I had arthritis when I moved to Colorado to take my first job out of college. I still wanted to get some exercise, so I attended a water aerobics class two or three times a week. I loved bonding with the silver-haired set while exercising in the warm pool with the comforting smell of chlorine. At the end of each class, the instructor would have us each stretch our arms out to the side and then wrap them around ourselves in a self-embrace. “Research shows you need 20 hugs a day,” she said. “This counts as only one!”
Each time she said that, I worried a little. After all, as a single, I was lucky to get 20 hugs a month. And being new to town, I received fewer than that. How was I supposed to get a healthy amount of physical affection? I suppose a boyfriend would have helped, but there was none in sight. And work, where my primary contacts resided, definitely wasn’t the place for hugs.
I think many singles find themselves in this same predicament. In fact, a few years ago, the new job field of professional cuddling made the news. As weird as that sounds, it does seem to highlight a felt need for connectedness among the general population.
What’s Your Language?
Ever since I took communications classes at a Christian university, I’ve heard about the five love languages. Originally a marriage book that has been widely adapted to many groups of people over the years, Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” first came out in 1992 and has appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list. The book outlines five ways to experience and express love:
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
Obviously, marriage is an ideal setting for expressing and experiencing the things that make us feel loved in relationships. But what about singles? What about the single girl living alone in a one-bedroom apartment and finding connection with seniors at the gym pool? I think many people could attest to the need for a hug — or 20 — or a good conversation or a helping hand to fill their “love tank.”
I was thinking about love languages a full decade before I got married, and I determined fairly early on that my primary and secondary languages were quality time and words of affirmation. Fortunately, as a single woman with a good job, these two were fairly easy for me to find. I could meet friends for coffee and walks to fill up my need for quality time, and I was blessed with a supportive team at work that regularly affirmed my abilities.
But what about the individual who is most touched by gifts but has no significant other to give them? What about the single man or woman who craves physical touch but feels stuck in a “personal space” bubble? Or what about the person who is blessed by acts of service but has peers who are simply too busy to stop and help?
Because of these challenges, I think many singles are love-starved. Their love tanks are running on empty. That’s a hard and lonely place to be. So how can you feed your love language? Read on for a few ideas.
Looking for Love
First, identify what makes you feel loved. Figure out which of the five love languages apply most to you. You can read the book, take an online assessment at 5lovelanguages.com or just make an educated guess based on how you feel you respond to each language. Chapman says most people have a primary and secondary love language.
Next, add things to your life that fill your love tank. I remember one season when I went to a different friend’s house every night, filling my love tank to overflowing with quality time and the words of affirmation that came along with good conversation. I also co-led a Bible study and participated in an improvisational comedy group that met weekly. Immersing myself in people-heavy activities allowed me to experience the quality time and words of affirmation I needed.
This is what I like to call the “coffee shop” love language. Imagine just sitting in conversation over a cup of coffee for a couple of hours. Before I finally met my husband (in a coffee shop, ironically) when I was 30, I logged in hundreds of coffee dates with friends. Sometimes I mixed it up by getting a bagel with a friend before work or meeting friends for dinner. For me, time together — and lots of it — filled me up.
This love language is also very conducive to group activities (if you’re more of an extrovert): church small groups, club sports, community theater, special-interest groups. You will feel fullest when you spend a lot of time with people and develop relationships.
Words of affirmation.
For those of us who crave regular verbal encouragement and feedback, being single can be difficult. If this is your love language, definitely consider living with a roommate (preferably an encouraging one). Also, you may enjoy groups where there is a lot of discussion — book clubs, Bible studies and community seminars.
If you don’t get much affirmation in your workplace, you may want to let your manager know that you thrive on regular feedback and love to hear how you’re doing. This may not guarantee affirming words, but if you’re doing a good job, a little positive feedback can go a long way. As Mark Twain famously said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
While this love language can be particularly tricky for singles, research shows the health benefits of hugs and physical connection. If you’re a hugger, find other huggers. Recently, a woman at church came up to me, gave me a big hug and said, “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, but I’m a hugger.” While you obviously have to exercise caution with when and how you pull an “Olaf” (“I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs”), finding groups of people who are comfortable with physical touch can really fill you up.
Don’t discount other forms of touch — handshakes, shoulder squeezes, pats on the back and high fives all provide connection. And when human touch is hard to come by, connections with four-legged friends may be similarly beneficial. Studies show that having a dog is not only good for mental health, but it is especially beneficial for singles. A furry friend may be able to provide you with some of the touch you’re craving.
This love language would be highly unknown to me if it wasn’t my sister’s love language. Long ago, I caught onto the fact that it was very important to her to get a thoughtful birthday gift from me. And a simple “just because” gift card could brighten her entire week. If this is your love language, you may not be able to ask random strangers or new friends to give you things, but you can let your trusted circle of family and friends know how meaningful such gestures are.
You could also volunteer for gift-oriented ministries, such as hospitality services at your church or programs that put together care packages for troops or foster kids. As you participate in giving, people around you will pick up on your ability to give thoughtful gifts and will likely reciprocate. Because my sister is a master gift-giver, I am inspired to put more thought into what I give her.
Acts of service.
Like the receiving of gifts, you can’t exactly ask people to serve you … or can you? Though it might be uncomfortable, if acts of service feed your soul, ask someone to help you. Most people are happy to help when they’ve been asked. Need help finishing up a home project? Make an evening of it, offering dinner and games after you complete the project. One of my single friends recently had a “fence raising,” followed by a lively party at her house. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Asking for help can actually be a great way to build relationships.
If you appreciate acts of service, you most likely show your love by serving. Service opportunities attract helpful people, so volunteering at your church or in the community could be a great option for you. As you exercise your love language of serving, you may meet likeminded individuals who will serve you in return.
Give to Get
Feeding your love language doesn’t need to be a selfish thing. Don’t do it to feed your ego, your need for attention or an empty void inside. Obviously, your deepest needs can only be filled by your Creator and Savior. This is true no matter your relationship status. But nurturing an environment of connectedness with the people in your life can greatly increase your emotional health. The best way to get more love out of your life is to notice the love languages of others and begin reaching out.
Leave a treat on a coworker’s desk with an encouraging note. Rake your neighbor’s leaves when you rake your own. Invite a friend over for dinner or coffee. Give someone a hug. As you show others love in the specific ways God has wired you to do so, you may discover that your love tank is filled up in return.
Copyright 2018 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.