When my partner is sad, he wilts like a plant. I can sometimes tell he’s sad, despite him putting in his best efforts to try and make me think he’s fine, and for a long time I struggled with knowing how to cheer him up. The kind words and reassurances and ‘I love you’s that usually work on me have very little effect on him. But I think I’ve cracked it now – the closest I can come to a ‘cheat code’ for love. His ‘love language’: cuddles.
When we have rows, or just go through stressful or difficult patches, I always forget that cuddles are magic. I forget it because they’re not magic to me. If I’m down, and someone offers me a hug, I feel like they’re giving me the brush-off. As if instead of listening to me pour all my woes into their ears, they want me to just shut up and be quiet while they rock me to sleep, like a baby.
When I’m down, I want to talk. Talking makes me feel better. Words are my magic, and always have been.
But not everyone responds to the same kind of magic.
Cuddles, words and other love languages
When I first heard the term ‘love languages’, I was pretty dismissive. It sounded like woo of some kind. If you’ve not come across the term, a ‘love language’ is a way for people to express or receive love. The idea is that there are five different ‘love languages’, and individuals prefer to communicate love using different ones:
- Acts of service: someone doing the dishes for you when they come round to your house, or helping you sort out your tax return.
- Words of affirmation: being told that you’re special or cool or that someone’s proud of you.
- Gifts: getting awesome shit like a family-sized pack of KitKats or a pony.
- Quality time: spending time with someone doing something you both enjoy – could be eating together, building Lego, or dancing to 80s pop songs in your kitchen.
- Physical touch: cuddles, hand-holding, kisses, sex and fisting.
If you look very carefully at that list, you might see glimpses of my cynicism shining through in the form of bad jokes. I didn’t want to believe in love languages, because the very concept of them sounded like bullshit. It seems far too simple, the whole concept is cheesy as fuck, and if you actually take the test on the Official Love Languages Website not only do you feel like you’re filling out a ‘Which Backstreet Boy Is Your Future Boyfriend’ quiz in Just Seventeen magazine, but the site itself will sign you up for regular ‘help your relationship’ spam.
So I’m not a fan. But I am a convert.
What’s his love language?
I always forget that his love language is physical affection. Because no matter how hard I try to be empathetic, my brain’s natural inclination is to assume everyone thinks the same way that I do. Inevitably, I’m going to assume you do this too.
Knowing that physical touch is his love language doesn’t mean I end up hugging him all the time. What it often means is I’ll chase myself round and round in circles trying to work out how to make him happy, because I’ve forgotten that what he needs is different to what I need. Yeah, I know, I’m useless at this.
The fact that I’m useless at this doesn’t stop people asking me for advice, though. Most of the emails I get are about sex – how do I make my sexual fantasy come true? How do I find pervy women? How do I get my partner to like X? – but occasionally people think I might have some insight into relationships. As if there’s a cheat code for love, or a magic formula for making the one you love happy.
For what it’s worth, there isn’t: making someone happy is a complex and difficult thing, and it’s something you can never do alone. All the [cuddles/gifts/words of affirmation/insert love language here] in the world wouldn’t fix depression, or help someone make more money, or reconcile them with a long-lost friend, or any of the other things that people need to do in pursuit of joy.
Remembering his love language
But this week, after some tough times, I found myself asking my partner, for what may be the fiftieth time:
“What can I do to make you happy? When we’re going through tricky times, I find myself constantly emailing/texting/talking to you to tell you that you’re loved, and reassure you that even if we fight I’m not going to pack my bags and run. I want you to feel secure in us, so we can talk about the tough stuff, without you feeling like you’re walking on eggshells or waiting for me to tell you to get lost.”
And he told me, simply: “cuddles” and I felt like the world’s biggest arse.
There’s no such thing as a ‘cheat code’ for love, but this is the closest I’ve come to finding one. And perhaps the reason I was so cynical about ‘love languages’ to start off with is that they seemed so fucking easy. Surely making him happy can’t be this simple? If it really were this simple, wouldn’t I have cracked it long ago? And does the fact that I keep forgetting it make me an absolute monster?
Or perhaps, rather than being a simple catch-all solution for relationship problems, understanding someone’s love language (or love languages plural if they have more than one) is just a neat way to remind you that communication exists, and the more you do it the better you get at knowing what the other person needs.