Feeling Loved and Being Loved Are Different

a drawing of a little girl standing in front of a white brick wall and a green lawn having just let go of a red heart balloon that's about to fly away
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I recently published an article called “When I’m Asking Why You Love Me, I’m Really Asking What Love Is to You.” I was pleasantly surprised by how much of a positive reception it received from readers. And how much of a conversation that formed in response.

That post is about how I realized after I went through my divorce that even though my ex-husband said he loved me all the time that when he and I were talking about love that we were talking about different things. And even though I’d go on to have a relationship with someone much more compatible with me (even remarrying) that the self-doubts still lingered about whether I really understood what my new husband meant when he said he loved me.

It’s True That Love Languages Are Good for Making People Feel Loved

During the course of readers discussing the piece, one commenter brought up the issue of love languages, emphasizing once again that it’s important to know what our love languages are and that we ignore the differences between them at our peril.

And on the surface, I definitely agree with the idea that if we want someone else to feel loved that we need to be mindful of what sorts of gestures are meaningful to them. I think that’s a good and important part of making someone else feel loved.

And whatever else my ex-husband had problems with, he never had trouble making me feel loved. My top love language is Words of Affirmation, and my ex-husband complimented me constantly. Told me he loved me several times a day.

You Can Feel Loved When You Aren’t

It wasn’t until we were divorcing, and my therapist walked me through the laundry list of emotional difficulties I’d had in that relationship and brought them to my attention that I ever had any doubts.

This might be the fatal flaw in having Words of Affirmation as a top love language: It predisposes me to falling for people who are all talk, no action.

If I had to guess, I believe my ex-husband’s top love language would have been Quality Time. He’d often say that he loved just hanging out in the same room with me. And it meant a lot to him when I started playing EverQuest with him (i.e., taking an interest in his hobbies). Same when I joined his D&D group. Watched movies he liked with him.

No way to really know for sure, however, since he wasn’t interested in interpersonal frameworks or any kind of social analysis, really. But this is the one that seems to fit the best, looking back over what he said and did.

Compliments didn’t seem to do much for him when I’d give them, but he figured out pretty early on how much I enjoyed receiving them. Intuitively.

And it wasn’t until the very end of our relationship that things became the most turbulent, precisely at the moment that he started to openly insult me. For me, it was always a matter of words.

But one thing was for sure: He was good at making me feel loved. He’d figured out how to do that without even knowing the love languages framework. Which buttons he could push to make me the happiest while exerting the smallest effort. And he did it well, right up until everything we had together crumbled.

My ex was good at making me feel loved.

You Don’t Always Feel Loved When You Are Loved

Things are quite different with Justin. His top love language is Acts of Service. Which means he’s a doer. And it’s super funny how much it thwarts my expectations. Words remain my top language and yet here I am with someone who will silently move heaven and earth for me.

It’s clear to me, if I take a step back and consider everything that’s taken place over the 8 years that we have known each other, that Justin loves me. But does it always feel like he does? On a gut level? When I’m standing in the middle of it?

Kinda… Sorta… Okay. No, not really.

Truthfully, the silence can be unsettling at times.

To Justin’s credit, he does try. But emotions don’t gel well into words for him. The best I can tell through talking to him about it is that he thinks and feels in more abstract shapes and concepts that are hard for him to express.

It does help that we both have the same second love language — which is Physical Touch. Justin is usually the best at expressing his love through his hands. He’s a great cuddler, gives amazing back rubs, and there are few things in this life that are better than when he washes my hair in the shower.

And I’m sure I’m no picnic for him either. I do try to help around the house. Do chores. Cook meals. But sometimes I do forget to do something I absolutely intended to do, swallowed up in a writerly haze. Which, frankly, sucks for him. And when I do complete chores, I don’t always do them… perfectly? Competently? I try, but the running joke around these parts is that I’m a viking (passionate and forceful but messy and accident prone), and there’s definite truth to it.

But in spite of all of this, he does tell me when I ask him that he knows that I love him. Much in the way that I can take a step back and intellectualize and figure out that he feels the same way about me. The evidence points towards a deep mutual love, even if it doesn’t always feel that way, since each of us isn’t expert at the other’s preferred mode (though we both try).

Feeling Loved and Being Loved Are Different

We slept in a bit late on the morning that I wrote this followup article. A Saturday after a long work week. And we took our time getting out of bed. Cuddling. Talking about the weird nightmare I had (which somehow managed to involve Ebola, a plane crash, and the stairs in my house moving to a place where I couldn’t find them — all in quick succession). Cuddling some more.

I asked him what he’d thought of the essay I wrote before. And if he knew the answers to the questions at the end:

Do we mean the same things when we say “I love you?”

Do you love me the way I want to be loved?

Do I love you the way you want to be loved?

What is love to you?

Justin thought for a bit. “I think,” he said after considering the questions, “If we don’t mean the same thing, then we mean very compatible things.”

“We’re close?” I said.

“We’re close,” he agreed.

And as I lay there in bed with my head pressed on his chest, feeling his breath move in and out of him, I reveled in that closeness.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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