do this thing that stresses me out more than anything.

I want to check out the book so Jeremy can take it, too.

I do feel bad for your conundrum about wanting to be touched but needing to stay chaste. I like your idea of getting massages, and honestly, I think you could get massages from men, with minimal risk, if it helps you feel better while staying within your boundaries. You might also consider a yoga class or some other form of exercise - maybe a martial art? - where you come in contact with other people.

I am not a touchy-feely person. I feel the same way about being backed into a corner. Physical touch is pretty far down on my hierarchy of needs. However, I could not go even a day without having an intense, important, enlightening conversation with someone. That's a need for me the same way that sex is a need for others. If Jeremy and I split up, this would be the major loss for me, and I would be desperate to fill it in other ways. But it's certainly easier and less risky to fill this need than the one for physical contact, especially sex.

I hope you can work it out for yourself. I support masturbation wholeheartedly, and I think it would be a worthwhile experiment if it helps you feel better while maintaining your boundaries, but I must assume you don't agree. :)

Katie said...

I think that massage from men that I don't know would seem really weird. I know, I continually contradict myself.

Don't make too many assumptions ;-)