Love Does (and Says, and Touches, and Gives, and Shows Up…)

Happy Valentine's Day! Here at Casa Sunday Supper, it's been uber-romantic: early-morning wake-ups from the girls, cancelled piano recitals, piles of tax forms on the dining room table, and a full day of cleaning bedrooms and doing laundry. Later, we're going to venture out into the single-digit temps and go snow-shoeing with some friends and then drink beer, because that's what you do when you live in Michigan in February.

So I'm not here today to write about love -- at least, not the sexy, schmoopy, long-kiss-in-a-movie kind of love. (I'm also not here to weigh in on whether or not people should see 50 Shades of Grey. I didn't read it, simply because I can't abide poor writing; there are too many excellent writers in the world who will never be published to give attention to terrible writers. And I won't see it, simply because I don't watch movies. Because I fall asleep. Honestly, the last movie I saw in the theater was Les Mis. Beat that.)

I am thinking a little about love, though, in the Sunday supper sense, which is to say, in the making-time-for-connection, showing-people-you-care, nourishing, everyday kind of love. When Jason and I were pretty newly married, someone gave me a book called The Five Love Languages. I'd post a picture of it or at least skim through it to give you one good quote, but it's living a sad, neglected life with all my books up in boxes in the attic because old houses don't have bookshelves and I struggle with making home improvement a priority. ANYWAY. What I do remember, years later, is that the book was a little on the cheesy side, a little hokey, maybe, and that it taught me something that's stayed with me ever since. 

The basic premise is this: Everyone has a "love language," which is their primary means of expressing love, most especially in a romantic relationship but also towards friends, family, and even co-workers. The languages are gift-giving, quality time, words of affection, physical touch, and acts of service -- and though most people use all these ways at least a little, most of us also lean toward one or two as our main way of expressing love as well as feeling loved and appreciated.

Not sure which of those is your love language? To figure out what you most crave, notice what you most often do for others when you want to show you care. If you're feeling especially loving toward your partner, do you take out the trash and do the dishes? Tell him how amazing he is? Schedule a date night so you can spend time together? Give him his favorite beer? Or take a cue from 50 Shades and . . . ahem. Whatever you're apt to do for your partner, that's ultimately what you're most receptive to when you want to feel loved.

Here's where Sunday supper fits into all that. I figured out long ago that my primary love languages are gift giving and quality time. It's true for my marriage, my extended family, and my friends. It means, for better or worse, in order for me to feel close to the important people in my life, I need actual face-time with them, and I need to feel known (which is what the gift-giving thing is really all about). It means I'm probably not the friend to call if you want someone to hold you close while you bawl your eyes out about something, but I am the person who will show up and give you my time any hour of the day or night. And I'll bring your favorite cookies, too.

I had coffee last week with a really smart woman I admire a lot. We had one of those weird, wonderful, wide-ranging conversations that happen sometimes with someone you don't necessarily know all that well. We talked about our kids, work, city, and friendships, and we talked about something that's been bothering us both. We noticed when you ask people to list their most important values or priorities, they generally say something like, "God, family, friends" or "Family, community, health" -- lovely sentiments, to be sure. That's not the problem.

The problem is that, so often (and I'm including myself here), the way we're budgeting our time and resources doesn't match up with what we say our priorities are. The way to check this out is by looking in two places: your calendar and your checkbook. So if you say "God, family, friends" are your priorities but the bulk of your time each week is spent shopping online, driving your kids to soccer, and exercising, there's a gap. If you say "Family, community, health" are your priorities but you're spending all your time at work, there's a gap. If we were honest with ourselves, some of us would admit that our priorities these days are actually "Email, driving kids to activities, and losing five pounds." 

Which brings me back to Valentine's Day, and love languages, and Reclaiming Sunday Supper. My gift-giving, quality-time-spending personality wishes I saw my friends more, wishes I could give them something I made with my own two hands. One of my friends, I suspect, just wants her husband to make a romantic gesture instead of always doing acts of service. One of my children, I'm sure, wants nothing more than to be snuggled and cuddled and touched. Another wants my undivided attention and my time. In any case, it's those gestures (or time, or snuggles) that express the love. Loving feelings are not much use, after all, if the object of your affection doesn't get the message in a language they can understand.

It's not romantic, exactly, but it is a good reminder, on a day ostensibly about love, to pause for a moment and ask yourself if the ways you're investing your time and your money are the ways that show love to the people most important to you. It's the nudge I needed to put a few hot chocolate dates with my oldest girl on the calendar, to be sure I take five extra minutes to snuggle while reading to the youngest one when I tuck her into bed. It's a good reminder to take a hard look at the calendar and the checkbook and be sure we're investing in the people we care about the most. And it's an invitation to Sunday supper, if you haven't come already. It won't be Valentine's Day when you come. But it'll be us loving you in the most practical way we know.

So keep reminding yourself: loved, chosen. Love is what we are made of, and what we are made for. Who you love, and whose love you receive, is who you are. It is the meaning of our lives. It is as omnipresent and provable as oxygen. In fact, it IS oxygen.
— Anne Lamott