My white friends have given me more hugs in a week than my parents have ever done so in my entire life. Aziz Ansari even joked about this on his Emmy-winning series, Master of None. This lament generally conjures a good laugher among our friends because it’s… true. Most Fujianese parents rarely show physical affections to their kids or loved ones. I can’t remember the last time my dad kissed my mom, or when they’ve hugged…. or held hands. That level of intimacy/affection was simply absent in my youth. What folks may not know is that how your parents show love to one another helps to map your REALITY of the world and that is a critical reason why you may feel out of place when it comes to social interactions.
If you’re Fujianese American, you’ve probably had those awkward cultural encounters when someone leans into your face for a peck on the cheek only to startle you with this level of public intimacy. This can bring on tremendous personal anxieties about how we fit into a culture that embraces physical affection and affirmation. In reality, this misalignment in the way we give and receive love isn’t just a cultural issue, it’s very much a human issue.
Gary Chapman outlined in the 5 Love Languages that people show and RECEIVE love differently from each other. They are broken down into: Affirmation (i.e. delivering a compliment), Physical Affection (i.e. hugging, kissing, sex), Service (i.e. cooking and cleaning for someone), Gift (offering something tangible), and Companionship (spending quality time with someone).
People will have different leanings toward certain love languages. This explains why two incredibly loving people can face a head-on collision as their relationships develop. If you communicate love through gifting while your partner feels loved through companionship, neither of you will be satisfied. You will continue to feel frustrated from her lack of reciprocity while she continues to never get what she wants which is your time! This is how most seemingly loving people fall out of love.
When I returned from a visit to my parents’ this weekend, I found literally buckets of prepared dinners and frozen meals in the trunk of my car. I was initially confused and even frustrated, as if they felt that I’m incapable of independently feeding myself. But this was simply how they show their love for me, through an act of service (prepping and cooking for me). Understanding that you and the people you care about may show love differently will often help alleviate the anxiety of miscommunication. I know it did for me.
So, are we doomed to an eternity of loving only those who share our language on love? Turns out, just like spoken languages, languages of love can be learned. I would argue that the language of love is an extension of our culture and can be widen through social conditioning, traveling, and embracing lifelong education in social awareness.
The reason why your parents never hugged you is because they already did when they spent the countless hours making you your favourite soup. Even if that made your car smell like braised oxtail and curry chicken.