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Speaking the language of love

This is a newspaper column masquerading as an anniversary present. In a few days, my husband and I will have been married 37 years. Gifts are not typically exchanged, but there will probably be a seafood dinner at a white-tablecloth restaurant and tender, reflective Hallmark cards.

He will spend long minutes in front of the card display. His ultimate choice will be thoughtful — always is. This time, I am choosing to publish, not purchase, my sentiments,

I attempted to do that at Christmastime this year when I composed a 100-word essay and submitted it to the New York Times for their “Modern Love” series. A smiling picture of the two of us, arm-in-arm, accompanied the submission.

We met at Cornell University during the summer of 1981. I was a single mother from the Midwest in my late 30s, one of five women attending a six-week mid-career mentoring program. He was slightly older, smart and well-spoken, a West Coast mid-manager with an international portfolio — in the final stages of a corrosive marriage.

From the first day, he always found a seat near me in the lecture hall. He helped me understand “opportunity cost.” I was smitten with how he problem-solved. Could this be love, I thought? It was. And almost 40 years later, it still is.

I share all this personal detail with a purpose and this question. Do you remember that feeling … that “loving feeling?” Any chance you’ve lost a little over the years? Maybe just misplaced it? If so, consider Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” (www.5lovelanguages.com).

As illustration, one of the love languages is “Affirmation.” It is my favorite. “Words of affirmation,” something as simple as the use of “please” and “thank you” can help bolster and sustain a relationship. But wait, you have other choices.

Perhaps you opt for identifying and experiencing more “Quality Time” with the person you love. As I age, I have new respect for early morning moments, coffee in hand, soft music in the background, reading the paper together and exchanging observations on the news of the day. Purchased “Gifts” are a love language too. They do not have to be expensive. My spouse went to the store yesterday to get milk and came home with a narrow-handled spatula I had mentioned needing that very morning.

My second favorite love language is: “Acts of Service.” Just opening a door for another person is vastly underrated as an illustration of caring. Or emptying the dishwasher when it’s actually not your turn to do it — I have it on 37 years of experience that it’s simple things like that that help nurture that loving feeling.

And finally, there’s “Physical Touch” — the most intimate love language. It’s that quick caress, a warm hug for no reason or a tightly held hand while crossing a busy street. In the first years of our marriage, I recall someone asking us about what kept us on an even keel despite busy careers and three often-warring-teenagers. My husband answered, “A glass of red wine and a backrub.” We still drink wine, but I think we should revisit the massage option.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.