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love language of the book lover

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I had a conversation with a friend recently about the concept of love languages and whether or not it stood up as a paradigm through which we can view our needs and wants in a relationship.

Supposedly, all of us can distill how we give and experience love into one of several categories, quality time or acts of service or physical touch, etc. This system is designed to be seen from our own perspective about how we think we like to spend time with our partner or what things are important to us in a relationship, hopefully enabling us to figure out our “emotional communication preference,” (per the Five Love Languages book and website.)

In college, I took an official Myers Briggs type analysis (INFJ, if you care) and before taking it, the proctor explained to us that we should think about our responses in terms of our preference, not necessarily in terms of how we would behave. I don’t know how, but I had absolutely never considered that people might behave in a way contrary to their preferences. I suppose I do this all the time, but I had never explicitly had that idea laid out so frankly to me before. It has stuck with me ever since. It struck me again during the conversation with my friend about love languages, when a question came to me that I’ve been thinking about ever since: do we feel and show love in the same way or is it possible to feel loved and appreciated through one language and yet show our love and appreciation in another?

My preferred love languages are physical touch and quality time. The love languages that don’t mean as to me when I experience them are acts of service and gift giving. I don’t need you to do things for me or for you to buy me things to show me you love me. Not that those things aren’t nice and appreciated. But honestly, if you want me to really feel connected to you, just touch and massage my back or my neck. Kiss me. Hug me really tightly. Hang out with me in bed while we’re both reading. Sit next to me on the couch while we’re watching TV. Put your arm around me. Touch me when you walk by me, just to let me know you are thinking about me. We don’t even need to say anything to each other, as long as I know you’re right there.

But I’m just not sure I show love in these ways. Or at least not with the same expression that I think is probably standard. For most people, quality time means going out, doing things, talking about everything as a couple. I’m not always happy doing that. As a serious introvert, doing these things a lot makes me feel the opposite of loved and loving. For me, physical touch isn’t about fucking every single day, twice a day. It’s the everyday intimacies that are shared between a couple that make the difference for me. So do these categories accurately describe how I show love? Maybe not strictly.

I also show love in ways that I don’t necessarily need for myself. I like to tell you that I love you, to verbally express my appreciation by saying thank you, to laugh at your jokes, to tell you what I think about you. I want you to know so I tell you. But words of affirmation aren’t critical for me to receive. I also love giving gifts. I pride myself on being a thoughtful gift giver because it helps me show a person how much I love them but getting them just the perfect thing that fits them to a T. But I don’t need gifts for myself, nor do I always like getting them. (I’m too frank for my own good.)

A gift I especially love giving is a book. Books are a massive part of my life and my self-ness. They help define how I relate to the world and how I define and relate to myself. I work through a lot by reading, processing emotions and fears through the safety of something separate from myself. Because they are so important to me, gifting books to others is an incredibly meaningful thing for me to do. It’s about sharing a part of myself with you. It’s a way for me to reach out. By accepting the book and loving it, you’re accepting and loving me.

Books are so personal to me. They mean so much in my life. If I’ve given you a book, I’ve given you a part of me. I feel lost when the book doesn’t mean as much to you as it does to me. I guess you’re just not that into me. So how can we separate ourselves from the meaning we put in the giving? How do book lovers cope when the books they give aren’t as meaningful to the recipient as they are to us?

I think the answer is to not give books as gifts.

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