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Physical Touch. Words of Affirmation. Quality Time. Acts of Service. Receiving Gifts.
According to New York Times bestselling author Gary Chapman, we each understand love in one of these five ways. Some feel loved most strongly when a partner holds them close or a friend provides a supportive pat on the back. Others need to hear verbal expressions of praise, while some feel appreciated when you clear space in your busy schedule to spend quality time together. Kelly might know her boyfriend appreciates her when he surprises her with a freshly cleaned dorm, and Mark might feel appreciated when they open their birthday presents. These five categories of appreciation are subconsciously prioritized differently by each individual and shape our unique definitions of love.
This theory may seem too simplistic to explain the complicated, messy, confusing emotion that is love, but this slight shift in perspective can lead to significant change in action and perception. The simple ideology holds potential to alleviate one of the biggest problems Harvard students face: loneliness.
While the love languages apply to all forms of love, they offer the most value not to the romantic sphere but to the platonic. Friendships are built on platonic love. When a friend shows us they care, we grow to trust them. Regular assurances of love are necessary to maintain healthy, active friendship. As young adults, in fact as humans, most of us are insecure. Without the periodic reassurance that our friends are still there for us, it can be hard to believe they really are.
However, in my observation, people tend to express love in the way that they perceive it. According to a handy online quiz, I discovered that my dominant love language is quality time. If someone makes time for me and meaningfully engages while we are together, I will read that as a sign of love. In exchange, I don’t necessarily compliment the people I care about or buy them presents, but I try to spend as much time together as possible. I give love the way I understand love.
The downside is that I might not understand that my friends love me when they provide me with acts of service or give me a hug. If my friends don’t regularly make time to hang out with me, I tend to assume they don’t care for me as much as I care about them. If I don’t understand their ways of communicating love, my insecurity can seep in, making it harder for me to express how I value them.
Without the knowledge that our friends value us, any display of attachment risks appearing needy. But if we don’t show our friends we care, they too might fear exposing their emotions. Such distancing feeds upon itself, causing isolation.
Emotional vulnerability is incredibly difficult. Taking that first step is never easy. But there’s a chance your potential friend has already taken that step without your noticing it. If your friend speaks a different love language, attempts at friendship may be getting lost in translation.
Maybe when that guy from your Chemistry class helped you with your pset, this act of service was his way of saying he values you. Since you operate on words of affirmation, you were waiting for a verbal assurance that would never come. Such missed opportunities could be flying past us all the time. If we learn to look for love in all of its forms, we may be better able to start building the relationships that matter. Keener awareness, recognizing the signs of affection that are not native to you, will smooth the path to new friendships.
Pre-existing friendships can also benefit from a course in the love languages. Take the online test together with your friends. Find out what their dominant love language is and try to start communicating in it. Physical touch may come naturally to you, but if your roommate doesn’t value it, try scheduling weekly lunch dates instead.
“Learn to communicate effectively” may be the most cliched relationship advice of all time, but taking these practical steps toward understanding others helps build communities. Treating platonic love with the respect, effort, and gravity we expend on romantic love is necessary to break out of loneliness. It takes bravery to show love and bravery to accept love. The very least we all can do it make sure we recognize it when it comes our way.
Romy Dolgin ’21, a Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is a Linguistics concentrator in Lowell House.
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