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We’ve all heard about the love languages. Whether you’ve seen Twitter jokes or your friends and family are trying to make you the original book, you’ve probably come across this concept before. But what exactly are these love languages, and how can recognizing them help you in your friendships?

There are five love languages: quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts and acts of service. They were originally published in relationship expert Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Chapman turned his success into a cultural and lifestyle phenomenon with conferences, events, a radio show and even an app. You can find out your own love language through a quiz on his website

Despite the popularity, there are still some misconceptions people have about love languages that narrow their uses. It would be helpful to address these before diving into how the love languages apply to friendship:

1. Love languages only apply to romantic relationships.

While Chapman’s original book focused on how to use love languages in romance, he has since expanded his series to include books for parents and singles. Everyone that you meet has their own love languages that they express in subtle ways. Understanding how they work will help you understand others to enhance your relationships. This article focuses on platonic friendships.

2. You can only have one love language.

People typically have one to two dominant love languages, but they usually carry a combination of all five to varying degrees. Just because your friend has a dominant love language doesn’t mean you should count the others out.

3. Love languages are all about receiving.

Many people look to love languages to see what they can get out of it. However, most people give love in the same way they receive it. A quick way to determine how your friends best receive love is to look at how they show their love to others. 

For each love language, I’ll give an example of one of my own friends along with how she shows her love. Then, you can read some examples of how you can best show love to your friends with that love language. Finally, once you’ve determined your love language and your friend’s, there will be a chart suggesting activities to do with them that touch on both of your love languages.

Without further ado, here are the Five Love Languages of Friendship:

1. Quality Time

girl and friends posing
Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

Katerina and I can talk for hours. When we were young, we would hide from our parents in my backyard treehouse to prolong our playdates. In college, we had to stop Skyping on school nights because we couldn’t hang up. That’s because Kat and I have the same love language: quality time. For people who speak the language of quality time, simply being in the presence of a loved one is the most meaningful expression of love. If you have a friend whose love language is quality time, here are some things you can do to show you care.

1. Go on “dates” with them.

You don’t have to save all of those Pinterest-worthy date ideas for your significant other. Take your friend on a picnic or sightseeing in the city as a way to spend time together while having fun.

2. Arrange Skype/phone calls when they’re away.

Moving to college can be especially hard on people who speak quality time, especially as things get busy and time becomes scarce. Make sure you take a bit of time to check up on them, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

3. Invite them to do nothing with you.

People who value quality time tend to be low maintenance about hanging out; they would rather spend time with you than go on some amazing adventure. They’ll be happy to talk, watch TV or even just do homework with you.

2. Physical Touch

two people holding hands
Photo by Albert Rafael from Pexels

For Elira, free hugs aren’t just a service — they’re an obligation. I’ve never been much of a hugger, so I had to brace myself every time I see her after a long time away at college. I never knew why some people valued hugs so much while others were indifferent to them. Once I heard about the love languages, everything made sense to me. Elira speaks the language of physical touch so hugs are meaningful and comforting to her. Afterward, I really grew to appreciate the hugs she gives. Here are some ways to show love to your physical touch friends:

1. Make sure you know where their comfort zone is.

Just because people like some forms of physical touch doesn’t mean they like all forms of physical touch. Ask about their boundaries to make sure they’re comfortable.

2. Give them a hug/high five at the beginning and end of every meetup you have.

Especially if you don’t see this friend often, these gestures will give them a meaningful memory of you and help them when they get touch starved.

3. Come up with a special handshake.

This tip works especially well for friends with wide boundaries. A unique handshake can show your friend that they are one-of-a-kind to you.

3. Words of Affirmation

\"you got this\" on a letter board

Hailey is no stranger to a long text or phone call. If I need to rant about something, she’s always ready to listen and offer advice. When I post a new picture to Instagram, she’s usually the first person to leave encouraging comments. Sometimes she’ll even send me a random text to let me know something reminded her of me. Hailey speaks her love with words of affirmation: one of the most popular love languages (most of the people in this article also exhibit it). For people who value words of affirmation, here are some things you can do to make their day:

1. Give them specific compliments.

When you compliment something specific about a person, like an outfit or a personality trait, they’re more likely to remember it later. See this article for more tips on giving compliments.

2. Comment on their social media posts.

Putting yourself out on the Internet can be hard work. Make sure you encourage your friends, so they know it’s paying off.

3. Show them off to others. 

If your friend has done something really cool or received good news lately, congratulate them publicly on social media or in a group message. This can often start a chain reaction of other people sending their own best wishes.

4. Receiving Gifts
woman giving a gift to another woman
Pexels / Daria Shevtsova

Nobody beats Nikitha when it comes to birthdays and holidays. From space-themed jewelry to self-care products to toys for my new dog, Nikitha’s gifts make me think she knows me better than I know myself. When our friends decided to do Secret Santas, she instantly took the lead in planning the exchange. Nikitha speaks in the language of receiving gifts, but she often shows it most through the gifts she gives. Here are some ways to show your appreciation towards your receiving gifts friends:

1. Keep a list of things they like.

As a sneaky way to give great gifts, keep a list of your friend’s interests on your phone. If they mention a favorite candy or drink for instance, add it to the list. By the time birthdays and holidays come around, you’ll be prepared with foolproof gift options. Note: If your friend has a Pinterest, follow it — it’s such an easy way to find out their interests.

2. Show them how you use their gifts.

If someone gives you a particularly useful or thoughtful gift, let them know. If it’s a new shirt, wear it around them. Or in the case of my dog’s chew toys, I made sure to send videos of her playing with them.

3. Organize a Secret Santa exchange or potluck.

Since most receiving-gifts people also like to give gifts, events like Secret Santas or potlucks give them an excuse to express love in their favorite way.

5. Acts of Service
water in hands
Brodie Vissers at Burst

When I go to Emily’s house, we never order food. Instead, we cook. For Emily, a fun time involves caroling at a retirement home or volunteering at a thrift shop. She always shows up early to parties to help set up and stays late to help clean up. Emily’s love language is acts of service; she gets joy from working hard to support others. Here are some ways to show acts of service to your loved ones:

1. Help them without being asked.

Many people who practice acts of service do so silently; they help for the sake of easing others’ burdens rather than getting attention. By offering the same silence, you show them that you genuinely care about helping them.

2. Never let them go un-thanked.

Even though these people aren’t in it for the attention, they are still aware of the sacrifice they make to help others. Be direct with them so they know their good deeds are noticed.

3. Write them letters.

I’ll be honest: I write letters for the aesthetic. But I noticed that the friends who most-often replied to my letters were the same ones that spoke in acts of service. Writing and sending is a labor of love. When your friends receive your letter, they’ll appreciate the time and effort you put into it. If you want to know more about how to write letters in college, check out this article.

Combining Love Languages

If your love languages don’t exactly match up with your friend’s, some of these suggestions might feel unnatural for you. That’s why I made a chart to help you customize the way you show love to your friends. To use the chart, find your primary love language on one axis and follow it to where it meets your friend’s primary love language on the other axis. You’ll receive a fun, personalized suggestion for an activity you two can do together.

Graphic about the love languages of friendship
Emma Charlotte Young

Emma Charlotte Young is pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising and Public Relations. Texas-born and New York-raised, she is currently exploring everything the Sunshine State has to offer. When not in school, she enjoys sewing, baking, writing, photography, and playing with her Boston Terriers, Millie Mae and Quinnie Pearl.