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What does love eat?


In high school science we learnt that every living thing has to be fed. In the same way that trees feed on carbon dioxide and monkeys feed on nuts and bananas, humans live on a wide variety of nutrients that they gather from all kinds of different foodstuffs (If you shop at Tesco, this may even include horse meat!)
Some might argue that it’s not only living things that need to be fed. Fire for instance, feeds on fuel of some kind and then, of course, there is love.

Report by Thembe Khumalo

Depending on how far up the romance matrix you reside, you may believe and probably argue with some success that love is indeed a living thing. You would say that like other living things, love has birth, maturity and decline.

If your only measure of the necessary nutrients of love’s diet was Valentine’s Day, which I trust you celebrated with great enthusiasm yesterday, you might be tempted to believe that love has a voracious appetite, but only for a limited range of foods. As a commercial exercise purporting to celebrate an emotion that preoccupies the world to a shocking extent, Valentine’s Day somewhat misrepresents the authentic hierarchy of love’s needs.

I once heard a Nigerian preacher say that love cannot thrive where there is no money. I was shocked and outraged by this statement (I was still shockable in those days) and couldn’t quite reconcile them with the contents of my Bible. In retrospect though, I see that he may have had a point where romance is concerned and yes, of course, romance is important, but it’s not nearly as important as love.

The Five Languages of Love is a relationship manual written by relationship expert Dr Gary Chapman, which explains the different ways in which love can be expressed and the ways in which different personality types respond. He says: “Falling in love is easy. Maintaining healthy relationships is a daily, lifelong pursuit. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. Once you know ‘your love language’, you’ll understand why some attempts at romance work while others fall flat.”

(www.5lovelanguages.com) The five languages he refers to could just as easily be five diet types that love feeds on, and these are listed as:

  • lQuality time;
  • lGifts;
  • lPhysical touch
  • lActs of service and
  • lWords of affirmation.

Quality time is often misunderstood and difficult to define. Many people think this is a cheap and easy form of love, but with the competing demands of home work and family, it soon becomes clear that time is, in fact, an expensive commodity. Worse still, you cannot save it up to accummulate it for future use! I am not sure if sitting in front of the TV watching a mutually enjoyable television programme counts as quality time. I say this because the engagement being invested in is with the medium rather than with each other. I imagine that a love which feeds on quality time would need to have attention and engagement fixed on the object of affection rather than peripheral matters.

Most people can understand how gifts convey love as this is a universal expression of esteem. The trouble comes in equating the value of the gift with the intensity of the emotion felt. If I give you a $2 gift, it doesn’t mean I love you less than the guy who gives you a $100 gift — particularly if my $2 gift is more thoughtfully chosen and, therefore, more meaningful than his.

Physical touch is a tricky one for some of our African brothers and sisters. Public display of affection is still frowned upon in many of our communities and so those whose love feeds on physical touch must confine their feeding to private spaces and opportunities — which could result in a whole other set of challenges.

Acts of service are probably the most potentially explosive form of love food in relationships. I say this because it’s difficult to define where voluntary service ends and duty begins. The expectations of those being served are often not in tandem with those of the one providing the service.

Mark Twain once said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Clearly, this was a man whose love diet was words of affirmation. Words have the power to pull together a relationship that is drifting apart, but words can also sever ties that would otherwise be strong.

I am not sure if Dr Chapman’s classifications alone are sufficient to cover the many ways in which we express love and need love to be expressed to us. I am thinking, for instance, about Zulu beadwork. Traditionally, each piece of beadwork was put together with colours and shapes symbolising specific emotions. A woman could put together a piece of beadwork to send to her sweetheart and by interpreting the colours and patterns, he would be able to understand the state of her heart. Now that’s romance! Furthermore, although Zulu beading was worn by both men and women, it was made exclusively by women, so it would be clear to see which man was involved in a serious relationship with a woman by the beads he wore.

So, while I am a sucker for verbal affirmation and I can appreciate a thoughtful gift, if I was in the market for love, any hopefuls intending to catch my eye would have to go the route of my roots and try to entice the appetite of my love with a dish of traditional Zulu beads.

  • lThembe Khumalo writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/localdrummerzw

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