Leave it to a global pandemic to alter what we consider fundamental and comprehensive truth. In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains all of us show and receive love in one or more ways, the love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Over the last two years, we have witnessed the evolution of unexpected norms, political agendas, and societal hypertension. So it is no wonder that love has evolved too.
At first, I noticed the void at school, little humans full of wonder and worry. But it wasn’t long before I recognized it in my own eight children at home too. What was this, this vacuum that sucked confidence and well-being from otherwise healthy children? Praise, small gifts, hugs, or time spent together didn’t seem to fill their metaphorical emotional bank accounts. What was causing the bankruptcy? And then it hit me. The way we need to love and be loved has changed. It is the emergence of a sixth love language: reassurance. Every day, I witness children start their days with anxious hearts. Their anxiety is borrowed from our own and absorbed from a society that operates in a state of constant unrest. And though we may be tempted to dismiss our children’s feelings as fleeting or inconsequential compared to our own, it is important to validate the emergence of a real and tangible need, reassurance.
Involuntarily dropped into a set of less-than-ideal circumstances, adults struggle to put out an “I’m not totally losing it” vibe too. Maybe the facade is an act of self-preservation, of FaceBook pride, or more nobly to shield our families. But as a mama bear, I want to fix all the things. Our growing need to feel loved and show love through reassurance reminds me that fixing isn’t always possible. Coming alongside and reassuring always is. Reassurance tells our children, “I know this is hard. I know this is uncomfortable. I don’t have all the answers, but I love you and am right here beside you. We are in this together.” It tells our spouse, “This is exhausting and overwhelming, but it’s not your burden alone. I don’t know how this will end, but it is our shared journey.” The pandemic has challenged us to reimagine how we give and receive love. Words of affirmation begin to carry less weight than the heaviness of our worry. Acts of service and small gifts are limited in scope. Physical touch has all but been outlawed, and we hear ourselves saying things like, “Are you accepting hugs?” Little hands timidly seek mine for comfort and reassurance, and all I can do is smile and let my eyes confide, “Yes, we are okay; you are okay.”
The language of reassurance is not reserved for our children. It is shared between adults as well. We cannot be healthy for others unless we ourselves are healthy, but what happens when the world around us is chronically unhealthy and tired? Fatigue is an efficient machine; it can gobble up good intentions and spit out apathy with alarming productivity. We cannot always fix how tired this pandemic makes us feel, how emotionally fatigued we feel, but we can love each other through reassurance. Reassurance says we are seen, we are heard, and our support is a constant in a world of variables. Reassurance isn’t an answer or a fix; it is a promise. It’s not the over-promise-under-deliver language of, “You’ve got this.” It’s the real love language of “You’ve got me.” And, what better way to give and receive love than with YOU?