If you’re making it about household chores and breakfast in bed, you’re fucking it up.
My primary love language is “Quality Time,” because it’s obviously the best, and my secondary one is “Acts of Service.” But I’m amazed at how often people get this one wrong — especially reckless “experts” pumping out bullet-point lists of well-intended suggestions that, for the most part, fall considerably short.
Here’s how the good, the bad, and the ugly of acts of service actually looks:
Highest points for:
- Relieving pain, physical or psychological
Other positive points for:
- Taking shit off their plate
- Doing shit that’s important to them
- Doing shit they hate doing
- Doing shit that’s hard for them
Zero points are awarded for:
- Doing shit you hate doing
- Doing shit that’s hard for you
- Doing shit slower or worse than they do
- Doing shit that’s not really important
- Making shit about you
Points detracted for:
- Adding more shit to their plate or day
- Superfluous shit
- Pulling them away from their main tasks
- Causing frustration or other pain
THE BEST: Bomb-ass awesome acts of service
TL;DR — those that resolve a pain, physical or psychological.
If you want your effort in anything to have the highest ROI, focus it on the things causing people the most discomfort — feed them a pain killer, not a vitamin. True in business; true in love.
I get a physical reaction with good acts of service. It’s that tightening of the lower sternum, right where the center of the ribcage drops off into the torso. (Is that where the heart is? I wouldn’t know. But that’s where good acts of service hit me.)
I appreciate it every time a dude opens a door, or does some chores, or picks up the dry cleaning — I really do. But shit that relives pain truly guts me. I will remember shit like that for fucking months. Sometimes years. No joke.
Great examples are:
- Any maintenance work done to my motorcycle, because it’s my fucking favorite thing in the entire world but I don’t trust myself mechanically. Major points for oil changes, bad brakes, weird noises, and other things hurting the bike (and so hurting me.) But don’t surprise me with a custom pipe or anything. (That’s a “Gifts” girl. I’m not that complex.)
- The dude I’m dating recently took one for the team while drinking. He’s a lot more into beer than I am — meaning he has an actual palate and, lol, drinks good beer, whereas my qualifications don’t go much further than “iunno, something light?” I’m pretty easy to please with beer and definitely not picky, but my one Achilles heel is: syrupy tastes, because I just can’t. I’m usually good about ordering accordingly, but I got crazy a few weeks ago and ordered something strawberry-flavored (I… I know. I don’t know) and one sip in, I knew I’d made a huge mistake, but I thought it’d be okay and I tried to make it okay and just go on like it already was, but he could tell. He was all “Do you not like it?” And I was like “oh, no, it’s fine! It’s just… kinda making me a little bit, like actually, nauseas.” (It was.) And fam, he said “here, drink this instead” and fucking swapped me his legit, well-ordered, actually-awesome beer for my shitty-ass strawberry disaster, and then sat there like a champ and actually drank it like it was nothing. #swoon
- When I got really sick as a kid (lol, and well into high school) my dad used to bring home grocery bags bursting with every kind of cold and flu medicine available at the store — effectively what looked like and might as well have been the result of him literally sweeping his arm across the shelf. Like, “I don’t know what you need, but this is how much I want you to feel better.” Truly adorable.
- Any time I over-estimate my physical package, bag or box-carrying abilities, and only realize when I’m near-collapse halfway up the stairs with my load, and a passerby casually asks, “oh, hey… Need a hand?” Dear god, yes please. (Thankyousomuchforever.)
- The classic: I’m freezing, because I never bring a coat. You pretend it irritates you and I pretend I’m sorry, and neither of us admit that I just fucking love it every time you offer me yours, and you kind of love the way I always look at you when you do.
- Laundry, but only because it’s my least fave. If I was neutral on laundry it wouldn’t have the same effect, but every time I see him hauling that hamper of clothes off to the washer, I smile and sigh — and then get after scrubbing the tub (which I love.)
- Rubbing that knot I get in my right shoulder blade. Not back massages — no oil; no music; no hour-long extravaganza (that’s for “physical touch” lovers.) Just a few minutes of focused pressure, in that weird spot I can’t reach well myself. It’s like a pressure point that runs straight to my heart.
THE NEUTRAL: Useless acts of service
TL;DR — anything we could have easily done ourselves, and probably faster.
Look. You’re being nice, and we know that. But the whole time you do something like this, we’re more focused on being nice about you being nice than we are on falling to pieces with love.
The focus is more on you than us, when it’s forced or arbitrary, it becomes about making you feel good about “the thought that counts” and “helping.”
But this isn’t preschool. We don’t want to have to build your ego and babysit by “letting you help.” Or, rather: we can do that, but we most certainly don’t want to do it while also putting on a charade like it’s actually for us. Please.
The whole point of love languages is to make the other person feel loved, so if you wanna get your panties in a twist about us saying, “yo dawg, that’s not your best investment,” that’s on you and not us. We’re doing you a favor here: your efforts at best spent elsewhere (see above.) (If you think I’m just difficult to please, that’s obviously wrong — because I come unhinged over someone noticing a beer.)
You want the sternum-tightening, heart-gripping response. You want the “oh my god, this guy” reaction. And it’s there, if you pick the right things. Don’t make us put on a charade of smiling and accepting your “acts of service” that are “well-meaning attempts” at best.
Other things that fall in the “neutral” category are: anything that was neither hated nor important. If you want to change the lightbulb, that’s nice. But the gesture is sort of lost in the mix in terms of excitement.
THE WORST: Bad acts of service
TL;DR — you’ve literally only added more shit to my day.
My favorite example here is breakfast in bed. I cannot believe how often this suggestion comes up on “acts of service ideas” lists.
Unless they literally love eating breakfast but hate the effort, or complain about not eating breakfast, or wish they could somehow find a good way to get jam on the sheets, this shit is not an act of service, yo. (Like, great. Now we’re held captive in bed for the socially-appropriate amount of time to seem gracious, and afterwards we get to make sure it’s not covered in crumbs. Seriously, fuck you. (Unless you are my future five-year old child, in which case, thank you so much, darling. Mommy loves you.))
Coming at me with shit like this feels like having to carry around the obscenely big teddy bear at the county fair. Like, great. It’s a really sweet gesture — don’t get me wrong — so we’re going to be nice about it, because you were nice in the thought, and we’re going to smile, say thank you and nothing else, but… son, for real? It was cute for about 1 minute, but now we have to haul this thing around! Go find someone with the love language of “gifts;” they’re the ones who are into that superfluous shit.
When it comes to acts of service, resolve pain points and leave it at that. You’ll spend a fraction of the effort for like 100x the pay-off, and after all, isn’t that “melting into the floorboards” reaction what you want?