Understanding love languages is wonderful. It’s especially wonderful when it leads us to reach out to others in ways that truly mean something to them. It’s possible, though, that even love languages have a dark side.
For the record, I’m a Quality Time person. The obvious dark side to this is that I don’t see the point of perfunctory daily check-ins. People whom I consider to be close friends may not hear from me for a year. If they’re also Quality Time people, they may be fine with that. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost friends who had expected more from me.
Really, though, does anybody really want to see someone else every single day??
“What’s new with you?” “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
I happen to be really, really good at Words of Praise. For me it’s effortless to give out a glow-up and only slightly more work to write a letter of reference. One of our protégés just got his dream job after eleven years of preparation, and I’m sure my recommendation letter helped seal the deal. These are great things. On the other hand, I personally dislike words of praise aimed at myself. It makes me uncomfortable at best and feels slimy at worst.
This is what made me start to think that there are certain problems with love languages.
There seems to be a vulnerability to people whose prime love language is Words of Praise. A skilled manipulator can take advantage of this trait. Out of all the love languages, this one seems to come from the deepest hunger. Young people seem to be more susceptible to the desire for praise and validation.
Talk is cheap, though! I keep hearing from young people who genuinely believed an interviewer or landlord’s promise to “get in touch” or whatever formulaic “please leave now” phrase they used. Weeks later, this poor person will still be hanging on to a thread of hope. No amount of circumstantial evidence will convince this person that what they really heard was a brush-off. It’s worse in the dating world, although there’s nothing more like dating than a job hunt.
What are this person’s actions saying? Does the reality of their behavior match the words that have come out of their mouth?
Gifts are, in my opinion, even worse. Anyone can give someone something. In my work with clutter and organizing, I’ve seen several “gift closets.” These are common features of upper-middle-class homes. Someone will buy a bunch of generic items like candles, wine, lotion, and trinkets, then wrap them and attach a temporary label with the contents. It’s the opposite of personal. Also in my work with clutter, I find homes filled with gifts still in their original bags. An emotional attachment is created around the gift-giving occasion, even though the recipient doesn’t like the item and even though their main issue in life is having 10x too much stuff.
It’s more common than not that the same family that constantly criticizes my client for hoarding will be the same family that constantly brings over generic or inappropriate gifts. The next step is to suss out whether the gift is being used and ask after it. I WANT YOU TO WANT THIS. Grateful or else!
As far as gift clutter, in my professional opinion it is often a method of emotional control. It can also be a sort of pressure valve. A compulsive accumulator who has already filled (her) own house can then use gift purchases as an excuse to continue a recreational shopping habit. Not only that. Hoarders tend to see other people’s homes as part of their own territory. (Family, tenants, maybe friends, possibly neighbors). They believe that they have a perfect right to pack other people’s rooms with their personal belongings, and once they get one item in the door, they’ll keep going until they’re forced to stop. It’s not that they want to give someone a gift so much as that they became attached to some item they saw, and they want it around where they can admire it for their own personal reasons.
One day, maybe there will be a program for AR goggles that allows my compulsive accumulators to wander among hologram versions of every cool item they ever saw. They can virtually wander tight aisles and goat paths between giant haystacks of clutter bags, when in reality their rooms are safe and clean.
Touch is another potentially problematic love language. I’m a hugger, I’ll just put that out there in case you haven’t seen me in my FREE HUGS t-shirt, and I’ve misinterpreted signals and given inappropriate hugs before. Once in dance class, my partner meant to swing me out in the waltz, and when he threw his arm out, I read it as “BIG HUG” and rushed in for an embrace. That was a quarter-century ago, so hopefully he’s over the awkwardness by now. Not sure I am! Out of all the love languages, touch is the one with the worst consequences when mishandled.
There could be rings for this. That’s what I think. Like a wedding ring. Huggers could wear a special ring, and anyone who isn’t wearing the hugging ring would be automatically hands-off.
Acts of Service would seem to be the hardest to mess up, but that’s the whole problem with the dark side of love languages. We can’t assume that we know what other people will appreciate. We have to communicate and we have to be willing to take NO or NOT RIGHT NOW or NOT LIKE THAT for an answer.
I’m a big Acts of Service person, and I’ve been told off for doing something small like wiping down someone’s countertop. Left to my own devices, if I stayed over at someone’s place, I would probably wind up cleaning their entire house top to bottom while on the phone or finishing a chapter in my audio book. Nothing personal; I probably wouldn’t fully realize I was doing it. Note: people do not like this! I finally understood what it was like when my in-laws came to stay, and pruned our roses and replaced the air filter in our furnace. Without asking. Thanks guys!
Another issue with Acts of Service is that people who are not on that wavelength will accept the effort without reciprocating. No amount of chore-doing can buy someone’s gratitude or affection, any more than any other misapplied love language.
I’ve found that I prefer to be the giver, and that I’m happier focusing on my own loving gestures than on wishing and hoping for the perfect form of affection to meet my standards. It’s nobody else’s job to read our minds or get our preferences exactly right. The best we can do is to communicate clearly and treat others the way they say they wish to be treated.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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