They say the Yupik people have 90 words for snow. But what if I told you, from my experience as a coach, not only are there five main ways (from gift-giving to dish washing) in which different people show affection, there are also at least 12 quite distinct meanings (from acceptance to trust) which each of us attaches to love.
If you haven’t felt especially seen, heard, supported, or understood over these unusual holidays, it could be down to a couple of relatively simple, common, and obvious factors. This year we’ve all been relying on a very small number of people for the sense of connection which in previous years a much larger group provided. You and those you care about in your social bubble may be communicating love in ways you simply don’t recognize.
When you say “I love you” to the most important people in your life, you may believe your meaning is clear. But love means very different things to each of us. You could mean “I take care of you,” while they see love as meaning “I’m curious about you.”
If you had to choose just one other word to replace “love “in the declaration “I love you,” what word would you choose?
1. I See you
It probably goes without saying, but it shouldn’t, that most people need to feel truly seen in order to feel loved, so “I see you” is universally important. Likewise, most people need to feel uniquely appreciated, valued for who we are, so “I appreciate you” is up there.
2. I Accept You
Full and complete acceptance, without judgment or conditions, makes “I accept you” the most meaningful way of saying “I love you” for many of us.
3. I Trust You
Trust is a fundamental part of love, so “I love you” can also mean “I trust you.” And a corollary of trust is honor, as in “I honor you.” While it may be difficult for us to understand, in some cultures the real meaning behind “I love you” is “I obey you.”
4. I Am You
As a coach, I find this worrying, but for some people, love means becoming one with another person, as in “I complete you” or even “I am you.” For others, love means bringing out “the best” in someone, as in “I believe in you,” “I expect (a lot) from you” or “I challenge you.”
5. I Adore You
“I adore you” may sound a lot like “I love you” until you consider the meaning of adore: “to worship, pay divine honors to, bow down before.” Very often when people substitute the word “adore” for love, they are communicating a conditional kind of love. “I adore you because you are so… brilliant, talented, gorgeous.” The problem is that the one who is adored can sometimes feel like they’ve been put on a pedestal that can easily be ripped away from under them if they fail to live up to expectations.
6. I Respect You
“I cherish you,” or “I treasure you” are perhaps a little less loaded than “I adore you,” but they still evoke the sense for the treasured of being a prized possession. Perhaps, because respect is associated with human beings rather than with inanimate objects, “I respect you” feels more real.
If you must “adore,” “cherish” or “ treasure” your loved one, be sure to let them know that it is because of who they are at the very core of their being, and not because of any achievement or behavior.
7. I Choose You
At the other end of the scale “I choose you,” proffers a love that does not have to be earned. It implies we have a choice in who we love, for which the chosen one is not responsible.
8. I Delight In You
Similarly, “I’m curious about you,” hints at love as a possibility to be entered into, rather than (as in the case of “I adore you”) an expectation to be lived up to. The same is true of “I delight in you.” When someone tells me they delight in me and are curious about me there is nothing for me to do. It feels light and easy.
According to the social scientist Gary Chapman, there are five love languages, each with its own complex vocabulary. We all give and receive in just one primary love language, and which language we speak is all to do with how we were or were not shown love by our parents when we were children. In adult life we either seek the love we were shown as children, or we seek the love we craved because it was absent.
9. I Treat You
If you feel most loved when someone buys you jewelry, takes you on vacation or brings you flowers for no reason, then your primary love language is probably gift giving. “I treat you” is as good, or better than ‘ I love you’ for many of us.
Do you prefer your love on a card, in a text, email or phone call? If words are your favorite way of being appreciated and communicating affection to others, then your primary love language is verbal.
10. I Show Up For You
If you prefer those who love you to express themselves wordlessly, without touch or gifts, and all you want is for them to switch off their phone and take you on a hike or just gaze (silently) into your eyes, then quality time is most certainly your preferred language of love. “I show up for you” is a distinctive way of loving for many.
11. I Take Care Of You
If you would feel most loved if your partner cooked you a meal, ironed your shirt, emptied the dishwasher, vacuumed the house, and ran you a bubble bath, preferably all on the same day, then acts of service is your love language. “I take care of you,” is another way many of us choose to show love.
12. I Embrace You
Is every tender caress worth a thousand words to you? If so, your love language is most certainly physical. “I embrace you,” is indeed how some of us say ‘I love you.’ And, while we can still embrace virtually or metaphorically, this pandemic has been especially challenging for those of us who prefer to show love with a hug.
As we enter 2021, still dependent on one, two, or three people in our social bubbles to give us the love which the whole community once provided, if you and those you care about have been speaking completely different love languages, it could be worth spending some time and energy learning to show them love in ways they understand, and teach them how you’d like to have love shown to you. A great start is to let them know how you understand love and ask them what single word they would choose as a substitute. You may both be surprised.
“I appreciate you”
“I accept you,”
“I trust you.”
“I obey you.”
“I provide for you”
“I adore you”
“I cherish you,”
“I treasure you”
“I respect you”
”I am you”
“I complete you”
“I believe in you.”
”I challenge you”
“I’m curious about you”
“I show up for you”
“I take care of you”
“I embrace you”
“I see you”
“I choose you”