Many people by now have heard of the five love languages – the five ways that everyone experiences and expresses love, developed and thoroughly researched by Gary Chapman over twenty years ago. These love languages include receiving gifts, physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Each person usually has one or two languages that they are dominate in and that is how they express their love and how they best experience love from other people, particularly their spouse and family.
When I first read this book as a young adult, it felt groundbreaking to me. I finally had validation for one of the biggest parts of my life. A part of my being that so few people seem to understand or appreciate. You see, my dominant language is receiving gifts. The language that I believe is the least understood and the one that people will probably look down upon. When I say that I need to get gifts from people to feel loved, I sound selfish and greedy and materialistic. When I give gifts to people, if I do it the extent I actually want to, I’m often made to feel ashamed and rebuked for “going overboard” or flat out anger at me because they don’t have anything to reciprocate (which is not why I give!!).
Unfortunately for us, Greg’s least dominant love language is receiving gifts. Though strangely enough, him giving me gifts is one of the things that made me fall in love with him. As 15 and 16 year olds, he would give little gifts every month on our anniversary of being together. He’d give me a sweet piece of jewelry or sentimental gift every January on our yearly anniversaries. He’d shower me with notes every day and write me full notebooks when he went on trips away from me and bring me flowers for no reason. He showed all signs of being a huge gift giver as a teenager, but it must have just been him blinded by young love because that is absolutely not his personality now.
I don’t mean for this to be an attack on Greg by any means. But it’s definitely something that has made our marriage more challenging over the years. He’ll buy me obligatory birthday and Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. But picking me up something on a random day just because he thought of me? Definitely not. In turn, the little things I get to show him that I care every week often go unnoticed or unappreciated. I honestly can’t do a day of errands without picking up at least one special little treat for each of my family members. I put so much thought and effort into every holiday gift, always giving little things on every possible occasion. The response is most often that I shouldn’t have. And no, not in a cute little way he didn’t really mean, but NO, you shouldn’t have, because it’s not important to me.
To be fair, Greg’s dominant love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. Want to know which two are at the absolute bottom for me? Right. So no matter what, we’re always missing the mark with each other in how we’re giving and what love language we’re receiving and internalizing AS love. I’d say the thing that’s holding us together is that acts of service are both pretty high for each of us. Acts of service can often been seen and felt as a gift, so I’m not feeling depleted entirely. Acts of service are quietly going about your days doing as much as possible to make the lives of the ones you love easier. Because we both do so well with this, our household responsibilities are split pretty evenly and for the most part, run smoothly.
Anyway, like most of the world, Christmastime is when I think most often about gift buying. It’s also when I spend way too much time thinking about my highest love language. I do it for birthdays too, but at Christmas, when every single person that means anything to me deserves a special gift in their hands, my brain kind of explodes. I want every gift I buy or make to have meaning and be valued. Most of our siblings and their significant others and parents have been making it significantly harder on me because they don’t create wish lists anymore and we don’t spend enough time with them to get the best ideas of what they might like most. And no, I’m not going to buy something just to buy something. It NEEDS TO BE thoughtful and well received. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, but it does need to fit who they are and what they will like. The pressure is real high, you guys. I love it. And it consumes me and maybe sometimes destroys the season for me.
Christmas as an inherent gift giver can be pretty overwhelming. I’d say I devote about a solid month of my time to all things Christmas gift related. The thinking, the research, the price shopping, the actual buying, the unpacking of all the online shopping boxes that arrive at once, the hiding in the house, the creating, the wrapping, the dividing for each location, the measuring out to make sure everyone is getting roughly the same amount of gifts with roughly the same value. Then there’s the actual in store shopping, where I often find my best gifts to give because I go on these treasure hunts and almost always happily stumble on something that’s perfect for someone and can’t possibly be passed up. But then I need to reassess again to make sure everyone is still getting about an equal amount of gifts. I also have to spend time making sure I have things for neighbors and teachers and postal workers (yes, because they work dang hard for me at this time of the year!!). And then there are the friends I want to get gifts for simply because they’re my friends, but I have to constantly be reigning it in because I don’t want them to feel like I expect something in return, because I don’t. There’s really quite a bit of reigning it in this time of year, which is starting to ruin the season for me. I want to give what I want to give. I don’t want to be criticized for giving too much or judged because I have a generous spirit and have a really hard time saying no when I come across a gift that will be perfect for someone. Unfortunately, all these adverse reactions to my gifts is truly starting to wear me down and take a lot of joy out of the one thing I seem to do really well.
Then there’s a part of the Christmas season that’s hard to talk about when your love language is RECEIVING gifts. The actual gifts you want for yourself. How can you talk about this without sounding like a selfish child? I don’t think you can. But yeah, I really look forward to opening my own gifts. I’m a pretty reserved person and it’s very unlikely I will outwardly gush over a gift given to me, which maybe makes it seem like I don’t care. But believe me, I really, really do. I get so excited about one of the only times of year I get gifts from Greg. I love that the boys still usually make some sort of art project at school that is meant to be a gift because the handmade and personal things are truly the most treasured. Really, any gift that shows a person knows ME is a gift I will treasure. Adversely, a gift that clearly has shown no thought at all is worse than no gift at all. Another thing that causes more trouble than good at this time of year. A gift with no thoughtful intent means nothing. I try to counteract these possibilities by trying to ensure my tank is going to be filled up, even if it means taking measures into my own hands. I spend a ton of time cultivating wish lists of things I would be truly joyful to receive. I make lists for the boys to try and ensure they will also get things they’ll truly use and enjoy. I’m in charge of filling my own stocking (and all the rest), so I use that as an excuse to pick up all kinds of little treats for myself. This year I even took things a step farther and bought myself two different advent calendars – a sticker advent from Pipsticks for the entire month, and a bookish 12 days of Christmas advent surprise box from Once Upon a book Club. In this time of the year when I’m focusing so much on gifts for others, I’m also giving myself two little surprise presents every day to keep ME happy. No, of course it doesn’t mean as much as someone else gifting me surprises. But self care and self love are important and this is what I do to fill my own tank at Christmastime.
There really is no point to this post, other than I needed to get it off my chest. I’d say in my whole circle of people close to me, there is only one , maybe two, other people whose stronger love language is gifts. Everyone else? It really doesn’t matter to them. Which is unfortunate to all of us! I am simply putting it out there to everyone that if you’re given a gift this Christmas season, or for no reason at all at any other point in the year, just be thankful for it! Don’t say you shouldn’t have, don’t comment on the expense, don’t flat out refuse to accept it. Don’t belittle the time and effort and thought that a person put into picking out that gift for you. They didn’t have to, but they chose to, because they love you. It matters to them. Maybe more than you’ll ever realize.