Gary Chapman didn’t mention them, and for good reason. When he published his best-known book, The 5 Love Languages, in 1992, instant messaging wasn’t anywhere near as popular and social media platforms — which are now part of the daily lives of billions of couples — didn’t even exist.
New forms of communication
Today, texting and social media are practically all-pervasive. Memes are posted millions of times a day, and according to Emojipedia — a reference point in terms of emoji statistics — emoji use on X (formerly known as Twitter) has increased by 724% over the past ten years.
The reasons for such success? Emojis, memes, “snaps” sent via Snapchat, etc. have the power to express an emotion without the need for words. While there isn’t much statistical information available about the use of these forms of communication within couples, the fact is that they’re a new way of expressing love to someone.
According to Oxford University psychologist Dr Mary Kempnich speaking in an Instagram video (appropriately), the power of memes should not be underestimated. They’re a way of letting the other person know that you’re thinking about them, that you care, and that you want to make them laugh. In this sense they can be helpful.
A sixth love language? Maybe, but not enough
Using social media to express love may correspond to your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend’s love language and help fulfill in part their emotional needs. A big red heart may say just as much as a black-and-white “I love you.”
That’s the premise of Gary Chapman’s theory: If we want to communicate effectively with people from other cultures, we have to learn their language. The same applies to love. Your romantic love language and that of your beloved may be as different as Chinese is from English. Applying this to the case at hand, if your loved one isn’t an avid smartphone user, it’s most likely that an emoji — even if it’s in the shape of a heart — won’t mean much to them.
So, can these new means of expression constitute a new love language, on a par with the five identified by Gary Chapman: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch? Yes, especially for Generation Z, for whom social networks are second nature — but virtual interactions are not enough.
Our expressions of love cannot be reduced to a red heart, however big, at the end of a message. Virtual communication cannot do without “IRL” (in real life) dialogue, the fundamental pillar of any romantic relationship.
Real-life interaction is still needed
Full human dialogue presupposes (1) time and (2) physical presence, two elements that virtual contact does not offer. Love means taking the time to listen to the other person, as well as talking about yourself, your desires and your difficulties…
Marriage counselor Emmanuelle Bosvet told Aleteia that it’s vital for couples to take time to open up to each other, to reveal their needs, deepest aspirations, and emotions. This kind of dialogue says something real about you, and it’s a necessary part of marital intimacy. “Through words, we get closer to the mystery of the other person,” she says. Physical presence is also essential, insofar as it expresses complete availability to the other.
What are the benefits of in-person marital dialogue? Really speaking to each other helps us to love each other better. “If we don’t talk to each other, we don’t know each other’s hearts,” said marriage counselor Catherine Bernard. “And if we don’t know each other’s hearts, then we can’t adjust to each other, and therefore we can’t love, because loving means constantly adjusting to our spouse.”
In this light, a meme or an emoji seems a bit short-sighted!