I’m going to tell you the truth — I’ve never been in love.
It’s not that I don’t know what love is. I mean, I’ve seen it in movies: the young damsel in distress saved by her shining knight in armor, a young lady bumps into a handsome man at a coffee shop, spills her drink all over him and they end up falling for each other ten minutes later. See, I know what love is. Isn’t it the desire to be with that special someone for the rest of eternity, a certain warmth and comfort that rises in your chest when you see them, a light that twinkles in your eye when you hold their hand?
I’ve been single for the entirety of my life — and I’ve always wondered how somebody could be so infatuated with another human being. And perhaps that it is because I, for a long time, never thought that I could be lovable. Hardly anyone in grade school, middle school or high school provided me with attention as a dark-skinned Black girl who wasn’t seen as desirable in their eyes, or those who said they would be embarrassed to go out with me. I wasn’t close enough to the proximity of whiteness that others wanted me to be, and that inhibited me from pursuing my romantic endeavors. And as a result, perhaps I’ve grown scared to finally have a chance to experience love, and potentially have my heart shattered into a million pieces. As I scrolled through pictures of girls with homecoming dates and promposals and Valentine’s Day flowers, I grew in even more despair about my lack of romantic love in my life. I didn’t want to admit it as I took pride in being a ‘single’ and ‘independent’ woman, but at those moments in my life, I just wanted to truly experience what love was.
Love — what is love? Some have speculated about the meaning of the word, drumming up philosophical interpretations about how love is a feeling rather than experience, and identifying the various types of love such as eros, philos and agape. Others have created their own definitions of love languages, such as author and counselor Gary Chapman.
In his book “The Five Love Languages,” he ascribes that there are five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts and acts of service. Couples often take any one of the hundreds of online tests that promise to ascertain their love languages, in order to evaluate how to give each other love in the best way suited and also how to reciprocate that love for each other. Although not backed by scientific evidence, many couples swear by this test, giving it credit for their compatibility. Because of this, I’ve always wondered what would be considered to be my love language. This could perhaps give me some semblance into the loveliness of love.
So, what is my love language?
Words of affirmation
It was a rainy day and pelts of water slowly trickled down the glass window as I traced its pattern with my finger. The wind shook the trees as they waved their long limbs, as if they were announcing to me that only they were aware of my presence.
I was listening to a song, my corded headphones tangled in a bundle and yet still functioning. The low drum and strum of the song’s guitar pattern flowed gently like a stream, the lyrics like rafts gently bobbing in the water.
“Your love makes me feel ten feet tall
Without it I’d go through withdrawal
Cause nothing even matters at all
Nothing even matters”
As Lauryn Hill sweetly sang, I couldn’t help but think what her lyrics could even feel like, or present themselves in my life. How could love make you feel 10 feet tall? How could nothing matter but a single person?
When I contemplate on those words, I cannot help but feel a sense of sincerity, one that assures the listener. They are words of affirmation — which is expressing affection or sentiment through words, praise or pleasantries. As a writer, perhaps this could be my love language, using words as a way to convey how I feel about a special somebody, writing them my deepest emotions and unspeakable truths. Although many people say actions speak louder than words, and rightfully so, there is something so beautiful about hearing someone you care about say that they are proud of you, that they care for you, that they love you. It is the permanence of these verbal expressions, how you can never take them back, that offers both certainty but also expectations that are waiting to be broken.
I love spending time with myself, as a certified introvert. Despite that, I still relish the time spent with the people that are meaningful in my life.
It was the summer after graduation. Fresh out of high school, I was young and determined, ready to take on the world. There were only a few weeks left until I would be moving to another state and only a few months until all of my friends would be going off to their respective colleges. And so, in those last moments before we stepped on the bridge toward adulthood, we spent long summer days and nights in the stifling Colorado heat. We perused all the shops and tried on all the expensive clothes we couldn’t buy, holding lemonade in cups coated with small droplets of condensation.
Quality time: the act of spending time with your significant other as a way to cherish and love them. In any relationship, quality time is extremely important to its health and longevity.
It was in those summer days and the quality time spent with my friends that I realized that I could be valued and appreciated for who I am. Quality time, in a sense, helps to make a person feel wanted — because to spend time with someone else is an active and physical choice. You must actively choose to be with that person, schedule time in your busy calendar, FaceTime one another during a bus ride back home. It is the feeling that simply being in their presence is enough.
For me, quality time holds such value because I will always remember the time spent, the laughs that echoed across the room and the movies we watched till our eyes grew numb. However, it is the memories that we make that are the greatest gift of all.
I remember I was a little girl, walking through the dry heat of Iowa, the blistering sun beating down on my back. My childhood friend Liam and I were walking through a park near downtown, the grass tickling the sides of our feet as we held hands and skipped down the field of bright yellow tulips.
Physical touch: the way of communicating one’s love through physical intimacy. Around 24% of Americans claim that their love language is physical touch, the second most common of all the love languages. As someone who has never been a fan of physical touch or PDA, the concept to me seems quite intriguing as well as strange. A study done by the International Association of Relationship Research reported that the extent to which one desires and reciprocates touch in a relationship depends on a multitude of factors, including extent of the relationship, the childhood of that participant and also the sex of that person. In longer relationships, touch is more often an established love language that both people feel comfortable to communicate.
Whether movies, TV shows or social media, the prevalence of physical touch as a way to express love seems to be on the forefront, a sure way to show commitment and dedication to each other. No wonder every wedding ends with a kiss, every laugh with a hand touch and every goodbye with a hug. Physical intimacy is seen as the end-all-be-all, as it is the outward representation that you desire to be close with that person.
When I held Liam’s hand, that signaled to the world that we were best buds, young children so naive yet excited at the world around them. The way we express love through physical touch generally adapts to the extent of the relationship, what we are generally comfortable with during that time period. Physical touch is one of the languages that is the most fleeting — a second, and it is all gone. You may crave to be in their presence and feel their touch again because of the intentionality of it. It is through physical touch that I am able to tell who are partners when walking around campus — those who hold hands closely together and others who touch the nape of their partners’ neck. It is an outward expression of the love you hold towards that person.
It was my 13th birthday. Customarily, I had a small celebration with my family, consisting of Indian takeout and a sheet cake with sickeningly sweet frosting from Costco. We did the usual routine, singing “Happy Birthday in various, often off-tune pitches. I blew out candles until my lungs hurt; we chatted and ate food until our stomachs hurt.
One of the presents I received was a journal cover filled with bright purple, blue and pink that featured a huge peacock on the front. It was the perfect gift for an aspiring writer, and after the party was over, I rushed into my room to take stock of all the festivities that had entailed my birthday, of how I was finally a teenager and could now do all the things I had so long wished to achieve.
Gift giving: The act of giving or receiving gifts as a form of affection, the tangibility of an item revealing the presence of the person on the giver’s mind. As a love language, gift giving often carries a poor reputation, with accusations that it’s rooted in shallow and vapid intentions. However, like writing, there is something about the permanence of an object that can always make you remember. As with that journal, I am able to reread over the passages and remember how I felt during that time: all the crushes I had, all my embarrassing escapades, the sadness I felt after I had failed my math test. I am able to remember my parents who gave me the gift on my 13th birthday; and reminisce on the evolution that led me from kid to teenager.
Acts of Service
Lastly, acts of service: a love language in which one feels loved when someone helps their partner through thoughtful action. It is the gift of time, a precious thing in a world that seems to cling on every second as if it is their last. Whether it is cleaning up the house after a long day of work, cooking a hot meal or folding up their laundry, acts of service show that person that you care.
I think what makes acts of service so important is that it requires you to truly know the person, that you know their needs, desires, their anxieties and their struggles. Acts of service, to me, are one of the most special love languages, because it is all four in one.
When I was in kindergarten, I remember one day I forgot my lunch at home, which was a shame since I had snuck five bags of sugar fruit snacks in my pail. When lunch time rolled around and my stomach rumbled ferociously, I remember one teacher taking me aside and giving me some of her lunch which I could nibble on for the remainder of the period — a granola, fruit and yogurt.
I always thought that acts of service had to be something grandeur — saving someone’s life, giving away all your money to the poor and starting a nonprofit for those in need. Yes, those are undeniably acts of service, but so is giving a kid lunch because she’s hungry. So is folding up your family member’s laundry because they just got off a 9 p.m. shift. Acts of service is such a personal and deep language to say that you care, because it represents love in both the big and small ways.
Although these instances of love languages are not necessarily romantic, reflecting on the instances of love in my life has allowed me to realize that each of these languages are special in their own way, necessarily devoid of romantic intention. Perhaps the creation of these languages reveals an even deeper need within society — the need to be appreciated and understood. Whether these love languages are factual or not, they still indicate the larger experience of the wish to be desired, to be fulfilled, and to be loved. Through all of these stories, each love language has been a part of my life even without the romantic sentiment. So maybe I do know what love is — because in each language, I’ve learned how to love.
Statement Columnist Chinwe Onwere can be reached at email@example.com.