Editorials, Opinion

Editorial Encore: Say ‘I love you’ in the right language

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s editorial has been adapted from one that originally published Nov. 30, 2022.

“Research shows holiday shoppers often don’t buy what recipients want.”             

The research by Julian Givi, an assistant professor of marketing at the WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics, records some interesting trends, including that there’s often a disconnect between what gift-givers think their friends and family want and what the gift-receiver actually wants.

On the giver’s side, Givi noted a reluctance to purchase items that seem “lesser” than what the giver owns, even if the receiver doesn’t want or need all the bells or whistles. That one makes sense: No one wants to give a gift that unintentionally says, “I think you deserve less than I do.” Part of a present’s purpose is to communicate, “I value you and our relationship,” and givers understandably want to avoid insulting the receiver by giving an “inferior” gift.

Givi also noticed givers were reluctant to cross ideological lines to get the perfect present. There’s a degree of logic to this, too: We can love a person and not agree with everything they do or like, and we may be hesitant to compromise our own values by supporting a business with which we don’t agree.

On the receivers’ side, Givi found that recipients often liked receiving sentimental or unconventional gifts, citing handwritten notes for the holidays or e-readers for Valentine’s Day.

After reading about Givi’s research, we think there’s one specific disconnect that’s missing: Conflicting love languages.

Love languages are the ways that people like to receive and express affection and appreciation. There are five primary love languages: Words of affirmation (“I love you,” “I’m proud of you”), acts of service (cleaning the house, doing the laundry), gifts (self-explanatory), quality time (date night, chilling together at home) and physical touch (hugging, cuddling). Most people have more than one love language, usually in a hierarchy of most preferred to least preferred, and a person can have a giving language that’s different from their receiving language. For example, someone may love to give gifts but would rather receive quality time in return.

Sometimes, finding the perfect gift means the giver must set aside their own love language. Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with cards, chocolates, jewelry, flowers and/or a romantic date night (usually at a fancy restaurant). Maybe that’s what your loved one wants.

But maybe your loved one would rather have a quiet night in, cuddled up on the couch. Maybe they’d rather you bake their favorite box-mix cake than get an expensive box of chocolates. (Or maybe they don’t like chocolate at all but would love a bag of sour candy or chips.)  Maybe they’d rather have a couple hand-picked flowers over an expensive floral arrangement or a handwritten note over a store-bought card. Maybe they don’t want a physical gift at all — just your undivided attention or to have a night off from their usual chores.    

So as you think about the perfect present for your valentine, think about what that person values most. You may have to approach the giving from a different love language perspective, but it will be worth it when you find the gift that’s just right.