“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ~David W. Augsburger
The five love languages—a framework for how we give and receive affection created by psychologist Gary Chapman in 1992—include quality time, gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical touch.
As much as I love receiving all five demonstrations of care, I’ve always felt that my truest love language was missing from this list.
My love language is curiosity. I show others I care for them by asking questions, learning their experiences, and being hungry for the essence of them beneath the small talk and the pleasantries. I want to see them for who they are and know what makes them tick. And I, too, want to be loved this way.
Like many recovering people-pleasers, I spent most of my life over-attuned to others’ moods and needs, accustomed to relationships in which I did all of the seeing but rarely felt seen.
While I know that people-pleasing is usually an outdated coping mechanism from childhood, I also know that my ability to get curious about others is my superpower. Regardless of its origin, it is just as much a part of me as my eye color or my heritage.
This desire to deeply understand others is a quality about myself that I love, something that I do just as much in service to myself as in service to others.
For years, my curiosity often led me to play the role of confidante and cheerleader in my relationships. Friends, partners, and acquaintances said I was an “exceptional listener.” And while I appreciated their praise, I often felt that folks cherished my companionship the way they would cherish a finely polished mirror—a smooth surface in which they could admire their own reflection.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve determined that I’m no longer willing to be a part of one-sided relationships in which I know others inside and out, but they regard me as a foreign language. I want a person who can put their ego aside and get curious. I want someone who maps my terrain eagerly, who crests the peaks and sprints into the jagged valleys of my tales, who overturns stones for what lies hidden beneath.
As someone who spent much of her life feeling unseen, I notice when someone really makes an effort to see me.
I notice when people look directly into my eyes and ask, “But really—how are you feeling today?”
I notice when people share a story and then pause to ask, “Have you ever experienced anything like that before?”
I notice when others seem just as comfortable holding space as they do taking up space.
I notice when folks treat conversations like opportunities for co-creation instead of pedestals from which to preach.
I also notice when people ask perfunctory questions and, moments later, check their phones or stare off into space.
I notice when others use my stories as springboards to leap into their own experiences.
I notice when I’m interrupted repeatedly by someone who is so eager to speak that they can’t fathom making room for anyone else.
I notice when people use me as a sounding board or a therapist with no reciprocity in sight.
With time, I have learned to leave these relationships behind. They drain me energetically and, by participating in them, I teach myself that I am not worthy of more.
I distinctly remember a friendship where, after every afternoon spent together, my body craved a two-hour nap. I remember other connections that left me feeling hallowed out and sunken, like a withered plant that hadn’t seen a glimpse of sun in weeks.
Ultimately, it was my responsibility to shift this pattern and make space in my life for healthier connections. I could continue to feel victimized by one-sided relationships, or I could leave them behind and trust that I deserved better—and that better existed.
We co-create these healthier, reciprocal connections by communicating, clearly, what we need in order to feel seen. The love language framework is so valuable because it gives us a simple, casual way to do so. After all, we can’t expect others to read our minds and know automatically what’s best for us.
This is why I’ve learned to say to friends and prospective partners early on, “My love language is curiosity. I feel most loved when others ask questions and want to understand me.” By offering this simple truth, we give others the information they need to love us well. Whether they choose to act on that information is up to them.
If we find ourselves in relationships that are one-sided, we need to be willing to let them go, and embrace the initial loneliness that comes from leaving the old while awaiting the new. We need to learn to trust that we are interesting, that our experiences are valuable, and that our words are just as worthy of space as anyone else’s.
With every new relationship that makes space for the essence of us, the more believable these truths become.