Love Languages: Becoming Fluent

It’s February. February is home to my second-favorite holiday. The first being Thanksgiving, because I just love a day that it set aside to say “Thank You.” No, I don’t love the cultural baggage attached to Thanksgiving. But a day for gratitude is a good day in my book.

Valentine’s Day is my second-favorite holiday. I love it because 1. it is an excuse to craft 2. there is chocolate involved and 3. it’s about love.

You see, loving does not come naturally to me. Oh, infatuation comes naturally to me. Swoon comes naturally to me. But beyond that, I have a kind of brick wall. Anything beyond that is “too close for comfort.” Anything beyond that and the swords come out.

In The Little Prince, it is the Fox who says:

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

The Fox, The Little Prince, Antoine de St. Exupéry

For as long as I can remember, this reality has seemed like a fate worse than death.

Scalawags and the necessity to learn to love

My indulgent husband and were comfortably settled in companionable friendship when our children arrived. Neither of us, in those first 16 years of marriage, asked ourselves the slightest question about love, how we love, how to show love. We were settled, we were happy. There were few disruptions to our rhythms, few surprises.

We rarely entertained, we hardly ever went out. A select few people were allowed into our lives, but we were mostly withdrawn into our quiet world, where we knew how to stay out of each other’s way, and how not to irritate one another.

And then, boom. I was pregnant and I was brought face to face with how little I understood about love.

As the near-identical granddaughter of a woman who was a borderline narcissist, and as someone who daily battles her own neurosis and struggles with selfishness, pride and unkindness, I had to learn how to love.

I needed like, remedial classes. I turned to my Bible for help. In it, I felt like I was getting zero help. Zero help whatsoever.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” But when you don’t know how to love yourself, or you love yourself badly, then this seems like a moot point, doesn’t it? Were I to follow that to the letter, I would be judgmental, mean, harsh, sharp-tongued and angry.

Surely this would not do. This stood in sharp contrast to how I saw most new parents. I had no gentleness bone. No tenderness in my fingertips. The thought of having to care for a baby terrified me because I was afraid I would hurt the child.

When I learned I would have twins, I was so excited, that somehow that overshadowed how afraid I was of not knowing how to love. In that excitement, I discovered, perhaps, the first beam of something that was love: something outside of myself for which I was hopeful

Naturally, as you know, that first pregnancy did not result in living children. But the little beam of compulsive hopefulness did not fade when I lost the twins. I had let myself, in a small, small way, be tamed. And there were tears, yes. But the dam had started to leak.

The experience of love

My overthinking mind has analyzed love to the hilt over the years. As someone who does not trust her feelings in the slightest, I am always convincing myself that something that “feels good” is actually poisonous.

This does not stop me, of course, from feeling. But I am hyper aware of the compulsiveness of love…whether in friendships, when I first meet a new mom at the park, with whom I can speak intelligently about what is going on in Ukraine, or, at different periods of my life, when I would develop a romantic “crush” on someone.

It was and is infatuation first, then swoon. A desire to fill my time with the person in question, or at least with thoughts of the person in question. A hopefulness for back and forth, give and take. This cannot last. It is time-consuming, exhausting, and can wear everyone out.

There is then a moment when a little light switch flips, and allows me to decide if this person is truly deserving of my admiration. Admiration is very, very different from compulsive love. Admiration is bathed in reality.

Sometimes, when that light switch would flip, I would see the person for who they really are, and the whole infatuation would dissipate like the morning dew. In very, very, very rare cases did the light switch reveal someone whom I would be willing to admire. (Remember, I am the narcissists’ granddaughter.)

Admiration, eventually, could grow into something much deeper: Respect. Respect would find me willing to set aside my own neurosis, my own desires, and prioritize this other person.

Most of my close friendships hover between admiration and respect. I can count on one hand the people in my everyday life for whom I can truly say I carry respect in my heart.

But is respect love? Because if this is true, then the whole “Love your neighbor as yourself,” thing again becomes moot–I should be able to love everyone, if everyone is my neighbor, even if my experience of love for them has not brought them into the Pantheon of people I admire or respect.

Love as a Choice

What I love about the experience of love is that, once it gets passed those “compulsive” phases of infatuation and swoon, is that it becomes a choice. Once the flip is switched, it becomes a choice to pursue a relationship.

However, in becoming a parent, this experience of love was quite notably absent. There was no infatuation or swoon about the children I was carrying in my belly. There was nothing I could learn about them to make me like them more. I couldn’t Google their publications or look at their vacation photos on Facebook.

The only thing I knew about them was how they made me feel about myself, and they made me doubt myself. To bring me doubt or question myself was usually the kind of thing I only would permit people I admired or respected to do. So who did these little lives think they were, making me doubt myself?

These little people did not leave me the choice of wanting to love them, admire them or respect them. These little people just showed up expecting to be loved.

And I was painfully ill-equipped to do so.

Around this time, I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Gary Chapman for the radio station where I worked. I had to re-read The Five Love Languages in order to prepare for the interview, and somehow, it hit differently when I was pregnant.

I came to understand that we could show love without feeling love. This idea was new to me, and honestly, felt a little bit fakey-fakey at first. I *might* have even mentioned this to Dr. Chapman in our interview.

At which point, he said something to me, to me personally:

“Does your husband know you love him?”

Love my husband? I hadn’t felt what I considered “love” since back when the compulsive love had ended and we had entered into our companionable friendship of mutual respect and admiration.

“I have no idea,” I answered him, in a rare moment of honesty.

“What is his Love Language?” he asked.

“Acts of Service,” I groaned.

“Well,” he said, “I think I you know what’s next.”

We picked up our interview from there, and I was left with the gnawing feeling that I would never be the same.

What’s next

For the next few weeks, I want to share my thoughts (sprinkled in here and there with podcast stuff and 22 in 22 stuff) on how becoming Love Language polyglot has brought me back from the edge of narcissism, how it revolutionized my experience of love, and how I learned that before I can love anyone else, I must first learn to love myself.

Episode 63: Foresight Sing With Your Feet

This week, we look at how we can love ourselves better by planning ahead.
  1. Episode 63: Foresight
  2. Episode 62: Memory
  3. Episode 61: Novelty
  4. Episode 60: How to Have Great Sex
  5. Episode 59: I Have A Theory

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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