Love Language Reflections: On Not Buying Gifts

This is a fitting topic for my birth month! Gift giving is such as well-known gesture to showcase thoughtfulness, affection and meaning, but it can get complicated at times. Then the act of gift-giving is muddied with feelings or anxiousness, resentment, burnout or the pressure of expectations. That is when, in my opinion, the positivity stops.

May is also the month of Mother’s Day, so for the the first two weeks of the month, there’s a wave of relentless advertising about products and services that people ought to purchase to make mother feel special.

Man wrapping a gift box, tying the ribbon.

For couples, I suppose there are three occasions where it is usually expected, or anticipated, by people that they will receive a gift. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries (or equivalent) or Christmas (or equivalent). For quite some time know, my husband and I don’t buy each other gifts for every single holiday and birthday.

I didn’t always feel good about it, especially in the beginning. It’s something I gradually got used to, and eventually appreciated as I got older. The more I get attuned to the constant, and frequent ways of showing care, concern, commitment, and affection to each other, the material goods mattered less and less. Any day, I’ll take my husband saying “I love you” a dozen times a day, than a shiny piece of jewellery every anniversary that will surely collect dust.

We are not super materialistic to begin with and we are both independent in nature as well.. So when there is a product or service that we need, we don’t wait for the next gift-giving occasion, or make someone use their money to buy it. We research, check our budget if necessary, and make the purchase in a way that works best for us.

I needed a desktop computer, since I have only been using a tablet (that I can connect to a monitor) for the past five years. But I don’t need or want it to be completely brand-new. For this year, I got a “half brand new” computer, meaning, I inherited some of his computer parts that he needed to upgrade, got a new case and new components, and got my own machine for half the price! That was actually an experience we treasure, because going out to stores during the restrictions due to COVID19 is quite an experience.

The peace of mind and financial freedom is actually quite incredible. The holiday season every December is so relaxed, because there’s is no need to scramble to buy or make a gift.

One way I have given him gifts is through my arts and crafts skills.I’m fortunate enough to be a crafter, so many of my gifts for him are artistic, one of a kind and also practical items. I first made a quilt, using our old Tshirts as material. As the years go by and we cohabited longer, it became apparent that it’s easy to run out of ideas for meaningful and utilitarian gifts. The quilts and pillow cases seem to be doing well in terms of longevity. And now, while using these items on a typical day, he would exclaim how much he appreciates these gifts “made with love”. I would exclaim how long ago these items were made, and they unexpectedly became mementos in their own right.

Living room couch covered with a quilt and pillow cases that were DIY.

For my brother, over several years, I have been giving him cash, and that seems to work well. It would be in an envelope with a heartfelt message and the dollar bills. Due to COVID-19, I know that many businesses don’t accept cash as payments anymore, so I sent it as an e-transfer, and included my heartfelt message in the message box. He is the only exemption to the rule, and I think in some ways it still counts, since I managed to escape the agony of choosing and buying an item he may not like or use, but instead, give something that would really of benefit as a young man. Maybe, the love language in that one, is that I trust him enough to know the best way to manage his finances.

Love Language Reflections: On Listening Without Judgment

Sometimes, we hesitate talking to the ones whose advice, support, and approval we value the most: our love ones. Whether that is our significant other, family members, or treasured friends, we are most afraid to be vulnerable to these wonderful people in our lives, because we are also afraid of judgment. A disapproving look or reaction from them would hurt so much more than one from a stranger.

The skill of listening without judgment is a very difficult one, and for our loved ones whose well-being we are very invested on, it sounds like not showing outward reactions is counter-intuitive.

I remember when my brother was dating someone who, looking back now, is not a great fit. The fallout of the breakup was pretty rough on him, he had to scale back the classes he was taking that semester. It took all of me to not tell him how he is “stupid” for staying or how “bitchy” she is for behaving like that. Making him feel like a failure is not going to help with recovering at his own pace and moving on. I told him more that once that in my first relationship in Canada I experienced through the exact same thing, the breakup was too much for me mentally, I dropped one class during the semester of winter 2009 and made up for it through an online course in the spring. By connecting what he went through with a similar experience I had, I aimed to not show harsh judgment for what happened. I hoped I achieved the goal at that time.

Just recently, I told my spouse about a dilemma I have at work. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector helping vulnerable people, gut-wrenching stories about people’s suffering is something I hear about all the time. As I shared to him my dilemma, I was very relieved that he did not mock me for my ‘over the top’ idea on how to possibly the client. He acknowledged how emotionally invested I have become for clients sometimes, emphasized the value of setting some separation between work and personal life, and suggested alternate ways to channel my frustration about the flaws of society.

A tactic to curb this almost-impulsive tendency to judge what we hear is to ask more questions. When our love ones vent about their situation, by asking them to rehash certain details, it can help them let off steam. It becomes evident that a reaction or advice from the listener is not even necessary.

Another thing I have learned, speaking of the idea that advice is not what they are seeking, is to actually listen to cues that prompt you to give feedback. Something like “what do you think” or “what should I do” or “any suggestions or thoughts?” And if this does not come up at all, perhaps they just want to vent. I think that people in general are more hesitant to say “I don’t need advice, just a listening ear and maybe a hug.”. Many times, this is actually the default. So I’m working on paying attention to this detail moving forward.

For my spouse, when I want to run something through him, I actually start by saying “baby love, I’d like your thoughts about something“. So, when I start my talk by jumping to the story, or even making complaining mumbling noises, he knows that all I need is a hug, a moment of sympathy, and a listening ear.

In many conversations, in many relationships we have, we take turns doing the role of the giver and the receiver, the supporter and the seeker for help. This form of love language is vital for all these valuable people in our lives, and also for ourselves.

The Bliss of Language-Switching

By: Giselle General

One evening, as I was taking the bus on my way home, sitting at one of the seats on the upper back level, I hear the person behind me talking to someone over the phone. This scenario itself is not new, but something caught my attention that made me smile.

He was language-switching. During the first three minutes of the call, he was talking in straight English. Then afterwards, he started speaking a language I don’t understand, but still, he has used certain phrases in English like “oh my gosh” and “yah exactly” and “only a few followers on Instagram”. I cannot remember much else of what he said in English, but one’s intonation indicates whether what the person is saying is a statement, a question, a story, or a comment. The tone of voice indicates also when the person is usually done speaking that particular sentence. Given that understanding, I was able to get a sense that over the next 10 minutes that I was seated in front of him, he eventually was speaking half the time in English, and have the time in the other language.

Given that I can speak more than one language, and that English is my second language, I totally understand the appeal, the convenience, and the comfort of language-switching. I’ve read a number of articles that lists different terminologies that don’t have an English translation. If the person you are speaking to can understand the hybrid statement that accurately gets your point across, it works out so much better.

Person speaking to a can with a string as a pretend telephone.

I’ve seen it myself in many occasions, especially with talking to fellow Filipinos here in Edmonton. The wary and shy look on their faces lifts up as soon as I start talking in Tagalog, which usually happens when I answer their question in the polite way, adding the word ‘po’, since that indicates that I know what that word is used for. When speaking to clients at our office after my cowokers call me in because they have hit a communication barrier they cannot overcome, there’s a sense of relief when I tell them, feel free to speak in English as much as you like, and you can switch to Tagalog anytime and I’ll translate it for you.

Having a communication dynamic that allows language-switching is also an indicator of how special your relationship is with that person. My brother and I do this on a fairly regular basis. Given that my spouse speaks only in English, and my brother’s girlfriend’s first language is actually not Tagalog, but Bisaya, I usually speak in English with them. With my brother though, I describe our language combination as “English with Tagalog with Ilocano expressions”. As in swear words, yes. It’s a more fitting array of language options for us, given where and how we grew up, and what we’ve been through.

My bet is that this is a common dynamic of every immigrant person, so it is not an unusual scenario. Just noticing this a few days ago made me feel nice which is why I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge it. It’s time to feel pride, not shame, at having a slight accent when speaking in English. I encourage people to start imagining “how many languages does this person speak?”. I think so far I know of one gentleman who speaks seven languages which is incredible! Being multilingual is a freaking superpower!

Love Language Reflections: On Food

By: Giselle General

The Generals, my father’s side, in my mind is the side of the family that rules when it comes to food.My father was responsible for that reputation. My limited childhood memories of him consists of him planning our meals and delegating our yaya (nanny) with specific instructions on what cut of meat, what vegetables to buy, as well as step-by-step cooking instructions. He would write them in neat block letters using the scrap paper he brought home from his office and hang it up on the fridge. On weekends whenever he has the time, he would make pancakes using a specific store-bought mix, but my young self watched in wonder as he would make sugar syrup from scratch. He would show me in the little pot the sugar and water combination while cautiously warning me that it is very, very hot. Now thinking about it, that makes sense since he works as the supervisor for the Safety Department in the mining town we lived in. It’s one of the small and loving memories of him that I’ll always cherish.

And then there’s his mother, my grandma, who also serves incredible food when we come to visit. My family lives almost an 8 hour ride from Metro Manila, where my father’s side lives. Whenever we visit for about a week and a half shortly after Christmas up to New Year’s Day, we get treated with grandma’s most popular and incredibly tasty foods. Almondigas (asian noodle soup with pork meatballs), embutido (steamed meatloaf rolled like logs), macaroni pasta, beef mushroom, carbonara and more. I learned that making party trays of these dishes is her main way of making a livelihood. If I remember correctly, for the payment she gets for the party tray, she is able to cook enough to fulfill the order and make extra for at least two meals for a fairly large family.

After my father, mother and sister passed away, my brother and I continued the tradition of this annual visit to Manila, and when we do arrive, we embrace the warm feelings from having these foods again. Grandma would always say whenever she serves a dish, something like “oh this one, your Papa loves it when I make this” or “I remember when you were kids, your Ate (big sister) keeps on saying this is her favourite.”

Now, I have been trying to replicate some of these recipes. Some more easy than others because the products that you buy here are a bit different. Instant Cream of Mushoom Soup is an example. In Canada you buy it in cans, while in the Philippines, it is in powder form. I messaged a cousin on Facebook for the recipe and made it one night when we hosted my partner’s family in our condo.

During our very recent trip to the Philippines in December 2018, as always my partner and I had to be deliberate on which restaurant we go to for meals, given his food allergies and sensitivities. A go-to place for us is this all-day breakfast place called Pancake House which we discovered and really enjoyed during our last visit in 2013 as well. This time around, we had a chance to go there with my uncle, the only living brother of my father. He said more than once that that restaurant is one of the two places grandma really likes to go.

My grandma passed away a few years ago, and I’m pleased to hear that my relatives try to make some of these dishes themselves. It becomes a positive point of conversation among them, and it is starting to be part of my life too despite living literally on the opposite side of the world. I guess it’s just fitting that during the upcoming long weekend I will try to make the Almondigas soup while it’s super cold as heck here in Edmonton. Memories, habits, personalities are transmitted and memorialized in food, a really meaningful and powerful love language.

Love Language Reflections: My Grandma

By: Giselle General

The first time I read articles about the concept of love language, it was framed in terms of romantic relationships. Giving gifts, quality time, loving words, helping gestures, and affection, are definitely key activities that help and sustain a relationship between lovers. That definitely made sense to me. And the fact that people have different preferences also made sense.

Recently, I have seen some articles that talk about differences in communication, affection and discipline when parenting children. The idea that “people function and react in a variety of ways” is something that I have been hearing about more and more. Perhaps then, for other types of relationships, there may be a variability in love language as well.

Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

The recent trip to the Philippines to visit family made me think about these a little bit more, specifically my maternal grandma, who predominantly took care of my day-to-day needs after my brother and I lost our parents and sister.

I don’t dispute, nor do I undervalue, the gestures and sacrifices that she and all my relatives have done. Having to take care of two orphaned grandchildren while grieving for the death of your own child, son-in-law, and grandchild takes a lot of work, planning, troubleshooting and sacrifice.

She seemed to think that I didn’t appreciate what she had done, what she has given. Conversations during every visit has a similar pattern. After berating me with these accusations of ungratefulness, she will switch topics and talk about the land we inherited from her, such as how the taxes, land titles, and selling them. My stunted communications skills around her, because of the lack of warmth and trust between the two of us, make it hard for me to persuade her otherwise because I just shut down. As a frustrated teenager, there was a time when I did flip out my elders, calling them out for not being warm, affectionate, cuddly and motivating. I mean, young children do need those in order to grow healthy, strong and secure.

Given Grandma’s poverty-stricken background, survival and stability is most likely a key motivator all throughout her life. This I learned from the stories she would tell me as a kid, a personal and history-based version of bedtime stories that parents read to their kids. I know that as she became older and started her family and her businesses, she gifted all of her eight kids including my mother as well as her siblings, with land, and that is kind of a big deal. My mother and her siblings also received one business such as a store, and had their post-secondary education paid for. I imagine that it took a lot of hard work to earn the funds for and I appreciate that.

Her diatribes include snide remarks about how “hugs and kisses” are not essential, and would proudly claim that she never spanked us for discipline or abuse. From a history-based, trauma-informed approach that I have started to embrace, I realized that her love language is providing tangible items that provide both short-term and long-term benefit. Since her own father passed away when she and her siblings were young, and suffered hardship from bullying and poverty, her standard of treating family members is simply the opposite of what she has experienced and that’s it. Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

With all of these in mind, I have made peace with the lack of affection that I received, and I feel empowered to seek that out for myself through other means. Perhaps in time, maybe I will learn how to display even some level of affection towards her, if only for a brief moment of time, before she changes the conversation into more business-like topics, like land and legal paperwork. These tangible items, which do cost a fair bit of money, are her love language, and will likely dictate the nature of our relationship for the rest of our lives.