Some Unsolicited Love Advice From Jaybird

This post is part of our Love Symposium. An introduction to the symposium can be found here; all of the posts written for the symposium can be found here

According to Doctor Gary Chapman, there are Five Languages of Love. Essentially, there are five ways that you are most likely to communicate that you love someone and most likely “hear” that you are loved when someone else uses them.

The five are: Touch, Words, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Quality Time. If two people happen to have the same “Love Language”, this tends to work out better than if two people have very different ones. For example, imagine two persons in a relationship. One: a person whose love language is “Words” and Two: an “Acts of Service” person. When we put them in a couple we can easily imagine them complaining about stuff like “She’d rather do the dishes, mow the lawn, wash the laundry, and take out the trash than spend five minutes talking to me”/”All she does is flap her gums about how much she loves me but you can’t get her to pick up her towel after a shower!” Heck, a “fun” game is to take any two of those and come up with how one would complain about the other. (I’m sure that, right now, you’re thinking about a bad breakup in your past, if not your own, one of someone close to you and you’re saying “He was this language and she was that language and they talked past each other with every interaction they had until it ended acrimoniously.”)

Part of this, it seems to me, means that one person’s “best thing ever!” will be another’s “oh no, not again”. The person who loves to spend an evening doing a puzzle could very well find going out to the club to be excruciating, and the person who finds the club to be nirvana could see spending an evening in, doing a puzzle, to be, well, wasting a perfectly good evening… and the thing to take away from that is that there is a chunk of people out there who get their proverbial tanks filled doing things that other folks just don’t “get”. A caveat: like all attempts at categorization, this theory is prone to oversimplification and we should watch out for that… but I imagine that you know what your primary (and secondary?) love language(s) might be and, even if you don’t, you know more than a handful of folks who are close enough for blogging when it comes to how this may describe them. With those assumptions made, I’m going to start by looking at a particular group of folks that this theory describes (and then work out from there): People who can have their proverbial tank filled despite being in a long-distance relationship.

Now, *MY* experiences with Long Distance Relationships are very much like the 2nd quarter of the movie “Her”. You’ve got this voice, this beautiful voice, on the other end of a phone. You’ve got this text, this perfect text (I mean, there are some syntax problems but they’re all deliberate tweakings in order to provide a clear voice), on a monitor. This voice tells you cute stories about her day, tells you that your stories are cute, and you can both laugh and say “I love you”. Hear it back. Hang up. Read a book, tell her about the book, hear what she thought about the book. Disagree. Agree. Log off. Read another book.

Periodically, of course, you’ll get to/have to see the other person when you’ll get to/have to do things as a real, live couple except in a distilled form. Go out to eat at one of those places where you can take over a booth and talk for an hour. It’s a date. Make out. Go to the mall and get each other some kind of trinket. It’s a date. Go to the grocery store to get the pop/potato chips that you can’t get in your area. It’s a date. Heck, make out. Go here, go there. It’s a date. Hurry and get some more dates in there, one of you is going home in a handful of days. Better make out again, just in case. Go home. Recover.

The problem comes when it comes time to, as classy people say, “fish or cut bait”. Except in the rarest of circumstances, the questions will arise: Is the relationship going to turn into something else? Something where you actually have to be in the same room when you’re *NOT* on a date? Well beyond achieving “fart comfort”, we’re talking about “jointly running a small non-profit comfort”? If you can’t see that happening, well, time to let go and move on. If you can, well… it might be time to settle down and actually live in the same building. Perhaps even say the “M” word and then get M’ed… and it’s at this point that the love languages come back into play.

Assuming phermonal compatibility (without which we probably wouldn’t have gotten this far), we’ve now reached a point where love language incompatibility is likely to enter play. People, for a host of reasons, stop throwing everything they possibly can and speaking every language they’ve ever heard of and going back to speaking the language that they themselves are most likely to speak. They do this without even really noticing. Someone who never felt more spoken to than when their partner, say, snuck a note into their jacket pocket spends weeks/months/years unconsciously checking his or her pockets every day… and getting frustrated without ever knowing why. Someone else might see a day spent together as building up to a great makeout session instead of the day spent together as being the point and getting frustrated as a result. So on and so forth (we’re back to the “fun” game) and the frustration of speaking and being misunderstood, fundamentally misunderstood, has great potential to warp and twist into resentment (or worse).

According to the Love Language theory, the folks in the relationship both need to figure out how to best speak the language of the other person and how to best hear the language of the other person. Knowing that the other person is saying “I love you” when they mow the lawn or when they want to go up and down every single aisle at Costco, even the dumb ones, or when they constantly make origami elephants out of dollar bills or, I suppose, say “I love you” is what will help the relationship flourish in a way similar to how it flourished at the beginning, when everyone was throwing everything at the wall.

When love is a long distance relationship, it’s got a great deal in common with pure communication. When the time comes for two people to actually be practically on top of each other for a good chunk of the day/week/month, the communication can get muddled. For some folks, folks who happen to speak the same language (and keep speaking the same language), the muddle is something easily avoided and both are constantly filling each other’s proverbial tanks. It’s when the communications start being regularly missed that people stop having their tanks filled and thus stop feeling loved.

As such, it seems to me that a fairly important part of being in a relationship that one intends to last for longer than “a while” would require something like figuring out how to make the other person hear what you’re saying (and filling their tank) when you’re saying “I love you” and being willing to (sometimes) change how you say it in order to ensure it.

Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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24 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    I’m pretty sure that my languages are Quality Time and/or Gifts.

    Mostly because I can get my tank filled by just sitting quietly in the same (or adjacent) room for a few hours. I can play my game, she can do her homework. I can sort laundry, she can catch up on the intertubes. So on and so forth.

    I also put (waaay too much) time into the purchasing of gifts for others. Researching books for the Brother-in-Law (a good go-to is to see what books have been advertized in Sports Illustrated for the last month or so). Trying to figure out the best gift for the nephew based on what movies he’s watched in the last month (THANK GOODNESS FOR THE LEGO MOVIE). Trying to best calibrate what I know about Maribou’s last month or so in order to come up with the best possible “hey, thinking of you” present. (And, of course, the flipside of being frustrated by gifts that communicate “I haven’t thought about this at all”.)

    Which has made some of my relationships (not just the romantic ones… Mom, for example, was Acts of Service) frustrated by miscommunications.

    • Maribou says:

      I don’t think you like getting gifts that much though. Even good ones…. I can’t remember the last time you were really excited about a present?

      To me, as a receiver, what I’ve come to believe is that you are very strongly quality time with a side of “well, my mom was totally acts of service so that is my go-to way of expressing affection”.

      As we both know, I’m mostly touch.

      Have I mentioned lately that I’m REALLY GLAD you shouldn’t have to take any more extended trips for a while?

      That said, I think both of us must have a strong “words” vibe or we never would’ve ended up together (and you wouldn’t write as eloquently as you do about the ‘pure communication’ stage). People who don’t speak “words” don’t fall in love that way in the first place.

      • Fish says:

        That’s why I stick to giving Jay wine, because even if my gift frustrates him Hey! Wine!

      • Maribou says:

        You are wise. Jay tried to ask for wine for Christmas and his family was like, ‘Nice try, what do you really want?” “WINE.”

        So now that I think about it, he DOES like your presents.

  2. Kazzy says:

    This is a *really* interesting post, Jay. I’d been in numerous relationships serious enough to count before meeting Zazzy. I think this gave me a certain proficiency in multiple languages of love. Zazzy, on the other hand, had no relationships prior to me. I was her first. In a way, this has made her love language not unlike that of a fish being asked to describe wetness. She is who she is (or, more precisely, was who she was… obviously things have evolved for the both of us over the past 7+ years) unaware of the myriad of translations that relationships require. However, I also lacked a cognizance of this. I might have been more flexible in communicating my love, but I never thought of it as a language and what can happen when people are speaking different languages.

    I had considered a post discussing the different paths Zazzy and I took to our relationship. Neither path was right or wrong, better or worse… just different. These differences had consequences for us… some minor, some major, some positive, some negative. I could never quite find a path to discuss it so I abandoned the idea. However, I think using the languages of love would have been a good one.

    I feel like my eyes have been opened. Thank you, good sir!

    • Jaybird says:

      I learned about the languages when I was a kid. It explained to me why it was such a big deal that I didn’t keep my room clean (Mom was Acts of Service) but how much better I could make things by, say, cooking a meal.

      There are a lot of things that cover two (or more) languages. Cooking a meal, for example, is a gifts (kinda) while also being an act of service. A long movie huddled together on the couch can be both Quality Time and Touch. So on and so forth. There are tons of these.

      • Miss Mary says:

        Well, no wonder I can’t figure out what I am. If a ton of them overlap it will take me a forever to parse it out.

        I wonder what my boyfriend is…

  3. Chris says:

    I don’t know if this is unusual, but I’m pretty sure I have two languages of love, the one I like to hear and the one I like to speak. I like to hear through touch and quality time, and don’t care at all about gifts or acts of service. I like to speak through touch and acts of service (I’m terrible at giving gifts, which is probably related to me not caring a lick about receiving them).

    Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that having two languages is a bad idea, because if the other person also likes quality time, and your approach to quality time is more about hearing than speaking, you’re going to run into problems.

    • Jaybird says:

      That makes a lot of sense to me.

      Quality time is quality time for me, but some gifts tickle my funnybone and some just communicate “Eh, I picked out the first thing I saw that made me laugh. In this case: Homer Slippers.”

      I’m still irritated by those damned slippers.

  4. Stillwater says:

    This reminds me a bit of something Ram Dass’ once said: it’s easy to be attain perfect peace detached from the noise and bustle of everyday life and think you’ve attained “enlightenment”. But here’s the real test: leave the mountain cave and visit your family for two weeks over the Christmas holidays.

    This is probably just me talking about me here, but it seems to me that having an idea of what love is, and having an idea of what it means to communicate that love to another, and an idea of what it means to receive it, mixes things up a bit. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do any of this stuff – those are concepts we apply to something that just is (or is not). Instead, I think the experience of love is just a thing that happens to people. If there’s a “right way” to do it – to engage in the dynamic, reciprocal process of loving and being loved – it’s to (bravely!) identify, understand and accept on our real, true feelings for ourselves and other folks in our lives with complete honesty. Doing so might entail (for a particular person) saying all sorts of words and doing certain types of things. But it might not. It might be that recognizing that truth about our ownselves – and that those feelings are reciprocated by others (in a fashion) – eliminates the compulsion to say or do certain types of things normally associated with “expressing love”. It’s a point where love just is, and is beyond intellectual conceptualizations.

    • Jaybird says:

      Well, the analogy of having one’s tank filled is one that makes sense to me. I’ve had relationships where I felt like I was proverbially screaming and watching the other person not hear me. (And, I’m sure, there have been moments where I did not hear what my partner was saying.) And I’m frustrated because I’m doing my hardest and the other person is not having their tank filled and I can see that. I’ve been in relationships where my tank was not being filled despite the other doing her best.

      The “right” way to do it, I guess, is something that has luck in charge… when two people are stressed out, are their go-to languages the languages that happen to fill the tank of the other?

      • Stillwater says:

        Yeah, I hear ya. If you’re partner needs the tank filled and you love that person, it’s a good thing to be able to realize when it does and how to go about doing it. Yeah, I agree with that part. My earlier comment was pointing in a slightly different direction: arriving at a place where the conceptualizations of love and love languages are no longer necessary because they’re already understood on a deeper level. I think that’s the biggest problem I have with all this talk of love, myself. It’s fundamentally a state people can find themselves in, a pretty basic and simple state (hard to describe, tho!), and the desire to be in that state leads to confusion about what it means to actually get there (and to do once you are there).

        But it’s really not all that complicated. Seems to me what’s complicated is the way all the competing impulses, fears, hopes, obligations, worries, desires, etc conflict with it and jumble a person up. Lord knows I’ve been massively jumbled by love. Who hasn’t? That’s the direction I was trying to point towards. Seems like your post is pointing in that direction too.

  5. NewDealer says:

    “Now, *MY* experiences with Long Distance Relationships are very much like the 2nd quarter of the movie “Her”. You’ve got this voice, this beautiful voice, on the other end of a phone. You’ve got this text, this perfect text (I mean, there are some syntax problems but they’re all deliberate tweakings in order to provide a clear voice), on a monitor. This voice tells you cute stories about her day, tells you that your stories are cute, and you can both laugh and say “I love you”. Hear it back. Hang up. Read a book, tell her about the book, hear what she thought about the book. Disagree. Agree. Log off. Read another book.

    Periodically, of course, you’ll get to/have to see the other person when you’ll get to/have to do things as a real, live couple except in a distilled form. Go out to eat at one of those places where you can take over a booth and talk for an hour. It’s a date. Make out. Go to the mall and get each other some kind of trinket. It’s a date. Go to the grocery store to get the pop/potato chips that you can’t get in your area. It’s a date. Heck, make out. Go here, go there. It’s a date. Hurry and get some more dates in there, one of you is going home in a handful of days. Better make out again, just in case. Go home. Recover.”

    This seems roughly comparable to my experiences with a long distance relationship. Only we largely have not done the grocery store “date” yet. We needed to ditch a concert last week in order to have down time where we just hung out in my apartment, talked, and made out. I think on this trip via some disagreements (not an argument because so far we have handled all of our frustrations and changing expectations like rational and speaking adults), we have made the decision to be a couple. Previously we were a couple but acted more like good friends who got together romantically when in the same town.

    Now the big problem with long distance relationships is that we both have spent years in seperate places and building lives and employment in this economy is not easy to come by. I could sell all my stuff, hope for maximum money, and move back to NY and then look for work but part of me feels like this would be a very foolish thing to do if it all falls apart.

    • Miss Mary says:

      It’s risky. That freaks me out, but I’m spontaneous by nature, so I’d do it if I didn’t have to think about it. Long distance relationships are tough. Good luck!

  6. Michael Drew says:

    I think I’m words, touch, and acts of service. I like QT and think it’s important, but I think I actually attend to to it by reverse-engineering it out of those previous three. I’m not sure I actually really make sure the “T” portion of it gets done, though it may be that it happens just given that we’re together enough as a general matter that it gets taken care of.

    Gifts – nope. Not really. Our main gifts to each other is the gift of taking the stress of buying gifts at normal-gift buying times more or less completely off the table where we’re each concerned. That makes any gifts that do get bought, even really little ones, pretty special no matter what. Seems to really work, though who knows, maybe I’m treading on some super thin ice and don’t even realize it.

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    Good post, and I think the central message here works just as well if you zoom out.

    It seems like everyone is so invested in what everyone else should do in relationships where they themselves are not a central party. “The housework should be divided like this!” “This is the person who should be the main bread winner, not the other person!” “You need to get rid of these traditional gender roles, but its very important you keep these other ones!”

    Clearly, the way it works best is to be aware of what your preferences are and where your comfort levels lie, and be wary of tying the knot with (or moving in with, or starting a LTR with) someone that really has a problem with those preferences.

  8. zic says:

    Touch, Words, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Quality Time.

    I think I would add a sixth: freedom.

    We hold on to those we love, often sooooo tightly as to strangle their inner growth. Yet love is loving that which is not ourselves; it’s setting the loved one free, being the wind beneath their wings as they fly to what they can be. And true love is trusting that, with freedom to fly, love and constancy will remain.

    • Jaybird says:

      That one would work really well for Long Distance Relationships, I imagine.

      • zic says:

        It works for not-long-distance relationships, too.

        It’s worked for me and my sweetie for 38.75 years; 33.75 years of those wed.

        The best book/movie representation I can think of for it is the Gaimon’s Stardust, which I think may be one of the great romantic works of all time. He had her, silver-chain about her waist. And he set her free.

  9. Maribou says:

    So when Jay was working on this post, I said, “I’m just relieved that of all the kooky relationship theories you had as a 20-something, this is the one that stuck,and not astrology or ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’. I mean, I won’t COMMENT that, but…”

    And then we both got the giggles, and he said, “POST IT.”

    I’m not sure exactly what that says about love, but it says a lot about us.