Love Languages: When it seems too easy

Remember that meme I talked about? The one with the lady who’s sitting, talking on the phone with a girlfriend and she says, “Oh, I’m just over here overthinking the joy out of everything.”?

Welcome to that edition of talking about Love Languages.

Remember, we are in the thick of a discussion of how it is possible to love the people in our lives, in spite of how we are feeling. I know how very awful that sentence just sounded, because yes, I overthink everything. We will get to that.

But I want us to remember that love is an inordinately complicated thing to define. Not only does it take on many different forms: from ooey gooey romantic love or a comfortable attraction to a new friend, or the painfully sweet love for a new baby, but it also exists on a spectrum: neutralish or pale to intense and flushed.

As if that weren’t enough, it has two directions: the love we give and the love we receive. In certain relationships we can find ourselves on a Hedonic Treadmill, even with love: that need for something more, something newer, something better.

If we spend our lives depending on the love of others to fill us, we will be disappointed. Because, as I have said before and I will never stop saying, no one knows each of us individually, better than we, individually, know ourselves. What we like, what we don’t like. When we are tired and don’t have the energy to spend on love. When we have so much excitement in our hearts that we feel like we love everyone and everything.

Love is incredibly complicated.

Love is particularly complicated when we do not entirely trust what we are actually feeling. That is why we started this adventure in the first place, remember?

What we know is that, deep in our hearts, we cherish the people closest to us, even if at this very moment, we don’t really feel it. Were we to take a razorblade and start scraping away at the layers of fatigue, disappointment, hormonal upheaval, distance, all those things that have served to numb our experience of love, there, under all those layers, we would still find, for certain people in our loves, the certainty that they are important to us and that we want them in our lives.

It is at this point in our lives, when love is a reality, but it is not something we are capable of feeling, that love becomes a choice.

The Criticism

Something happened over the weekend that got me “overthinking the joy” out of everything again.

You see, speaking the Love Language of one of my children got us out of a pickle this weekend, and not just once. And, according to my husband, that seemed suspiciously easy, almost, according to him, like manipulation.

And now I’m wondering. Is that what this is? Is that what an effort to show love in spite of how we are feeling is? Is it manipulation?

The question disturbed me in my very soul.

I have an answer to it, but it is an answer that is only valid once we have examined ourselves and our own hearts to make sure that we are not acting out of a desire to obtain anything. The answer–if our only intention in speaking someone’s Love Language in spite of how we are feeling is to make sure that the people we love know they are loved–is no. It is not manipulation.

Here’s the story: Scalawag 1 is incredibly sensitive. He has a heightened sense of…well…everything, really. He is sensitive to noise. To unfairness. Observant, to a fault. To the temperature of a room. To voices. To jealousy. To vibrations. Whether real and observable or perceived and theoretical, he is sensitive.

This weekend, there was an occasion for that good old fashioned jealousy bone to get picked. The details don’t matter, but what is important is that when he is triggered, this child screams, laments, shouts….he becomes a parent’s worst nightmare. When this starts happening it happens often, but we can go long weeks without having it happen. And not because there are no triggers. For, whatever reason, he is filled up and is less triggered. And then, boom.

It happens very often in periods of transition, like, surprise surprise, around vacations (like where we are now.) This weekend he was our biggest nightmare.

So in the midst of one of those random triggered meltdowns, I happened to say something, grasping at straws trying to remember anything we had ever done together that either of us had enjoyed to try and distract him from his meltdown. And in my mind, I had already gone through two years of our lives. I was back in March of 2020 now, suggesting things we had done during lockdown.

“You could do my hair?” I suggested, a literal last-ditch effort to get him to stop screaming.

Instantly, he stopped. Instantly.

“Okay,” he agreed, the tears gone, the shouting just a painful ache in my ears.

I couldn’t believe that he was agreeing, but not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I ran to the bathroom to get my case where I keep my hairbrush and rubber bands and hairclips.

I sat down on the floor and the child played with my hair for an hour, without barely saying a word.

This, naturally, stunned me. I mean, for one, having someone play with my hair is like ze way that I experience love. I am a touch person, yes, and that touch passes primarily through my hair or the skin on the inside of my forearm. Period. I have often had momentary crushes on hairstylists because my whole messed up system doesn’t understand context. Having blood drawn has made me feel like a creep, because, again, context.

So I couldn’t believe that the one thing that calmed this child down in the middle of Category 4 sensitivity hurricane was an opportunity to provide me with the one thing that I so cherish.

What is an overthinker supposed to do with that? I can tell you what: this overthinker kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But for an hour, that shoe never dropped.

When my feet had fallen asleep from sitting lotus-style on the floor, when my back ached from trying to hold my “perfect posture” while he brushed, rubberbanded, decorated with clips and headbands, when I finally couldn’t take another second, I asked him if we could take a break and continue another time. He agreed, but eagerly told me, “but we’ll finish later.”

Now. If it had taken something that bores me to tears, say, playing little cars, with my eldest to effectuate such a calming effect on him, I would not have felt so incredibly guilty when my husband said, “Isn’t that manipulation?”

But here, this was something I truly do enjoy. There was a tiny part of me saying, “Love needs to feel like a sacrifice.” There was another tiny part of me saying, “Maybe Scalawag 1 knows how much you love it, and maybe he speaks Acts of Service, just like his grandfather does.” Another tiny part said, “Stop overthinking this. Besides, what works once might never work again.”

On Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to test this out, because the exact same problem reared its ugly head. A conflict with Scalawag 2 drove Scalawag 1 into his tower to scream and shout. He was dead-set on making everyone miserable until he got his way. My husband had to leave for church because he needed to be there extra-early. The boys and I would come later.

So my husband left in the middle of a crisis.

He called the house maybe forty-five minutes later. My eldest answered the phone, then passed it to me.

“So he finally calmed down?” he asked.

“Well, he’s doing my hair right now,” I replied. “Has been since you left.”

You see, I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to see if what had worked the day before would work again. And it did. We ended up being late to church because my 6 year-old was playing with my hair and neither of us wanted to stop.

So now, I need to figure out what this activity represents to my eldest scalawag. Is it that we are simply spending time together? Could he possibly, at 6 years old, be sensitive to the fact that I truly enjoy this activity, as opposed to just putting up with it, like when we play Chess? And if this is the case, does that mean that, more than I had previously imagined, he is like his grandfather and needs to be provided opportunities to do things for others, in order to actually feel loved?

In the midst of all this overthinking, and questions about “is this manipulation”, I have one more thought: I am so unaccustomed to being spoken to in my Love Language that I feel simultaneously guilty—as if enjoying being loved is some kind of crime—and filled up on love and ready to take on the world.

If it is truly that easy to quell conflict and to fill up our love tanks, why do we not use this tool more often?

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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