Love Languages: Easier Said Than Done

“Love is a many splendored thing. Love, lift us up where be long…All you need is love.” Thus begins the Elephant Love Medley from the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge. It sounds best if you imagine it in Ewan MacGregor’s pretty brogue.

Theoretically, I love love. I enjoy the feelings of love, at least, as I comprehend them. I love love in a sophomore in high school kind of way. In addition to my dozens and dozens of notebooks full of stories I would write in high school, I also kept an extraordinarily detailed diary of my many crushes. Because the feelings of love were so pleasant, it never really crossed my mind that there would be anything actionable about love.

Love was something that I felt at the high school basketball game on a Friday night, waiting for that cute guy from Biology class to walk into the gym. It was when said cute guy took me to the movies and accidentally brushed my hand during the opening credits.

Love was the flutter, the pitter patter, the flush, the heart thud. Love was the waiting for the phone to ring or the finding of a note in my backpack, Love was making eye contact when he walked past my 6th period history class while he on his way to lunch.

Love, infatuation, swoon. Experiences like that shaped my idea of love.

I loved everything that came before the first kiss. It was all downhill from there.

The Indulgent Husband and swoon

As I have mentioned before, the relationship I developed with my indulgent husband when we first met never comported a single element of what I had heretofore considered love.

Ours was, first and foremost, a meeting of the minds. There was no pitter patter, no flush, no heart thud. Without these distractions, we were able to form an attachment far deeper than any I could have imagined possible.

The fact that this young man could understand and articulate truths about me that I had always known but never been able to put into words felt far more satisfying than any brief eye contact or hand brushing during the opening credits of a movie ever felt. I didn’t know what to do with this kind of being known. I was only eighteen.

To be honest, it scared me. I knew what to do with pitter patter and flush. I didn’t know what to do with someone who could draw a Venn Diagram like nobody’s business, explain Greek philosophy about seizing opportunity as one might seize a woman by the hair, when it is caught up in the wind in front of her, (for once she passes, the opportunity to seize her by the hair is gone…) or spout Freud and Nietzsche.

Anyway, it didn’t matter. My time in France ended.

There is nothing at all romantic about why we decided to get married. Our phone bills were so unthinkably expensive (in the days before internet, trans-Atlantic phone calls were indeed very very expensive.) I was paying a full rent and then some on phone calls, as was he.

Plus the letters. All the letters. The paintings, the drawings, the Venn Diagrams. We probably kept the USPS and La Poste in business during that time. The global economy was resting on the shoulders of these two young people…

It was an economic decision for us to marry. Plus, he was going on an adventure: he was going to be teaching on the Caribbean island of Martinique, and there was no way he would go on that adventure without me.

The Mid-Life Crisis

Once I had babies, once my hormones kicked in and that potent mix of post-partum depression and peri-menopause took over, I started wanting to feel things again. Rightly or wrongly, this drive became stronger than I was.

It was, very much as Georges described it, an adolescence. By then I had been married more than eighteen years. You try telling your spouse of eighteen years that you need to experience romantic love. Especially when romantic love has never been part of your vocabulary.

You try defining exactly what it is you need to feel loved, admired, desired. Then try sitting your spouse of nearly two decades down and telling him that all this is missing.

It’s messy. It can be hurtful. The “why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” question is one that stung the most. Why didn’t I? Hormones, I guess. Numbness, I guess. Comfort, I guess.

By the time we had this conversation, I knew it was going to be complicated. I mean, we had one toddler who was extremely sensitive and demanded a lot of both of us. The other, just barely starting to walk by then, he was good trouble, but required constant surveillance. This was exhausting.

By then I had figured out how I could love myself better: doing my Mise en Place and my Ideal Life exercises had helped consolidate and provide solutions to many of the smaller annoyances that had crept up.

No one said that love was easy. Sure, it is a many-splendored thing. But love is not all we need. We need a ton of determination to make love last.

Love and Respect

I happened across a book entitled Love and Respect. It was not great. But it did say something that stuck with me: The person who is most aware of the problem is the person who must make the first step.

All righty then. I was the one who was most aware…painfully aware. I was on a hormonal roller coaster that probably wouldn’t be passing next week’s safety inspection, and unfortunately, I had dragged my entire family of four along with me for the ride.

I must make the first step. But what first step? Yet again, I heard Dr. Chapman in his pleasant drawl saying, “Well, I think I you know what’s next.”

I would need to learn how to speak acts of service. If I needed romanticism and touch in order to feel loved, I would need to learn how to keep the house tidier.

Now hear me out: this is not prescriptive. This was idiosyncratic to the hilt. This was not transactional. My remedial classes in Acts of Service were not going to create a one-to-one shift in our relationship, and I had no delusions on the matter.

But in the same way that two strangers who do not speak the same language must figure out how to communicate before they can start having a conversation, I needed to figure out how to make myself understood.

Knowing me as you do by now, keeping house is not my strong suit. But I knew, in the depths of my soul, that it was what it would take for my husband to feel loved. Keeping house would be what it would take for him to understand that I was trying and that I was investing in our relationship.

So, a good four years after that conversation with Dr. Chapman, I finally took his advice. I made a plan, and most of all, a plan to not say a single cotton-picking word about what I was doing. No complaining about vacuuming. Not a word about the dishes. Not a peep about the bathroom or the laundry or the recycling. I didn’t want to call any attention whatsoever to what I was doing, because I didn’t want to create any expectations.

And I’ll be darned.

One day, about three weeks into my experiment, he brought me home flowers.

Episode 46: Closet Inventory Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Antiquities, Costumes and Sentimental Items. The contents of our closets are not just things we wear, but we insist on treating them as such. It is useful to start viewing some of the things in our closets as souvenirs or artifacts.
  1. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  2. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  3. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  4. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?
  5. Episode 42: Giving Great Gifts

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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