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, but my secondary one is “Acts of Service.” But I’m amazed at how often people get this one wrong — especially reckless “experts” out there pumping out bullet-point lists of well-intended suggestions that, for the most part, fall considerably short.
So to combat these bad lists, and also provide guidance, here’s a quick and dirty definitive ranking:
Bomb-ass awesome acts of service
TL;DR — those that resolve a pain, physical or psychological.
The really valuable acts of service — like the most valuable products and services in real life — are about resolving a pain point. 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.
Last Christmas, I was helping out in the kitchen (really gettin’ into the spirit, I guess, given that I’m otherwise only in there long enough to, like, grab a beer) and making muffins (don’t get too excited; it was a boxed mix.) Anyway, I had mixed them up in this ridiculously heavy glass bowl — I mean, this thing was a Mjölnir of a bowl and it’s stupid that it even exists for this purpose — and then being real deliberate (read: inefficient) at pouring, holding that fucking bowl in my left hand, scooping and smoothing with the spatula in my right, pouring a bit into each muffin and then going back to add a little more, scoop by scoop, for what might as well have been hours, until they were all even and the batter was gone. I’m finally done and, god do I want to set that fucking ridiculously heavy bowl down, but I realize there’s no spot for it. My mom is right next to me, talking to my brother, so I hold it out in her direction. I don’t say anything, hoping she’ll just notice and grab it. She doesn’t, but I hate interrupting, so I’m just standing there, desperate and silently pleading and screaming a little on the inside, my wrist now really starting to ache. I’m starting to eye the distance to the sink when all of a sudden my bother notices and gently takes the fucking beast bowl from me, lifting it from my wrist and cradling it in one hand, all without breaking the conversation with mom. I could’ve died a little. That right there is the shit.
Because 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 like the bowl truly guts me. I will remember shit like that for fucking months. Sometimes years. No joke.
Other 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, 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. I died a little.
- 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.)
Useless acts of service
TL;DR — anything I could have easily done myself, and probably faster.
Look. You’re being nice, and I know that. But the whole time you do something like this, I’m more focused on being nice about you being nice — reminding myself that it’s okay to let you do it, because you’re halping, and that’s the point — than I am on falling to pieces with love.
This isn’t preschool. I don’t want to have to build your ego and babysit by “letting you help.” Or, rather: we can do that, but I most certainly don’t want to do it while also putting on a charade like it’s actually for me. Please.
Look, you wanna fight about it, we can. But the whole fucking point of love languages is to spend your time doing things that make the other person feel loved, so if you wanna get your panties in a twist about me saying, “yo dawg, that’s not your best investment,” that’s on you and not me. I’m doing you a favor here. Your efforts at best spent elsewhere (see above.)
You think I’m just difficult to please, that’s obviously wrong — because I go to pieces over someone noticing a beer or a bowl.
You shouldn’t be doing acts of service to illicit the response of “oh, he’s trying” from me (or her.) 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.
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 I’m held captive in bed for the socially-appropriate amount of time to seem gracious, and afterwards I 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.))
Another example was the dude who, perhaps in some outdated effort at chivalry or perhaps just lack of care, ordered me a beer I did not want (even after asking if I wanted it, to which I’d answered “no.”)
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 I’m going to be nice about it, because you were nice in the thought, and I’m going to smile, say thank you, and not say anything, but… son, for real? It was cute for about 1 minute, but now I have to carry this shit around! That’s exactly how shit like “breakfast in bed” feels.
Go find someone with the love language of “gifts;” they’re the ones who are into that superfluous shit. Please, kindly, don’t violate “acts of service” with it.
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, wasn’t that what you want?