The Morning: The five love languages at 30

What makes them so appealing?

Good morning. Why have "the five love languages" endured as a self-help phenomenon for 30 years?

María Jesús Contreras


The pastor Gary Chapman created the concept of "love languages" 30 years ago. In his hugely popular book, "The 5 Love Languages," he proposed that the ways people prefer to have love communicated to them fall into five categories, or "languages": acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts and physical touch.

If my love language is "words of affirmation" and yours is "receiving gifts," you may assume that giving me a thoughtful present will demonstrate how much you care, while in reality, I'd prefer that you write me a letter telling me as much. If we learn one another's love languages we will theoretically be able to more effectively communicate with our partners (or children or bosses or friends).

I searched my Twitter feed recently for instances of people discussing their love languages. The concept had morphed into a meme, a new and mostly jokey way for people to talk about the idiosyncratic ways they like to give and receive love. In July 2020, the writer Michelle Markowitz tweeted, "My love language is taking myself off mute to be the one person who laughs when someone makes a joke that bombs." The comedian and actor Jaboukie Young-White declared, "My love language is blackhead removal." The actress and comedian Jean Villepique asked, "What if your family's love language is Vera Bradley patterns?"

As Chapman told The Times recently, he doesn't think this meme in which people declare their hyper-specific love languages has yet resulted in the discovery of new ones. "To him, the memes all sound like 'dialects' — or versions — of the original five," wrote my colleague Alisha Haridasani Gupta.

Among my friends, a skeptical bunch if ever there was, there's a certain reverence reserved for the love languages. Are they corny, reductive and heteronormative? Perhaps. But once we move past the caveats, our discussion of the languages are usually about how helpful they can be in framing communication issues in our relationships.

Why do the love languages continue to appeal even to people who might otherwise look askance at a personality quiz? I think the language of the love languages themselves has a lot to do with it.

Chapman articulated five discrete methods of giving and receiving love, a simple organizing framework for needs and desires that often feel irretrievably complicated. Without precluding talk therapy or courage journaling or other more time-consuming efforts to tease out why we are the way we are, the love languages offer a quick way in. Take the quiz, discover your love language, get busy improving your relationships. It's attractively efficient and action-oriented.

The love languages get at a fundamental premise of self-help teachings — that we all want to be loved, to feel connection to one another. Or, as my colleague Ruth Graham wrote in Slate in 2015, begrudgingly admitting that Chapman's theories might hold some water, "When it comes to loving and being loved, even the most jaded and worldly often feel deep insecurity." She added, "If we can find some comfort and direction in a mega-best-seller with a tacky cover, so be it."

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📺 "Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Thursday): It is a time of plenty for fantasy fans. On the heels of a "Game of Thrones" prequel series comes another prequel, this one from Amazon. Set thousands of years before the events of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Hobbit," the show will trace, among other things, the forging of those titular rings as well as the rise of Sauron. (I'm hopeful he's not just a giant flaming eye walking around for the whole season.) Prime Video will debut the first two episodes just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend.

📚 "Afterlives" (Out now): Abdulrazak Gurnah, a British author born in what was then Zanzibar, won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. The last time a Black writer had received the honor was in 1993. (That was the great Toni Morrison.) So Gurnah's latest novel, set in German East Africa at the start of the 20th century, arrives in the U.S. with great fanfare. In her review of "Afterlives," the novelist Imbolo Mbue wrote that Gurnah is "a novelist nonpareil, a master of the art form who understands human failings in conflicts both political and intimate."


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Tomato and Watermelon Salad

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Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times. — Melissa

Matthew Cullen, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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