You might be one of the zillions of people who have snuggled up beside your lovebug and cracked open Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages —a book that seems to promise some serious level-ups to any couple willing and able to spend some time reading and thinking and talking. Is your main squeeze a speaker of words of affirmation? Or are they more an acts of service type? Hopefully both of you are into quality time, and that said time reading the book together fit the bill.
While I wasn’t in love with his writing style, Chapman certainly has provided many couples with a new toolbox to make major and minor repairs and renovations to their relationship. He gave them vocabulary, which is the only way we can understand and express our experiences in the world. So, good job, dude.
I think about love a lot because I’m a human being, and I think about language a lot because I am who I am (see also: just some dude who writes on the Internet). So I’ve thought through these five languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. It seems like a pretty well-rounded list, but for someone like me who dives into language like it’s Uncle Scrooge’s money bin from DuckTales, I felt the list was incomplete—that he has missed one of the languages.
What about language? What about language itself? And I know he lists “words of affirmation,” which is literal language, yes. But it’s not quite what I mean here. What I’m talking about is the language of lovers, and though I don’t always or even often turn to him for advice on love, Stephen King knows just what I am trying to say.
I read Lisey’s Story knowing little more about it than that it followed a female protagonist and that it was said to be pretty dang romantic. The words “pretty dang romantic” tend to prick my ears so I gave it a go and I loved it enormously. I will be the first in line to complain the Stephen King’s female characters are often problematic, frequently weak, and more often than not rely on men even though they could have figured it out for themselves. There are exceptions, of course, but on the whole it’s my biggest gripe with his otherwise phenomenal stuff. Lisey Landon is pretty tough, very resilient, brave, and can handle herself and some pretty messed up fantastical danger just fine, thank you.
While not every book has a thesis, Lisey’s Story definitely does. It’s a book about language. The leitmotif that surfaces again and again in this symphony is that humanity shares a language pool, a myth pool where metaphor comes from, and the waters within it heal us, give us life and help us love. I admit that this theme, like, made my heart and brain both explode with glee and recognition. That pool is my jam to the max. To the max! Yet maybe the best element of this language pool is the one that appears to be the simplest. Lisey’s husband Scott—another Stephen King stand-in so thinly veiled that you can see the literary zipper on the back of his costume—has recently died and left behind a legacy of words, of books, and above all else the secret code he and Lisey used when they talked.
I’m confident all couples do it. We are sitting up late some night riffing about some stupid thing and giggling, and all of a sudden a turn of phrase that was tossed wantonly into the conversation becomes added to our Oxford English Dictionary—the one shared by just two people. When either Lisey or Scott come home from running errands or from a trip lasting more than an hour or so, they don’t use the stereotypical “honey, I’m home” to announce their return. No. Instead they call out “everything the same?” It’s short hand for, “hey, are you doing all right? Are you feeling as good as you did when I left? Did anything bad happen while I was gone? Do you still feel loved?”
I love it. I love that.
And I know exactly why King wrote a love letter to maybe not a love language but the language of love. Have you ever been with a new lover and maybe without thinking you accidentally use some vernacular of a previous relationship—a word or phrase they couldn’t possibly understand without the context of the two people who created its usage? It feels like trespassing. That language is sacred, and secret, and its loss after a breakup is a unique and bitter sting. To know you will never hear your special someone, like, say the one thing they know will always crack you up? Or sing the snatch of rewritten song lyrics they made up? Or to hear them ask if everything’s the same, knowing that now things are always going to be different? That is a unique brand of loneliness—a library of Alexandria, smoldering. You probably know just what I mean.
But language lives. It changes, and it grows. So keep those five languages in your back pocket if it helps but take the time, if you think of it and if you’re in a relationship, to savor the language you are inventing together. It’s private property, and there’s no one taking in a dip in that pool but you.
I’m sure the water’s great.