With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking about declarations of romantic, familial, and platonic love. Although I have no problem writing about how I feel, I stumble when speaking heartfelt words aloud. Even with my husband, I giggle, blush, or make jokes while trying to convey anything more profound than “I love you.” I say those three words easily and often, but when explaining why or how much I love him, my skills fall short.
Likewise, if I’m overcome with gratitude for friends and family, then I’ll make a point to tell them, but I usually end up prefacing my gushing with a formal announcement. “I’m going to be sentimental now,” I might say. I don’t know why I get so awkward when all I’m trying to verbalize is some form of “thank you,” or “I appreciate you,” or, “this time we’ve spent together meant so much.”
You know what used to deliver those messages for me and so much more? A mix tape. Oh, how I lament the lost love language of the mixtape!
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s popular book The Five Love Languages, he writes about demonstrating love in a way that your spouse (or friends and family) can understand. For some people, words of affirmation is enough. For others, the gift of time matters most. The third language Chapman identifies is giving gifts, because if receiving a present matters to your partner, then you ought to learn how to give one. The fourth language is acts of service such as hanging the pictures, proofreading an important document, or making a double batch of green smoothies every morning. The final language is physical touch.
According to Chapman, it’s essential to first identify how we best receive love so that we can tell our partners what works. After years of trial and error, Bryan knows (because I finally know) that I value time and acts of service over gifts. For my birthday, for example, instead of a gift, we get a sitter and spend a few hours running the annoying errands that I let pile up for that precise day. Then we sit in a coffee shop with a notebook discussing the past year and my hopes for the year ahead. Bryan is a master goal keeper for himself, so the time he spends listening to my reflections and turning those thoughts into a multifaceted checklist that he later recreates on the computer with little boxes and fancy shading is the best present of all. I hang the chart on my bulletin board and use it daily. The simple sight of the thing screams “love.”
Once we’re aware of how we accept love, we have to acknowledge how the people in our lives receive it. This is where the mixtape used to come in handy! The creation and giving of a tape combined all of Chapman’s love languages except physical touch. It was the perfect gift for almost everyone.
Those of you who also made tapes know what I mean. The song selection communicated words of affirmation since the lyrics revealed what might have been too hard to voice. The tedium of waiting for the right song on the radio or dubbing favorites on a dual cassette player with your finger hovering above the record and stop buttons was an act of service, as was deliberately placing the songs in a sensible order. If you listened to the tape with the intended recipient, then it became the love language of time. The tape was also a tangible gift. Burning CDs combined the love languages too, but nothing compared to the production of a mixtape.
Those tapes also functioned as an audio journal to represent certain periods in my life. I had a mix for every summer of camp and season of school with labels like “Winter 1990.” My deliberate lettering on the cover named each song. It was from my personal collection that I created mixes for others. I had to know the lyrics and atmosphere of the songs before I was certain they’d fit the person in mind or the situation.
There were songs that made it onto multiple friends’ and boyfriends’ tapes. “For a Just a Moment” from St. Elmos Fire was a natural for late 80s, post-summer mixes for camp friends. “Love Will Come to You” by the Indigo Girls was for friends dealing with a heartbreak. Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise” was the anthem for every guy I was involved with in high school and college as I was forever breaking up with and reconciling with the same ones. Through the 90s, Sarah Mclachlan said it all for everyone in my life.
I often made a copy of the gift-mixes for myself. In that way there was this imagined conversation. I’m listening to a song; you’re listening to the same song. Unfortunately, after Bryan and I moved into our second house and had long stopped owning cassette players, I threw the tapes away. It’s the only instance I can think of where my extreme anti-hoarding tendencies has filled me with deep regret. I would give anything to see the covers again and to hear the songs I picked for particular moments in time.
The tapes are lost, but the habit of curating playlists remains—now for my kids, who spend time every day in our car. Although highlighting and deleting files in five-minute spurts on iTunes may not be the laborious undertaking that went into the tapes, I still see the process as an act of love for the four little Badzins I adore more than any words—sung or spoken—could properly express. Hopefully in this way and many others they’re able to receive the love I send their way.