It’s pretty common sense that every family dynamic is different. We have the tiger moms, authoritative dads, best-friend moms and dads, daddy’s little princess, the baobei son, the left-out middle child, et cetera.
Different family dynamics translate into different love languages.
Some are not shy with saying the words, “I love you” and giving each other a peck on the cheek or a hug every morning before they leave home. Some say, “Have you eaten?” as a sign of love instead.
All these dynamics and shows of affection have a part in shaping how we perceive relationships and how we behave in them.
If your family is generous with “I love you’s”, you might find yourself doing the same in a romantic relationship.
The Asian Love Language
Perhaps it’s the Asian style of parenting, but my parents rarely said those precious words of affection while I was growing up. Not just to their children, but to each other.
We adhered to very typical Asian family roles; mother as the housekeeper and child-minder, father as the wage-earner who brought home the bacon.
Although I understand why and how the parental roles were divided this way, it fell apart for me because of the lack of touch between my parents.
I can count the number of times I’ve seen my parents hold hands in my 25 years of existence.
The first, when I was a child and thought to myself, “I see couples hold each other’s hands in movies. Why don’t they?”
So I took each of their hands in mine and combined it together so they were holding each other’s hands.
It lasted for less than 10 seconds and the link broke off as soon as they walked through the door.
The second was just last year on a family trip when my mother struggled to get out of a boat. My father offered his arm and my mother grasped his hand tightly, then let go as soon as she reached land.
Leaning against each other on the couch? You’re lucky if you get to see them sit next to each other on the same seat.
It led me to believe that having next to zero physical contact is a common, natural thing in romantic relationships.
How My Parents’ Relationship Affected Mine
I did not grow up seeing my parents touch each other, tease each other, or even laugh at each other.
That painted a picture for me: that this is how grownup relationships are and considering that we are not extremely close with our relatives, it was the only romantic relationship I ever grew up with.
The only romantic relationship I ever knew.
When I started dating my current boyfriend, it was a long time until I was fully comfortable with any physical touches from him.
That included holding hands, holding my waist, and hugs. Even the simple act of lightly placing his hands on my shoulders when he guided me through crowded areas made me stiffen up.
I chalked it up to my introversion.
I was bad at small talk, meeting new people in an unfamiliar environment, and I quite certainly didn’t like unwarranted physical contact. I even avoid shaking hands unless the situation demands it.
But as I spent more and more time with my boyfriend’s family, I realized the disparity between his and mine in terms of physical affection.
His parents held hands together when they went shopping in the mall and gave each other simple shoulder rubs while they watched movies. Mine did not.
Because physical contact was so scarce in the marriage between my parents, I assumed that that was normal behaviour.
Because of that, I was reluctant to touch and be touched.
[Pictured here: The writer and her boyfriend.]
All Love Languages Are Different, But Normal
It wasn’t easy, to confront the reality that my reserved behaviour when it came to physical contact in love stemmed from my own parents’ love language. I still have many questions.
Does my hesitation in physical contact stem from observing my parents? Or is it just another introversion trait? Will I ever be fully comfortable being physical with someone else?
But I’ve come to terms that what’s normal in my family is not normal elsewhere, and vice versa. Just like pouring milk before cereal or cereal before milk.
After all, it’s so very much in our Asian/Malaysian nature to not exhibit outright signs of love but through hidden messages like bringing home scones for tea. And that’s alright.
I can’t very well force or counsel my parents to start developing better physical contact between each other, but I can grow from this.
Realize that you don’t need to touch someone to tell them you love them. That a person can caress you as much as you want but if their heart is not in it, it’s not love.
I’m on the road to build myself to be more accommodating towards physical contact.
Maybe then I won’t think twice before shaking someone’s hand.
For more stories like this, read: The Modern Dating Struggles Every Introvert Can Relate To and How A 65-year-old Dad Sees Dating Today.