Last year, I read a book called The Five Love Languages. I read it because Dan and I were having trouble meeting each other's needs. It wasn't a matter of not trying. It wasn't a lack of love or empathy or devotion. We were each trying to give the other person the wrong thing.
The book outlined how everyone feels validated in five different ways, and the combination of priority you prefer is your language. If you love someone, you will try to speak their language, and hopefully, they will try to speak yours. Knowing the language another person speaks is vital.
A person with whom I've been trying to develop a friendship here in Montana emailed me this week and told me that I wasn't speaking her language, and she was hurt. She didn't use that exact phrasing. (I'm too sad and ashamed to tell you the actual words.) I felt terrible (still do). I've always believed that friendships are a weakness of mine. I'm not particularly good at them, despite what I saw as making real effort. The email from my friend was like a punch to the gut. I had been blithely prattling at her in MY love language, but was completely ignoring the fact that she doesn't speak that one. She speaks another, and because I was ignoring her attempts to communicate, I came off looking like a selfish, shallow, and ungrateful person.
I'm not, but her image of me has been haunting me all week. How many other people in my life feel this way about me because they need different things than I do? How many of my friends have drifted away over the years, not because of something I did, but because of what I didn't do? How would I know if they didn't tell me? How am I supposed to figure out what language everyone speaks? I feel panic at this. How is it that everyone out there seems to understand these rules and I don't?
She was willing to talk it out with me, which was generous of her. One of the comments she made was that "words are easy", so she doesn't really care much about them. I was struck with astonishment at that declaration. I've never in my life found words to be easy, and in my world they mean everything. Words cut and slice. Words shine and polish. Words freeze or warm. Words can have so many layers of meaning that I might not even realize what's been said to me until days later when I've reviewed it over and over. I do that. I repeat what people say to me as if my world is made of paper-mache and each word is a piece of wet paper that I wind around myself to figure out my own shape and meaning.
Not only don't they, but apparently all the time that I have spent being careful and saying the 'right' thing to people has mostly been wasted. They haven't been hearing me because they speak another language. It wasn't that I've been using the wrong words, but that I'm using words at all. Other people don't really care what I say because to them, they are just words, not something to be valued or hoarded.
My grandfather was a crucial person in my childhood. He was stable, careful, and kind. He (and my step-grandmother) invested a large amount of time and effort in me as a child. He was a minister, and his life was words. He made his living with the choices he made in speaking. He could use words to change a person's entire world view, and he was good at it.
I see now that he was also good at every other love language. He did Acts of Service, he gave Gifts, he spent Quality Time with people, and he shook hands with every person he met (Physical Touch). He was a social polyglot. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I don't have his skill, but I hope that now that I see the problem, maybe I can fix it.
Until then, I'm trying not to let my friend's words wound me. For her, they were simply a tool, not a permanent structure for me to inhabit.