If I had £1 for every time someone has called me “too much” or “full on” or “intense”, I would have enough money to buy myself a new personality. Alas, I am a poor student, and personalities have yet to become a sellable commodity, so there’s not much I can do about my nature. If I’m not being described as “too much”, I’m described as “dramatic” or “clingy.”
The Oxford Online English dictionary defines dramatic as “sudden and striking” “exciting or impressive” “intended to create an effect; theatrical.” Am I striking, impressive, and theatrical? Perhaps. They’re certainly not the worst of labels. I can handle being called dramatic, and it’s a part of my nature that I’m no longer ashamed of. But the rest of those labels don’t feel fair.
I like being validated. Why else do you think I would write upwards of 2,000 words about my emotions and regularly upload them to the world wide web? But lately I’ve realised my need for validation doesn’t come from being insecure or self-obsessed, it’s simply a part of who I am.
I endeavour to learn as much about myself as possible, to make my life easier for myself, and for those around me. I attempt this through astrology, the Enneagram, Myers Briggs personality tests, and through the 5 Love Languages. My relationships with other people are incredibly important to me, and they motivate me to grow into a better version of myself. I want to love people are fully as I can, and I want to be loved in return.
Something really important in any form of close relationship, is to learn about the 5 Love Languages. The idea behind them is that there are five different styles through which people give/receive love: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gift giving, and quality time. Each person has one primary love language, and sometimes a secondary one. For example, my primary love language is physical touch, and my secondary one is words of affirmation. Touch is instinctual for me: it’s how I show affection, how I greet people, how I comfort people, it’s what comes naturally. Words often fail me, but touch never does.
My secondary love language comes out in situations where I can’t express my primary one. If I have friends who don’t like physical affection, or friends who are living in different cities or countries, I show my love through words. I say “I love you” or “I miss you” or tell them all the things that make me think of them. Contrary to cliche, I find that words speak louder than actions.
Someone I used to be friends with once told me not to say “I love you” too frequently, because it would make the words lose meaning. Of all the icky things he said to me, that one has stuck with me for two years because of the sheer ridiculousness of it. I am someone who means everything she says. Yes, I say a lot of ridiculous things, but I would never say something for the sake of it. If I say “I love you” ten times in one day, it’s because I feel love that often. If I say “I miss you” all the time, it is because I genuinely do. I don’t say such things out of politeness, I say them because they’re the truth.
If someone has a different love language to me, this can be a point of difficulty and miscommunication. I come across as “full on” and clingy, because I am open and earnest about the love I have for people. I’m also physically affectionate, so people are bombarded with hugs and “I love you”s, and if it’s not something they’re used to it can seem weird. If you don’t like affection and emotional honesty, I’m probably not the best person for you to be friends with.
The problem is, compatibility isn’t just based on how we show love. When we initially become friends with someone, we don’t know them inside out, we don’t know how they act in particular situations. You don’t choose who you click with, it just happens. I seem to be a magnet for people who don’t like being hugged, and like to suppress their emotions. Because we show love in such different ways, a lot becomes lost in translation.
I don’t know most of my friends’ love languages. With the friends whose languages I do know, it has made the friendships easier to navigate, because we know how to comfort each other in a way the other will recognise and understand. Trying to explain it to people who don’t know about love languages is more challenging.
The other day I tried to explain to a friend why I need to actually be told that I matter to them, and that I can’t just infer they care about me from the fact they talk to me frequently. I don’t think they got where I was coming from, and it’s been on my mind since then, hence this blog.
If I don’t see/hear the words “I love you”, I will not know someone loves me. I don’t need to be validated constantly. I don’t need people to tell me they love me every day (though that would be nice), the issue is if I don’t hear it at all. One of my closest friends has only told me they loved me once in all the time I’ve known them, and that was whilst they were incredibly drunk. To hear those words once took away all the insecurities I had about that friendship. Another of my friends got really drunk and gave me this long speech about how I’m such an amazing person and how she’s scared of letting me down because I have such high standards. I had no idea she felt that way. The point I’m making is: words matter to me, and I can only work with what I’m given. If people don’t tell me how they feel, I won’t know.
And I get it, emotions are scary. Being vulnerable with someone is scary. But do you know what else is scary? Not knowing where you stand with someone, even when they’re the people you’re closest to in the world. Knowing your friends’ love languages is important because it means you can communicate to them in a language they understand. In theory, I know my friends love me, and I understand they show it in different ways. But when they refuse to show that love in a language I understand — and call me clingy for wanting that — it feels unfair. Compromise is important. It’s about respecting each other’s differences, and acknowledging each other’s needs.
This is why I stand by the fact that I am not clingy. Everyone wants to be validated, and everyone wants their needs to be met. If your love language is acts of service, the way you’ll want to receive love may come across as more subtle. Or if your love language is quality time, hanging out with your friends will seem like the ultimate expression of love, and you may not feel the need to say the actual words. I just happen to have the two love languages that come across as the most intimate, hence where the myth of me being clingy stems from.
Some people would describe me as high maintenance. I would argue that I’m very low maintenance. All I need is: attention, lots of hugs, constant reassurance, and an audience or platform that I can perform to. Okay, so maybe I’m slightly high maintenance. But I’m also independent and self-sufficient, and as much as I joke about my life being a train wreck, I am actually an organised and responsible person. I look after myself well.
I’ll amend my statement: I am high maintenance, but most of that maintenance is stuff I do for myself. I know what needs to be done, and I do it. Furthermore, I know what I expect from other people. When it comes to how I need to be loved, I value myself enough to ask for it.
But even if you lay out the roadmap of “this is what love looks like to me” and explain why it’s important to be told “I love you” or hugged frequently, there’s no guarantee the other person will take it seriously, or be prepared to do that. Emotional vulnerability is something that’s really important to me, and whilst it scares me as much as the next person, it comes as naturally to me as breathing. But it’s something others often reject. They tell me I’m too much, call me clingy, say I’m full on.
They imply that I’m too this, I’m too that, I need to be lesser. The worst part is, these criticisms are coming from people who love me. They love me, but do they actually love me if they can’t accept the way I show love? I don’t know the answer here, it’s just a question I’m struggling with. Because the people who love you most shouldn’t make you feel like you’re simultaneously too much and not enough. It makes me fear no one will ever love me in the way I need, that my love is too strong a storm for anyone to weather, and I will remain bitter and alone because I scared everyone away.
Perhaps there’s a reason why I’m a magnet for people who do not share my love languages. Perhaps there are important lessons to be learned from different expressions of love. But for me it feels like a battle. Because my needs are simple, and they don’t feel like a sign of clinginess to me. I hate that I have grown to feel ashamed of wanting and needing to be loved in the languages that come most naturally to me. Because loving words are beautiful, and physical touch is beautiful. And you should see me when I do receive the love I need, I light up, I am my happiest self. Last month a friend of mine was really drunk and lost some of their inhibitions, and they talked at length about all the things that make me special to them. They were uncharacteristically affectionate, they kissed my face when usually they don’t even hug me. I had never felt more loved by them than I did then. Logically I know that they love me all the time, not just when they show it in my love language. But love and logic don’t easily mix.
When I was in Berlin last year, I went to a Starbucks and ordered a coffee entirely in German. I don’t speak German, but I knew the right words to order a coffee. The barista asked me a question in German, and I 1) understood her, 2) was able to answer in German. English and German have enough linguistic similarities that I was able to figure out the meaning of the barista’s question. But could I write an entire novel in German? Of course not. I’ve written seven novels (and counting!) in English. English is my native language, it comes naturally to me. Similarly, I can show people love in their love languages, but it will be like ordering a coffee in German. It will feel simple and shallow, and I will be proud to have accomplished it, but all I will think of is the novels I could write if I were allowed to speak in the language that comes naturally to me. When I love someone, I love them with my whole soul. They will get metaphorical novels, and perhaps the occasional literal poem or blog post, because words are my secondary love language, after all. I want to write novels with my love, I don’t want to order German coffee. That’s not me being clingy or full on or high maintenance. It is simply that I know how deeply I am capable of loving, and all I wish is that someone would want to receive it.
All love languages are created equally. I am not saying the way I give and receive love is more valid than anyone else’s, because that is untrue. It is simply that love cannot thrive without communication and compromise. We cannot choose who we love, and we cannot choose how we need to be loved. Which begs the question: how can one continue a close relationship with someone who has a different love language and is unwilling to compromise? Is it worth loving someone who doesn’t make you feel loved?
Yes, I think. It’s hard, and at times it feels almost unbearable. But love is a beautiful thing, regardless of what language it is shown in.