Over 25 years ago, Dr. Gary Chapman penned the infamous New York Times bestseller “The 5 Love Languages.” It was a revolutionary concept that’s still relevant today, and in case you haven’t read the book or taken the quiz, here are the cliff notes: humans express love and want to feel loved in return in five different ways — words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch.
Here’s the modern-day twist: some experts believe there’s a sixth omnipotent love language — food. “Food incorporates all the other five languages and all five senses. It’s a very powerful way of creating a connection and expressing love,” relationship and human behavior expert Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. tells SheKnows.
And as I think about myself and all life’s relationships — family, friends, and romantic — I’ve never felt more understood.
Food was motherly love
The ticker tape of my childhood memories was mostly set in the kitchen: my father, sister, and me sitting around the table eating Mom’s homemade chicken tarragon on a Tuesday night; Mom baking decadent birthday cupcakes for me to take to school; on Thanksgiving, all the women in my extended family buzzing around Grandma’s kitchen (wine in hand), whipping up no less than twelve dishes from scratch.
While other kids went to the McDonald’s drive-thru after sports practice, my mom had swordfish topped with strawberry salsa waiting for me after horseback riding. “Fast food” was not a term used in our household. Instead, meals brought us together as a family and were something to be savored. For my mother, cooking and providing for her family was her language of love.
Once I hit my teenage years, I became old enough to become equally impressed and intimidated by my mother’s culinary prowess. I’d huddle over the counter, watch her expertly de-seed a pepper, and ask: “How will I ever learn how to do this? Will I even want to? Cooking looks like a lot of work.”
Mom would laugh and say, “You love to eat good food, so one day you’re going to figure it out. Cooking can actually be kind of fun.”
Sharing is caring — especially when you’re cooking
Fast-forward to my early 20s: I was single and living on my own in a Manhattan studio apartment, just blocks away from some of the best restaurants in the world. But even then, going out to dinner didn’t interest me — I yearned for Mom’s homemade shrimp scampi and realized this was the “one day” she was talking about. So, armed with my mom’s best recipes (and some creativity), and I taught myself how to cook in my two-by-four kitchen.
If I do say so myself, I got pretty damn good at. And my mom was right—preparing a meal was fun, like making edible crafts. My ritual after every night of work became going all-out for myself at dinner by lighting a candle and sipping wine.
As I’d eat the fruits of my labor at my table, solo, my belly would get full — but part of me still felt empty with no one to share my food with. Yes, I love to eat well, but what I really wanted was to open a bottle of Cabernet and share my Tuscan tortellini with others. I wanted someone to tell me how damn delicious my hard work tastes, how great my kitchen smells, how impressive my presentation is. I craved a shared experience that lit up everyone’s five senses.
I started inviting my neighbors up, texting friends to stop over, throwing dinner parties in my tiny apartment, and dreaming about the day I’d have a significant other to enjoy my meals with while we talk about our days.
A recipe for long-lasting love
Then five years ago, I finally met Jeremy. Of course, I welcomed my new suitor wine-ing and dining me in the beginning (every girl deserves to be courted!). Eventually, I took out my big guns and hosted him for dinner: Maryland crab cakes with rice pilaf and roasted asparagus (which to this day, is still his favorite meal in my repertoire).
It was the first of many meals I’ve cooked for Jeremy. Our Friday date nights were my favorites: I’d brainstorm a dish to make that he’d enjoy (lots of spice, no mushrooms); I’d make an ingredient list and troll the grocery store; he’d come over to my place and we’d pop a bottle of wine while I cooked, and we’d eventually enjoy a multi-course meal together.
Oh yes, it was a lot of work. But despite the fact that I enjoyed cooking for Jeremy (and he always thanked me and did the dishes), my meals were a labor of love and were the way I showed Jeremy I cared about him.
No matter your love language, be a good listener
Then one evening, I mentioned I was tired and Jeremy said what you’d think would be the magic words: “Let’s order in tonight so you don’t have to cook — how about pizza?”
But instead, his offer triggered my defensive tangent: You’d rather pizza over my food?! Do you not like my cooking?
Eye-rolling at my dramatic outburst? I get it. But since I’m someone who speaks the language of food, turning down my cooking (and the shared camaraderie of eating it together) felt for a moment like he was turning away my love — when in fact, he was trying to show me love.
While I had been speaking to Jeremy in my love language, I forgot to listen to how he innately gives and receives love: with acts of service… like offering to give me a night off from cooking when I’m tired. So yes, we have different love languages (many partners do), but my upset rant about ordering in wasn’t really about pizza — it happened because I was so busy cooking, chopping, serving and eating that I wasn’t totally listening to my partner. And no matter what a person’s love language is, good communication on both sides is the foundation of every happy relationship.
Jeremy and I still continue Friday date nights in; sometimes I cook a meal for two and sometimes he orders us sushi to the couch. As we plan our wedding and our future together, he says, “when we buy a house, we’ll find you something with a big gourmet kitchen.”
So even if we don’t speak the same love language, we listen to and understand each other — and at the end of the day, that’s love.