I’m a horrible gift-giver. I usually realize this way too late, as presents are being opened and I’ve forgotten or don’t have money or really really really just don’t want to go to the mall. It’s not that I don’t like giving gifts though. When I do find something just right, I’ll buy it. You probably won’t get it on a specific holiday though. Perhaps a few days, (ahem) months later. But I promise it will be thoughtful and hopefully it will mean something. My lameass give-giving leaves feel sorta like a jerk when somebody gives me an excellent gift, because I know I can never top it. I have a friend who has given a unique gift to every single one of her friends for wedding presents. These gifts include a massive, hand-crafted wooden frame sent from Costa Rica, scuba diving lessons on a honey moon, Boston Red Socks tickets. When it came time for me to buy this specific friend a wedding gift of her own, I couldn’t think of a damn thing. I came to the wedding empty-handed.
Christmas adds stress to this fatal flaw. Fortunately my family hung up multiple gift-giving years ago, and now we only draw one name. This should make it easier, but not picking the one perfect thing for that one person leaves me dragging my feet. No, I don’t want to have a ‘crafty Christmas’ either. I don’t want to wrap anything.
It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family. It’s just doesn’t feel good. In the continual pursuit of learning communication styles, I am reminded of an old-school theory of ‘love languages.’ Based on the book The Five Love Languages (by Gary Chapman) outlines five ways to experience and express love. He originally wrote the book for marriage-type relationships, but it seems to work for almost every relationship encounter. As cheesy as it sounds, it actually works. The love languages gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch have changed the way I approach loving the people in my life.
I’ve only spent one Christmas away from my family. In 2010 I couldn’t afford a trip home during the busy season in Costa Rica and I was dating somebody, so I stayed put. My plans didn’t quite work out (read, I got dumped). On the 23rd of December I was left in my little cabin in the woods, loving the weather but feeling quite lonely. I had nowhere to go and most of my friends had left town. Except one.
“Let’s go to the Osa,” she said.
The Osa, the southern-most peninsula of Costa Rica is known as the most un-tamed, lawless part of the country. Although it has grown in popularity with foreigners, most don’t bother to take the track down past where the pavement ends and the real jungle begins. My friend Sarah had a dog, a car and a surf board and an empty passenger seat.
“Come with me.” She offered.
So I did. We wound our way down the coast of the country until we hit some of our favorite places. As we moved south we passed the caravans of tourists and got into the ‘real country.’
It was this trip that brought me closer to Sarah and closer to nature. We stopped at a café to rest and sat silently together. I remember standing breathless on the end of a wooden deck that overlooked the forest. Breathing deeply in and looking out, I began to weep. The beauty of all of it was incredible. It was the best gift I could have been given.
My love language is quality time. The hustle of living in the US and with friends in all different time zones leaves most of us with little extra time except to sleep. I’ve crafted my life around making time for people and things that I love to do. I consider it the greatest gift to get to spend a lunch with my father, a coffee date with my sisters, or making cookies with my mom. I love walking with friends around my favorite park and holding hands in silence as me and my boyfriend read on the couch. Your best bet as a gift for me is to invite me over for a home cooked meal and of course a bottle of wine. These gifts are priceless to me. More than filling up my body, they fill up my heart.
But some people need other things. I’ve come to realize that just because I suck at giving gifts, doesn’t mean I should try to give good ones. Being aware of how people receive gifts is as important as knowing your own love language. So this year I’ve decided to do better. Instead of giving up, I’m getting creative. I’m giving gifts of experiences; a dinner date, a play, a hot shave. It’s the perfect combination of giving in the way I love while also blessing others. It also helps me never have to go to the mall.
Love languages have helped me navigate how I can love better. Knowing these have changed my relationships and communication style with others. After all, who doesn’t love love?