[not according to Gary Chapman]
As a young child (between the ages of four and six, I believe) I was in speech therapy. I can remember the colourful hallways of Sick Kids hospital and a dark padded room that I'd later describe as resembling a confessional. But I could never remember, or never understood why I was there. I was told later in life it wasn't because I had a lisp or couldn't pronounce the letter "R." Apparently, I knew words and I knew meanings, but I wasn't attaching the proper meanings to the correct words. Trying to learn how to use language was not easy when coupled with my slight hardness-of-hearing. I discovered in an appointment with some other doctor at the same hospital a couple years later that I have oddly-shaped ear canals? Whatever that means, I guess.
In middle school I had this nauseating habit of saying "What?" in reply to literally everything anyone ever said to me. Not just when someone asked me a question either, that was my impulse after peoples' idle statements and commentary too. Initially I would say it because I couldn't hear what someone had said, say they were not projecting or speaking clearly. Problems arose when I started to also say "What?" when I didn't understand what someone had said or was asking me and I needed clarification. This was a problem because I was not communicating whether I needed someone to restate what they had already said more loudly or whether I heard them but needed them to restate what they had said in a different way so that I might better understand the meaning of their remark or request.
My dad loves telling a particular story about my time in speech therapy and a speech technique him and my mom were taught to use with me, one that he now uses with his residents at the hospital he works at. If his residents begin to mumble or get flustered he asks them the question pertaining to the task at hand and follows up with: "The answer is yes or no." Then they are meant to reply only with "yes" or "no." Glad to see my experience in speech therapy continues to plague other peoples' work lives 15+ years later. In all seriousness though, this must've been just one of countless exercises my parents had to scrupulously practice with me that would reinforce proper word-meaning association—in this example the words being "yes" and "no" with what "yes" and "no," actually mean, respectively. Equally as crucial was the training of my ability to express and insist that the people I am speaking to be clear with me about what they mean, and this second obstacle remains a work in progress. Words could not possibly capture the amount of love and patience required on my parents' parts to teach what appears to be picked up by most in very early childhood autonomously and with reasonable ease.
Needless to say, I am very choice with what I invest considerable mental strain in verbally expressing and even more intentional about what I mean to say when I do choose to say something. In late middle school and high school, however, I discovered an unexpected amount of freedom in writing. The amount of wait-time permitted by the listener for the speaker to gather and organize thoughts, and then to express them is far greater through writing than through verbal speech. In writing, as in fine arts and demonstrative gestures I have discovered my "love language." Everyone has their own and we won't always be fluent in the language that our lovers and loved-ones speak. Each one of us is challenged with the task of teaching the syntax and semantics of our love to those who demonstrate the patience and willingness to learn. Conversely as learners, we ought allow as much wait time as we can and to exercise our listening and demand clarification when something is not resonating.
Those three cruel and unusual words: "I LOVE YOU," no one knows what it means but at the same time we all know what it means. It's a shape-shifter, meanings of the word love change depending on the context and the truthfulness of the word in use might be relative to the definitions of the word harboured by the people sharing the feeling. These meanings are learned and re-learned through a series and conflation of unique experiences and projection onto subsequent experiences. For the majority of my life, even and especially my very early life (as if I am not still very young and in the early stages of my life), I have opted just not to say it. That's not to say I didn't feel it or wish to share that feeling with my family and friends. Quite the opposite, in my early childhood it was easy to express my love for my siblings by saying horribly insulting or condescending things to them, or even physically assaulting them. We do these things because we trust each other to take the joke and know that were anyone else outside our nuclear family to try a similar stunt that they could expect a kick in the shin. Sheer brutality and not underestimating our opponents was our love language, and I wish I could say it's evolved since then... it hasn't. It may not make much sense but it is hard to argue with the results: in my mostly mute years of early childhood my older sister, only 2 years older than I, was able to translate my thoughts and feelings to all the adults around us, including our parents.
In elementary/middle school I made friends with people that had slightly more sophisticated emotional intelligence than I had (at least by socially normalized standards). I spent a considerable amount of time trying to model new types of love languages after them because they were able to freely show their appreciation of my role in their lives and I wanted to know how to do the same for them. This is probably what people typically refer to as friendship. In early high school, one of these best friends took the initiative to instruct me in socially normal, even obligatory expressions of love—when a different acquaintance...or maybe it was my mom...or maybe those were two different instances (I warned you earlier, it's typically a repetitive process trying to get me to learn anything)? Anyway, she said to me "Sophie! You have to tell her you love her back." I wish it occurred to me at the time that I should have said that to you more often too. After the lesson finally stuck I tried to use those three words when the occasion seemed to demand it. One day in late high school, for example, my mom said "I love you" after dropping me off at school. I croaked it back before exiting the vehicle and walking into the building. I remember it really did feel like a frog was stuck in my throat, not because I don't love my mom, God forbid. No, it was because they didn't feel like my words. They just didn't capture what I intended to express to her in that specific moment. What I probably wanted to say was "Thank you for the ride. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to help me out. If it weren't for you I'd be waiting in the cold for the streetcar and would probably have missed first period. Also, if it weren't for you I wouldn't have a roof over my head, food to eat or even be alive." But that's a real mouthful! That's probably why people just say those three words. This lesson from my friend about "I love you" isn't all that different from "The answer is yes or no." The common lesson here is: short and sweet works best. But at the cost of true meaning and intention?
These past couple years, in an effort to serve both meaning and succinctness, I have regressed into my childhood muteness and slipped into a brand new, loveless condition. That's not to suggest that I am unaware of those in my life who love me dearly, it is only a description of the limits I have put on myself in my relationships with other people. I have learned to work from the assumption that people, as many others can attest, would prefer to be told what they want to hear than what you are actually thinking. In addition, people only want to hear from you if they have run out of things to say and would like someone to say what they are thinking for them. To paint a picture of what living for other peoples' entertainment looks and feels like would take an entire other post unto itself...which is why I made one! Two posts prior, please feel free to check out "The Masochist was on Top The Whole Time." Further breakdown can also be found in my poem "$corpios_have_feelingz_2," my video series "The Cool Girl Tragedy" and in this video poem below, "There is no feeling left in the loveless.".
I don't have an answer that applies to all cases but I can guarantee that especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and our collective social isolation, that some people's love languages are being stifled and that we all may need to try even harder to be patient with each other and be as instructive as we can to those we love about what ways we can share love during social isolation.