All Together Now
Last month I wrote a post that mentioned a book my best friend recommended to me, called The 5 Love Languages. To refresh your memory, "the philosophy behind the book is that there are five 'love languages' or ways to express and experience love - giving/receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch." The idea is that everyone has a primary language, and understanding your own and those of your loved ones greases the wheels of your relationships in a number of positive ways, so of course this gave way to a conversation between me and Mike about what we felt our languages are.
His was easy - we both agreed without hesitation that it's physical touch. He's always reaching for a hand, frequent snuggles are non-negotiable, and a spontaneous caress yields audible sighs of contentment. Also if that dude doesn't get his nightly back scratch it's an express ticket to Sulktown. Mike's inclination toward physical expressions of love is a quality that endears him to me, and one that was easy for me to fall into step with, having come from a very demonstrative and affectionate family.
Identifying my primary language, on the other hand, proved to be unexpectedly challenging. There was no clear winner, as in Mike's case, and instead I found myself relating to all the options in equal measure. Who doesn't love giving/receiving gifts? Don't we all want quality time? Who isn't pleased by words of affirmation? Does anyone not appreciate an act of service? And show me one person on the face on the planet who doesn't enjoy a scalp massage and I will show you a soulless cyborg.
After some further discussion we gave up trying to answer what didn't seem to be a particularly urgent question, in order to focus on the much more pressing matter of a new episode of The Handmaid's Tale. But the issue continued to nag at me. Did my failure to identify more strongly with one love language over the others indicate that I was simply multi-lingual, happy to engage in any manner of expression as it suited the person or situation? Or did it mean I wasn't particularly proficient in any of them...a sort of Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none in the love department?
For some reason the notion that I didn't have an obvious bent bugged me. Not so much that I lost sleep over it, but enough to find myself privately revisiting the topic now and again in the hopes of solving the puzzle and coming up frustratingly short. But as these things often go, life rolled along and I thought about it less and less, and as soon as the issue faded from my purview the answer was handed to me on a silver platter while I experienced one of those aha! moments Oprah's always waxing poetic about.
Here's what happened. This past weekend, Mike and I decided to devote two days to only us & the girls - no social engagements, no family visits, and none of the usual fallbacks we'd become accustomed to relying on (movie nights, playdates, the same old walks around the neighborhood). We both craved a healthy dose of nature and an opportunity to genuinely recharge, and to connect to each other and to our children outside of our normal routines.
So on the first day, we took a beautiful drive to Ojai, a sleepy little town with a New Age vibe about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles. We spent hours playing in the park, roaming the quaint streets, and taking deep restorative breaths of smog-free air. It was relaxing and peaceful, and we could already feel the benefits of the change of scenery.
But it was on the second day that I experienced the aforementioned spark of insight. On the second day, we decided to go for a long hike in the Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, which was just a short 40-minute drive but felt worlds away from the hustle & bustle of the city. Just a few steps in and we were greeted by rolling hills as far as the eye could see, dotted with giant oak trees and a maze of trails criss-crossing across them - the perfect opportunity for a little spontaneity. We named Luna our leader and she took her role very seriously, carefully studying her options at each fork in the path before choosing our course. We pointed out wildlife to each other, we made up voices for the trees, we sang together. Every so often we would find a shady spot to rest and have a little pick-me-up (each of the girls had her own backpack which carried her snacks & water bottle). And with each passing moment I could feel my heart grow with love, with gratitude for the day, and with a sense of the deepest contentment.
I can only describe it as euphoria. I kept remarking to Mike how happy I was, how I wished we would do this more often, and that I felt physically and spiritually lighter. There was something about being out in nature, disconnected from our usual trappings and distractions, that allowed me to feel a deeper connection to the people I was with, my three favorite people in the world.
That evening we arrived home dusty and pleasantly exhausted. In the quiet of the house after we'd all had a hot bath and the girls had gone to sleep, I still buzzed with the heady intoxication of a truly perfect day, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: quality time. This was my language, it was clear as day. I was practically vibrating with joy, all thanks to a day spent in the uninterrupted, unscripted presence of my little crew. I turned to Mike and asked him to pause our movie so I could share my epiphany with him, and he nodded encouragingly as I told him how our time spent together had been like balm for my soul, that true quality time for just the four of us had to become more of a priority here on out, and that I could tell him without a shadow of a doubt that this day would be a cherished memory I would always look back on fondly.
In the few days that have passed since our weekend together, Mike and I realized that I'm not the only one feeling the bonding effects of our adventure. We noticed that the girls bicker less and cuddle more, and that our own tenderness toward them has never felt more profound. All four of us have grown closer as a result of our time tramping through those scrubby mesas and oak groves. That day was not only inspiring and restorative, but necessary for me to recognize the language I didn't even know I was yearning to speak. And it just goes to prove...it's not always distance that makes the heart grow fonder.