Design by Caitlin Martens. Buy this photo.

The funny thing about love is no matter who you are, how many relationships you’ve had or how close you are to your family, there’s always more you can learn. Love is a never-ending lesson. In this spirit I write to you, as a 19-year-old girl who has watched a lot of television, to share what I’ve learned — amateur to amateur. 

While, in my opinion, love languages don’t fully capture the boundlessness of what intimacy with another person can mean, I do think they’re a good place to start the conversation. They’ve certainly expanded how I interpret the different ways that caring for someone can manifest, so I thought I’d go language by language, show by show, to describe how my ideas about love have grown over the years.

Physical Touch — “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Physical touch has always easily fit into my understanding of love, as there often aren’t words to describe the feeling of wanting to comfort someone or show them you’re there for them. Yet what I didn’t understand until I watched “The Handmaid’s Tale” was the extent to which physical touch can palpably define the way our lives feel.

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, is the story of a fundamentalist Christian society dictated by strict rules — particularly for women — and the notion that someone is always watching you, should you slip up. Handmaids are under constant surveillance and in an environment that seems to be the furthest thing from love. Bearing children is methodically done, and any sort of love or kindness is something that sneaks through the system, not caused by it. Interestingly, it was precisely the way the system stripped away the protagonist June’s ability to be close to others — and be touched outside of a sexual context — that made me realize how physical closeness fosters emotional intimacy even outside of a relationship. The lack of physical touch heightens June’s isolation, and I couldn’t help but feel touch-starved with her. Without physical connection, life seems robotic, cold and dreary. After watching the show, I felt newfound gratitude for the ability to hold people close and how it can serve as a reminder that you are not alone. 

Words of Affirmation — “Sense8”

I’ve seen “Sense8” multiple times since I first watched it when I was 15. With every watch, I’ve noticed new lines in the show where characters have said the right words when other characters needed them, and it made all the difference. 

In “Sense8,” humans known as “sensates” are psychically linked with seven other individuals spread across the world. Sensates are able to take in the senses of the other people they are connected to and communicate with them, even appearing to be in the same room as their fellow sensates. Over time, the main group of sensates in the show grows closer and closer, understanding each other’s personalities, feelings and stories at the deepest level. I think it’s because of the deep bonds the show establishes that it is able to depict words of affirmation that hit profoundly. 

I mean, in what other show can you get quotes like “The real violence, the violence I realized was unforgivable, is the violence that we do to ourselves, when we’re too afraid to be who we really are,” and “your life is either defined by the system or how you defy the system,” as advice?

Quality Time — “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a phenomenal show for a multitude of reasons, but while the show’s compelling character arcs may include many important lessons about love, I realized that I couldn’t help but feel the love present in even the most filler of episodes in the series. I loved all the episodes of “Avatar” in which the gang simply stops at a village or town on their journey and spends time together, learning how to do what’s right. “Avatar” was a great series because of the chemistry between the characters, which comes through even in the more dramatic episodes.

I learned that, when it comes to love, the smallest moments can feel the most meaningful.

Acts of Service — “Gilmore Girls”

When I think of characters that remind me of acts of service, Luke from “Gilmore Girls” is the first person who comes to mind. Luke wasn’t one for expressing his feelings in words, sometimes to a fault, but there’s no one I can think of who has more consistently shown up for the people in his life by offering care through his time and skills. Luke loves cooking, fixing things and making sure Rory and Lorelai are fed and safe. Yes, Luke’s a good partner to Lorelai and good father figure to Rory, but he’s also the sort of guy I’d love to have as a neighbor. Despite his grouchiness, we all know he cares. I may not be as handy as Luke, but I still channel my inner Luke when I refill the Brita pitcher for my roommates, or bake cake pops for my friends when they’re stressed or even just check in with them to see if there are ways I can help, rather than simply telling them I’m thinking about them.

Receiving Gifts — “New Girl”

Ah, gifts. The forgotten love language. To be quite honest, I still feel a little hesitation whenever I hear that someone’s primary love language is gifts, but at the same time I’ve realized it also doesn’t get enough hype. There’s no moment in television that has shown me the power of giving gifts more than Season 3, Episode 13 of “New Girl” in which Nick, a character who can only be described as a hot mess, puts together an extremely thoughtful gift for Jess, who has always wanted a great birthday. I don’t know why, but watching someone who never has it together spend a lot of time to show how much he cares makes me feel incredibly soft. I’ll just say Jess was not the only one crying by the end of the episode. The episode taught me that amid the hustle and bustle of life, even when everything seems like a mess, just taking a little bit of time to show someone you’ve been thinking about them can remind our loved ones that we care.

Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at srah@umich.edu.