One of my husband’s love languages is Acts of Service. (Others include golf, tennis, beer, and Cleveland sports, but that’s not really relevant here.) You might have read the book, The 5 Love Languages? If you haven’t, a it’s good one. Essentially, there are five ways in which you show and receive love and you have a predominant type: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Gifts. So Ryan routinely does things like, mows the lawn, vacuums, and takes out the garbage and it is one of the ways that he likes to say, Hey, look at all this stuff I am doing for you… isn’t this making you so happy and feel so loved??
Before we ever heard the term “love language,” back when we were first married and more specifically right after our first kid was born, his “acts of service” felt kind of like when your dog or cat brings you a mangled, dead animal as a “gift” and thinks that you are really going to love it and cherish it as the prize for which it was intended. Say like dropping a dead mouse on your front porch or, like our black lab did when I was a teenager, bringing a half-dead possum into your living room and then proudly parading around as if it is something quite marvelous, assuming that you will also enjoy a sort-of-alive, bleeding, rodent as much as they do.
Since I am a Quality Time girl, I just wanted him to sit on the couch with me and ignore all of the things going on around us like untamed grass, dirty dishes, and sticky floors. Eventually, this would work in our favor because if I had married someone who just sat on the couch with me and happily ignored all the things piling up around us, we’d have ended up on an episode of Hoarders or, at best, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
But, as it was, because of this failure to speak the same “language,” it is truly an act of God that he escaped the first few months of Emma’s life un-murdered as he would routinely come home from work to find the house in a state of constant turmoil and bravely ask why I hadn’t finished the laundry or bothered to empty the Diaper Genie. And it explained why I was simmering with rage while he would take an entire Saturday to work in the yard after being at work all week, leaving me to continue my infinity-day streak of taking care of our baby. I felt like he was ignoring us and he felt like he was loving us.
Although, even after all of these years and even after acknowledging that we were both truly doing our best to love each other in the ways that knew how, I am confident in saying that I think I was a little bit more right. Because of, you know, the newborn freaking baby, the cracking nipples, the hormones, the 60 pounds of “baby” weight. Still, we were just missing the fact that there are lots of ways to say I love you. Also let the record show that Ryan has always been gigantically invested in our daughters, fully present in every possible way, and a loving, fun, strong presence in their lives. He is a great dad. But those first six months as new parents were rough… and this was most definitely a part of what made it rough.
I thought about this yesterday because I was hanging pictures. If there is a subset category for love languages, Ryan would also claim to be fluent in Picture Hanging. Not as in he is good at picture hanging because he is not (he took an entire Saturday a few years ago, hanging many, many pictures in our basement with zero amount of guidance and to say that it was a complete travesty is not being too dramatic), but as in, he likes pictures to be hung on our walls. I think it gives him a sense of permanence, a feeling of putting roots down… it makes wherever we are living go from a house to feeling like a home.
For Christmas this year, I framed a whole bunch of family pictures… starting with a favorite from our wedding, cataloguing the girls from their first year up to present day. I also bought him a painting of the Cleveland skyline to match the one we have of Cincinnati. Part of the gift was also to hang the pictures because we both know that I am good at the first part of a project but not so good with the follow-through.
I got all of the family photographs hung last week. I am so in love with the gallery wall… I want to hug it. It is so, just… us.
But the skyline painting sat on the dining room floor for over a week. In other years of my life, it would have stayed for months. Not letting him hang the pictures while also not getting to it, it’s like Ryan’s worst nightmare.
So yesterday I took five whole minutes and I hung both skyline paintings next to each other. And sure it made me happy to have that project done and the basket of picture-hanging-stuff gone from the dining room floor. But it also felt like something I was doing for Ryan. A sweet, little, dead bird on the front porch. So he will know just how much I love him.