The Love Languages by Gary Chapman as we know it, have a contentious and homophobic background. You can even catch my rant about the love languages and generalisation of therapy-speak over in this blog. However, there's no denying that as a concept, the love languages still provide this immensely helpful structure for couples to talk about their needs as well as normalising the different ways we may like to give and receive love.
Chapman's conception of the love languages was based on a very specific image around religion, heteronormativity, patriarchy and what we can probably also assume being neurotypical. In creating this limited framework, it gives us a building block and a vocabulary for us to keep expanding on that can be more inclusive and considered. Here enters the Neurodivergent Love Languages.
While I have not been able to find a person to credit for this version, I do credit Stimpunks for providing a wealth of information on neurodiversity and differently abled folks so scoot over to their site if this is something that is of interest to you.
You know the drill - we have the basic love languages: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time and Gift Giving. The idea is that of these five, you have a tendency to lean towards some over the others in how you like to give love and care, as well as a preferred way to receive love and care. This can be different between different relationships or different people, and this can change over time.
With the neurodivergent love languages, we have Info Dumping, Support Swapping, Parallel Play, Deep Pressure and Penguin Pebbling. Let's break these down.
Info dumping: Exactly what it sounds like. It's very common for neurodivergent folks to have special interests or Splns meaning they can develop a deep passion for specific topics, objects or niches. It can be a really meaningful expression of love for neurodivergent folks to share as well as listening to one's Splns in great detail. Regardless of whether or not you actually share said interest in model planes from the 1960s or how cheese is made, the sharing of knowledge can feel supportive, exciting and connecting.
Support swapping: Refers to swapping different forms of support that each individual needs, for example, asking if you've taken your meds, holding hands or going to events together. Of course, our individual needs differ from person to person as well as from time to time. It's a form of love to request the support as well as to give the support. It preserves our spoons (aka our energy), and fosters interdependence and a shared intimacy.
Parallel play: Being ‘alone together’, for example, when you’re both in the same room, one is reading and the other is playing a game. It’s often enjoyable because there’s no expectation to do anything, but you can just exist together and enjoy each other's presence.
Parallel play is similar to body doubling for ADHD - when someone sits with a person with ADHD as they complete a task that would be difficult to complete alone. They often feel more focused by the presence of another person being there.
Deep pressure: Deep, firm and even pressure, for example, a hug or weighted blanket can be very grounding and regulating for the nervous system. It can soothe stress responses and help us feel comfort, calm and at ease. Offering, giving and receiving consensual deep, firm pressure can be very caring, intimate and supportive when appropriate.
Penguin pebbling: An ode to Adelie penguins who offer each other pebbles as signs of affection, giving gifts or sharing things that the other person may be interested in or enjoy is a way of showing love. Whether it’s a meme, a niche book or an actual pebble, the giver feels connected while the receiver feels appreciated and thought of.
As the saying often goes: if you've met a neurodivergent person, you've met one neurodivergent person. This is a vague structure around how folks with differently wired brains may like to give and receive love, and the nuances of this in reality is going to differ from person to person. Understanding these love languages honours the different and expansive ways we can show up in all of our relationships and it's a mere entry point for further conversations about intimacy, care and affection.