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Author | Illustration Mariel Kelly

Adult Learning: Speak My (Love) Language

Dear Audra,

I need advice on how to date people with drastically different “love languages” than mine.

Since high school I have dated several people who are into giving me gifts instead of actually spending time with me or doing things that I understand as “caring about me” (checking in when it’s been a while, knowing what I like, taking an interest in my life outside of them and, as the Spice Girls would say, making an effort to ‘get with my friends.’)

I am super non-materialistic and try to be somewhat minimalist in my possessions. I get easily overwhelmed by “stuff” in my apartment. So it feels like by giving me these things (that aren’t usually things I need or want) and not being caring in the way that I need them to be, these people are kind of leading me to feel double-not-loved.

How do I navigate future relationships with this dynamic, since it seems to happen all the time?

Also, what do I do with all this stuff once the relationship is over? I don’t want these things but for some reason they are still hard to get rid of. I usually just put things in a box in my closet until enough time has passed and then I can throw them out and not think about them. But is there a better way? It seems like it should be really easy but it’s not.

More To Dust

Hey More To Dust!

I’m just going to offer a quick primer for folks who don’t know what Love Languages are: The theory is, not everyone shows and/or receives love in the same ways. For some people, physical affection is key to making them feel loved. For others, it happens when you do something nice for them, or use your words to tell them. And as you pointed out, some people just want you to spend time with them, rather than spending money on giving them presents.

Basically, you can take the quiz here and find out if you show/receive love more by gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, or physical touch.

I love self-help stuff more than most people for sure, so it is probably unsurprising that I find it illuminating and useful, and try to keep in mind the quiz results of my partners and friends. Because to me, the point of doing something to show someone you love them is to make sure they feel loved as a result!

That is what is bumming me out so much about your letter. Your dates are not paying enough attention to your stated needs, or are not invested enough in meeting them, and you feel as though you are the one who is failing. That breaks my heart! They don’t spend time with you or know about your interests or internal life at all, and then put you in a position of having to be grateful for them because they buy you things that are only going to make your life worse? Ugh!

I am so mad that these guys don’t think you are worth knowing, or worth being around, but expect to be allowed to make out with you. But I want to be clear that I don’t blame you for not knowing what to do about it. As I have talked about before, our culture isn’t really set up in a way that churns out a lot of quality guys to date. I wish this was not true, and I don’t exactly know how to fix it. I’m hoping men take the leadership on that one.

I talked to some great friends about this, and we agreed that gifts can sometimes be part of lousy relationship dynamics. They are sort of branded as currency of being a “good man,” but without any of the personal growth or sacrifice or strength of character.

None of this to say that gifts can never show care or concern about a person. Of course they can. (I am writing this on a computer my family chipped in to buy for me, while an air cleaner from one of my partners runs in the background, making it easier for me to breathe. Every day I wear a tiny silver fox around my neck that my other partner got me. One of my best friends recently got me a gift of a pottery class together, and I am so excited.)

Thoughtful gifts can let a person know that you care about them and want to make their life better. And in a capitalist society, the constant message is for sure that the best way to show someone you love them is by buying them something. So I try to be patient with that impulse. But at the same time, I am so exhausted by people who just aren’t paying enough attention to their partners to show them love in a way that will feel real to them and/or folks who want to be able to make a Grand Gesture in the form of an expensive gift rather than doing the sometimes monotonous daily work needed to have a solid relationship.

Anyway, rather than trying to rejig your own wants and needs so that trinkets mean as much to you as someone sending you a note that they are thinking about you, maybe it would be helpful for you to figure out a couple of things:

  1. What type of shared qualities do these men have that manifests as gift-giving in lieu of time or attention?
  2. What do you think is causing you to get involved with people who don’t share a Love Language with you?

As for what to do with all these presents…maybe turn them into an art project. Take a picture of each thing, and make a zine where you accompany each image with a specific way each gifter is going to have a worse life without you in it. I would buy a copy for all of my friends.

Best of luck!
Audra

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