“Each person has a primary love language, one that speaks louder and deeper to an individual than the other four love languages.”Dr. Gary Chapman

Sarala, a junior in high school, considered herself to be thoughtful and friendly. Her favorite way to celebrate a classmate’s birthday, “spoil” a younger sister, or keep up with a friend was by sending little gifts. Whether it was a pack of gum snuck into someone’s backpack, or a scented lip balm mailed to her camp friend, she was great at gifting. Interestingly, her friend Chani would always insist that it was “too much.” She found all that gift giving to be “over the top” and unnecessary. She would have much preferred if Sarala just called for a few minutes or made time for a good conversation once in a while. That was what friendship meant to her.

Dr. Gary Chapman, a researcher and author, discovered that the ways in which we show love and appreciation to our friends and loved ones can be divided into five main categories. He also surmised that each of us have some ways we prefer and those that we don’t. Identifying the way you like to get and give love can be eye-opening. Let’s detail each of the five ways, or “love languages,” and perhaps you will figure out which is yours.

1. Words of Affirmation

Affirmation means emotional support or encouragement. If you use words to show that you love and care for a friend, you are using this love language. Affirmation doesn’t mean just compliments; it means any warm and kind remarks that you pass on to others. Something as simple as, “Can’t wait to see you later” qualifies. If this is your preferred love language, you especially appreciate receiving these warm words in return. Conversely, hurtful words may hurt you more deeply than for others who don’t primarily “speak this language.”

Leora confides, “When I make a new friend I am eager to call, check in, give a compliment, maybe send an e-mail of a cute picture we took together… It’s the way that I show I am thinking of her and that I care.”

Ask yourself if this is one way that you show and experience friendship and caring. 

2. Quality Time

This language may sometimes be referred to as “being present.” Showing love by giving someone your full attention is very special, particularly in our quickly moving world that encourages multitasking. If this is your love language, you may be good at staying focused and really listening to another person. You also try to carve out time to spend with good friends and be attentive to them. You may be extra sensitive to someone who is distracted when she is with you and perceive her as not liking you. In actuality, it just may not be her love language; it’s not how she naturally shows affection. In the realm of parents and children, we often see how much a parent being present is so meaningful to a child.

Ask yourself if this is one avenue you use to show friendship and caring.

  1. Receiving Gifts

Showing love by giving gifts can convey thoughtfulness, especially when the giving is customized for the person you’re giving to (like knowing exactly how a friend likes her coffee prepared and buying her the perfect drink). This kind of giving reflects a lot of thought and is an expression of love. If you speak this language, it will give you a thrill to find just the right thing for someone, and you yourself will appreciate receiving little pampering gifts. One important thing to note: If this is not your love language and you dislike receiving “stuff,” try not to use it as an excuse to avoid buying small presents for others. Generosity is something that everyone can get used to! It’s considerate and shows you’re thinking about other people. Similarly, if this is your love language, be careful not to be demanding. Wait for others to show their love in their own way (and only drop hints if it’s respectful).

Ask yourself if this is one way that you like to show friendship and caring.

  1. Physical Touch

All babies need cuddling. Many studies have shown that even if they are fed, cleaned, and cared for, babies who are missing a sweet touch often fail to grow properly. At worst, they may even die of neglect! As we grow, that need for loving touch matures with us, but does not leave. As Shira says, “I’m a very tactile person. When I am friendly with someone, I easily lean in for a hug. When I babysit my little nieces, they say I give the best chills. Knowing all that, my friends treated me to a massage for my birthday.” On the other hand, we all know people who genuinely don’t like being touched. They squirm when you hug them. They feel like you are invading their personal space. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it’s just that physical touch is not their thing.

You can consider what your style is and explore whether physical touch is your love language.

  1. Acts of Service

There is a famous expression, “Actions speak louder than words.” Demonstrating love by doing kind favors is the last of the five love languages.

Consider Miriam, nicknamed “the family finder” for her dedication to helping family members locate misplaced items. She can’t just sit by and lounge on the couch while there are lost keys to be found! Her care for others propels her to jump up and join the search.

We often find people who will borrow a car and remember to thoughtfully fill it up with gas. There are those who pamper others by doing the dishes. Certainly, acts of service does not mean one is a servant; instead it indicates love, care, and concern.

You can reflect on whether this is one way that you show and experience friendship and caring.

The Gemara mentions that one who gives a gift should inform the recipient (Shabbos, 10:2). This lets the friend feel cared for and may lead them to reciprocate the kindness. Words, your presence, or a warm touch, are natural gestures of love that are obvious to the recipient. An act of service, however, may be more subtle and less noticeable. The beneficiary who received the kindness might never even know it!

Nechama Leah’s father is a distributor of candy and snacks, so she has a lot of access to delicious nosh. She often places the orders for canteen and replenishes her school’s stash of junk food. Because she never lets it run low, her satisfied friends sometimes don’t even notice her generosity. Recently, Nechama Leah started leaving a note with a smiley face and her name next to the order forms as if to say “Nechama Leah was here.” In the words of one canteen head, “Nechama Leah is amazing and has been helping in ways that I didn’t even realize. She expressed her kindness by being helpful, but I didn’t show appreciation. Since she started letting me know how often she checks in and makes orders for us, I can be grateful and thank her properly. Win-win!”

Now that you have been exposed to these five ways of showing love, it is interesting to notice whether you gravitate toward one or two languages over the others. They are likely the ways in which you naturally receive and show love. Of course, there is always room to grow and develop new aspects of yourself and explore new love languages. Honing your ability to give in many ways (especially in response to others’ needs) is what life is all about. As with speaking languages, the more you practice, the more fluent you become. And don’t forget to ask for feedback from friends and family to see how well you are fulfilling their particular needs!

Remember, the five ways of showing love are not an exact science. Rather, they are ways to learn about expanding yourself as a giver, and understanding yourself as a recipient. Next month’s installment will include an easy and user-friendly quiz to more fully identify your style and maximize it.

(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 734)