An underrated affection

Off the Beat

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Six months ago, I took the love language test.

Love languages are the ways in which we express and experience love. The currencies of love, as I like to think of them, fall into one of five categories: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

With the highest possible score being 12 for each category, my primary love language at an 11 was quality time, acts of service and words of affirmation tied at seven, physical touch at three and receiving gifts, a pitiful, lackluster two.

The results seemed to fit. Above all, I felt a quiz-induced gift-rejecting hubris — satisfied by the idea I had done something right, not placing a substantial value on what I considered a meritless, material consolation prize to the other love languages.

Driven by my failed hand at giving and receiving presents, my hypothesis drew from feeling like gifts inherently store less value. Despite all of the Valentine’s chocolates I gifted as a kid, it’s usually the notions I believe are more abstract and thoughtful, such as a card’s message, that trigger emotion.

It’s funny — my mother is actually superb at gifts. At the store, she’ll sneak the novel or fancy pen I gush over but leave on the shelf and swiftly hide it in the shopping cart and then months later, effortlessly surprise me with it.

But from my basic knowledge of economics, the sparse supply of direct affirmations of my work or character throughout my youth translates to my stronger demand for “I love yous” or “I’m proud of yous” today. For that reason, gifts have always meant less and failed to be the places I’ve looked for love, as they were fruitless to the love I sought.

Three months after taking the test, I wound up back home. There I took regularly scheduled walks with a friend, whom I see as the most uplifting, nonmocking exemplar of the self-help guide “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.”

She’s the type to send postcards, call rather than text and want to go shopping with my mom even if I’m away at college. She’s grounded in a sense of righteousness and reason — something I, understatedly ambivalent, wish I had a little more of.

Earlier in the year, I had helped her pro-con out which silhouette cat sticker to put on her water bottle. Two months later at the end of one of our strolls, she gifted me one of the stickers we had contemplated.

When she surprised me with that long-forgotten cuteness, my heart softened. A little bit from the feline, but mostly because I began remembering all of the perfectly planned and fitting gifts she’d previously bestowed upon me.

Gift-giving — a currency of love I previously associated with an anxiety and quid pro quo to give an equally touching gift in response — began to feel like a really sensible, valid way to love.

By definition, gifts don’t insist upon a return. Many times, we forget this and either discard the idea of gifts in general or cash out on something flashy. But I’ve realized all love languages can fall superficially flat — I despair that my words were insufficient or that my efforts were overlooked.

And so, expressed poorly, gift-giving can be what I initially imagined: shallow and the prime-time test of gratitude as I unwrap an eighth set of lotions during the holidays. But when done well, gifts are a storied love, layered by shared moments, references and other love languages, emblematic of thoughtfulness, attentive listening and sincerity.

Some of the best — right after cat stickers — are experiences such as concerts, and some of the more typical physical mementos grant us a small bit of a treasured memory or human forever.

I can pack my friend’s belief in me and love for who I am and what I bring to the table just by glancing at the sticker that now decorates my water bottle.

It’s an archive of us, and beyond that, a satisfying duality for an affection I wouldn’t have considered a meaningful way to love.

Gifts offer so much more potential than the unappreciated boundaries I assigned them. Knowing that, I’m not sure it’s a way I can love, or at least as well as she does. But when I look at the sticker, I smile and lean a little more into a love language I’ve come to find underrated.

As my friend is someone who frets about getting the details of herself and the ones she loves right, her presents are just as much a representation of me as of her.

She bases her gifts in practicality and sustainability, particularly despising gag gifts. With that mindfulness, she’s able to wrap an experience, a part of her and crushing sentimentality into something as simple as a cat sticker.

Inspired, I retook the love language test a week ago. My scores ranked a 10 for quality time, words of affection running close behind with nine, physical touch moving up to five and three holding out for both acts of service and receiving gifts.

I’m not a touchy person, but I’ve correlated the spike in physical touch with hugs now being illegal. A bit surprisingly, receiving gifts didn’t comeback-kid its way to the top. So for now, I accept that gift-giving isn’t a way I usually feel loved or instinctually use to express my love. Instead, I know it’s a language I’m learning to love.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.