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Love As A Second Language

It has been an exhausting sixteen years since I made the move from the “Windy City” to “The Land of Angeles” and one of the many cultural shifts I remember experiencing, outside of early closing nightclubs/bars, the lack of cohesive seasons and a questionable public transportation system, is the wide amount of ethnic ingredients that make up the our collective melting pot of races. Not that Chicago is even remotely ethnically monolithic but even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commented on the astoundingly stringent level of segregation that exists in the city [1] and my own experiences echoed the sentiment whereas opportunities to experience true multiculturalism where either mocked or frowned upon. Now Los Angeles is not immune to issues dealing with inequality and racism but with Los Angeles County containing 4.9 million Hispanics, or 9% of the nation’s Hispanic populations [2] , discussions of bigotry become more multi-textural and not so Black and White. The same is true when discussing interracial dating whereas the seas of beautiful people expand far beyond the “Two-Tiered” system of Black and White racial compatibility.

Furthermore, as cliché as the sentiment may be, regardless of the racial and cultural differences that exist, love is truly the universal language. However, as is the anatomy of language, misinterpretation is an unfortunate occupational hazard. What is said might not necessarily be what was intended or received. And while there is a basic understanding in the intent of the word “love”, contextual interpretations can vary wildly. This would always come to mind when I have entered into relationships with people of different cultures whose understanding of the word “love” was slightly misaligned from my own perception; particularly ESL (English as a Second Language) individuals. One of my own personal rules of thumb when it comes to relationships is that “everything is inadmissible before you say that you love someone.” In other words, if you are dating someone, anything that is done outside of that relationship should not affect the relationship if neither party has inferred a serious monogamous intention by saying the actual words “I love you”. For me, after the words have been said, accepted and returned, all bets are off; you are no longer single, you now are committed to each other. “Unapproved” sex with someone else is now considered adultery and should be dealt with on the level of someone who has committed treason. I personally hold the phrase “I love you” with a certain amount of reverence so it has been off-putting when people have uttered those words to me prematurely, like say for example… minutes into a clandestine sexual tête-à-tête in a bathhouse. Despite the solemnity that I hold the phrase, I can't deny the irrational hope when hearing it via sultry broken English. The desperation I had at the time for affection/attention is sparked by those words and my imagination just flies in hopes that against all odds and archetypal convention that maybe, just maybe, this could actually be love. But alas, hindsight is 20/20 and looking back at those encounters it is adamantly clear that while my paramours might have wanted to either express the joy they were having at the moment or maybe even wanted to extend the boundaries of our rather salacious liaison, their “love” was not my “love”, no matter how desperately I wanted it to be.

I also remember this sentiment while feeling the euphoric sense of joy in the beginning chapter of a prior relationship when they similarly expressed their love for me fairly early on and I implicitly did not repeat the intention but instead offered, “You can’t say that to me. We can’t say that we love each other.” When he inquired why not I replied, “Because we just met a week ago, and we are not lesbians.”

This fear of “love misinterpretation” was definitely on the radar in the beginning throws of my current relationship. Someone offering the sounds of crickets when you offer them your heart is not necessarily a deal breaker (it could just be timing, maybe wait just a little longer) but it is unavoidably embarrassing. And I did not want to pull the trigger too early myself with visages of stifling commitment, confinement and restraint swimming freely between my increasingly chilly feet. But with enough time, communication and openness, my feet did begin to warm up, as did other parts of my anatomy. Needless to say, when it was time to talk about love, commitment and all the extra accouterments that go along with it, we had the same intentions. We speak the same language; which comes in handy during moments of eventual disagreements.

In a prior episode of MaleMediaMind’s “Bear Essentials”, the contributors discussed The Five Love Languages as described by Gary D. Chapman [3] which consists of

  • Words of Affirmation, showing love through verbal affections

  • Quality Time, devoting time to give undivided attention to loved ones

  • Receiving Gifts, giving a symbol of emotion to loved ones

  • Acts of Service, providing a useful service that can benefit the ones you love

  • Physical Touch, showing love through the act of physical touch.

The purpose of identifying these languages is in an effort for couples to better express themselves in their relationships; with the keyword in each tenet being “love” because the word alone, though heavy with intention and feeling, in and of itself cannot sustain a long term relationship. Much like those deliciously moist words uttered by ESL individuals during a fairly thirsty time in my life, without subsequent actions and a shared understanding of the intention, they slide out of the system leaving you hungry for something more substantial. Love is what love does; it’s just a matter of making sure that what you’re doing isn't in vain.

During personal conversations with friends in regards to our collective relationships that sometimes relegates to an all-out bitch fest where we are venting about how our respective partners are wrong or misguided in one form or another, I more than likely find myself intoning that every absurdity that we have expressed with the utmost bias… should be discussed with our partners; mainly because I have found that “intent” to be one of the most misinterpreted aspects of communication. While you might feel that working overtime at your job fully expresses your commitment to the financial stability of your relationship, you partner might interpret your actions as an expression of you lack of interest in them because… the prospect of the intent was never discussed. It’s only honest communication that’s going to allow true intent to emerge and allow you to see, for example, that what you thought were the profiles of two people facing each other was only the image of a challis. Without explicit intent, that image, as well as relationships, can take on any form that your imagination will allow, even outside the confines of the others’ persons objectives.

And in cities as culturally diverse as Los Angeles, I think it is vital to be multilingual, if you will; being well versed in common day linguistics as well as the mutable lexicons of love. As our country’s cultural diversity grows with each passing generation, we have to adapt to the tonal changes made in the way we communicate to each other. Being effectively conversant with the ways people give and receive love can only help to close some of the gaps that exist between cultures as well as the microcosm of society that exists within our own homes and relationships. Because no matter what changes befalls us in the future, love will always be love. We just have to be well versed enough to be able to read the writing on the wall.

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