A few years ago, I tried taking the "Five love languages" test by Gary Chapman. It didn't work very well since the test was aimed towards married couples and I had trouble answering questions like "Do you like it better when your spouse buys you chocolate or washes the dishes for you?" (Okay, I made that one up). I also tend to sabotage the results of such tests because I overanalyze the questions.
So I never did figure out whether my love language was "words of affirmation," "quality time," "receiving gifts," "acts of service," or "physical touch." (Brief explanation here).
Human beings are complex, and I'm not going to endorse this as a fool-proof system for living in bliss with all your friends and family members. But it's always good to be reminded that people are different, and that there is a difference between misunderstanding and insensitivity.
I remember scoffing at the "gift" option, thinking, "I do not need THINGS to assure me that I'm loved." But then I remember the piles of objects I have stored away in...hmm, 1 house in the U.S. and 2 locations in Russia. Every time I try to minimize, I think, "_________gave that to me for my ___________ birthday! I can't get rid of it!"
Looking around my room now, I see a calendar from my sister, turned to Dec. 2004, as well as a hand-painted cross and other knick-knacks from Russian kids. Yes, I can see how objects play a role in love. But I don't know if it's a priority in my life.
How different people prefer to express love can be just as perplexing as the expressions that they expect from others. Someone said to me a few months ago, "I don't think gift-giving is your love language." Apparently I had given a disappointing gift. Keep in mind that this was in Russia, and cultural can also play a role. I hope that I haven't offended too many people with inappropriate gifts. But it was a good reminder to pay more attention.
Christmas morning is an interesting time to observe communication patterns, especially if people take turns opening presents (as in my family). Even when everyone's getting along great, it is clear that gifts mean different things to different people. Someone exclaims over each gift, someone pays close attention to the wrapping, someone prefers to cross the room and give a thank-you hug. Someone breaks the ribbon with his hands; others use a knife or untie it with their fingers. People react to the attention differently, too, when receiving gifts. Some people love the experience of having everyone watch, while for others it's more of a private moment. And as senders we all react differently as well. Along with the public/private preference, we may have varying degrees of sensitivity to whether or not our gift is appreciated.
So many variables! And relationships are fragile. So if I don't even know what my own "language" is, how can I begin to understand everyone else? One clue is to watch how they relate to me. Have you ever bought a gift for someone else because it was interesting to you? Maybe people express love in a certain way because it's what they wish to receive.
We all remember the Golden Rule,"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12) But if we only give the kind of gifts that look good to us, we might not be listening well enough to others around us. The one thing we really all wish for is to be understood. Paying attention and learning from diversity in expressions of love around us might help us speak other "languages."