The Dating Write-Up: Best Practices for Finding Love in B-School

In the first-year Negotiations case, the electric utility company Endesa and the indigenous people of Chile, the Pehuenche, came to a stalemate in negotiating the terms over which the Pehuenche would allow their ancestral lands to be flooded for a hydropower dam. Endesa threw more and more money at the people only to realize that several determined grandmas and their lawyers were dissatisfied with the terms. One of the biggest takeaways from the case is that the two parties spoke two different economic languages. Endesa interpreted value in terms of money, whereas the Pehuenche valued intangible things such as their ancestral ties to the land and the sacredness of the area to be flooded. Eventually the two parties came to an agreement, but the negotiation was one that took over ten years and drove Endesa to abandon its subsequent projects in the area. In relationships, we can avoid ending up like Endesa if we understand that people value different things in relationships, what author Gary Chapman calls the Five Love Languages.

Chapman’s theory is that in romantic relationships, each partner interprets love in one of five languages. If you know your own love language, you can help your partner make you feel more appreciated, understood, and loved. If you know your partner’s love language, you can more effectively demonstrate your affection. Understanding the five love languages means that you compensate your partner in the currency that matters most to them.

The Five Love Languages are:
-Words of Affirmation
-Quality Time
-Receiving Gifts
-Acts of Service
-Physical Touch

Words of Affirmation: Words of support, encouragement, and appreciation make you feel loved. When your date says, “You look beautiful!” it makes you feel wonderful. It means a lot to you when your boyfriend says, “It looks like your business plan is coming along really well. That’s great!” You wish your partner would say things like, “I’m so proud to tell my sectionmates you are my girlfriend.” Words mean a lot to you, because you see them as the verbal demonstration of someone’s genuine thoughts and feelings.

Quality Time: You think it is very important that you and your partner spend time together-enjoying one another’s company and the things you like to do. Quality time does not usually include zoning out to Lost, playing beer pong with the section, or bringing your partner to a small group dinner-although these can be activities that you both enjoy. Quality time is about focusing your attention on one another first and the activity is second. Examples of quality time for HBS daters would be taking a walk on Newbury Street, laying by the river on one of these rare sunny days, or cooking a meal together. If your love language is quality time, you feel resentful and neglected if you don’t see your partner as much as you’d like to, or if you feel like a lot of the time you spend together is in a group rather than alone as a couple.

Receiving Gifts: You love to receive tokens of your partner’s affection. When your partner returned from Playa del Carmen with a miniature version of the Chichen Itza ruins, you proudly displayed it in your dorm. Whether it’s a short love note hidden in your Strategy case, a surprise carton of hand-rolled sushi at lunch, or a last-minute ticket to a sold-out party you’d long given up on attending, gifts make you feel loved and appreciated. You see gifts as an expression of your partner thinking about you and his or her making a special effort to make sure you are constantly reminded of their love.

Acts of Service: You feel very loved when your girlfriend tutors you in Finance, when your partner helps you move your furniture into storage, or when your boyfriend picks up your dry cleaning from across campus. Acts of service is not about getting your partner to run errands for you; It’s just that you really love it when they make your life that much easier by helping out. You feel especially loved when the acts of service are done without you asking for it.

Physical Touch: You love to be greeted by your boyfriend with a long hug and kiss. When sitting at dinner, you love it when your girlfriend plays footsie with you or when your boyfriend plays with your hair. Having sex frequently is important to those for whom physical touch is their primary love language, but they also like to cuddle, hold hands, and kiss as much as possible. If you and your partner are fighting, a hug will likely help dissipate your anger.

We often demonstrate love to others in the love language that most matters to us rather than compensating our partners in the currency they most value. I know my love language is gifts because I remember bringing back souvenirs to guys I have dated and wondering why they weren’t as excited as I was about them. (How could you not love this faux Prada wallet from China as much as I do?!) I also remember being resentful when guys I have dated never bought me flowers. I didn’t think I was being ungrateful. I was being compensated with acts of service-something that wasn’t my love language. You can often figure out your love language by thinking about what you complain to your partner about and what made you feel unappreciated in your past or current relationships.

These points of contention often reveal your love language.

Additionally, men often assume that their love language is physical affection. Yes, most men love sex-and so do lots of women. It is important to think whether or not physical affection is your primary love language or if you just have a high sex drive. They are two different things.

In romantic relationships, we are constantly negotiating-from the initial negotiations of when and whether we are going to date someone exclusively to the later everyday negotiations of whether we will go to Cape Cod for the weekend or buy those Red Sox tickets from a sectionmate. Some people even try to turn a breakup into a negotiation (I distinctly remember once telling a guy that “I didn’t agree to the breakup”. Just so you know-holdups don’t work when someone is breaking up with you.) It is important that you never assume that someone you are negotiating with values things to the same degree that you do-or that they even value them at all. Put the Five Love Languages in your negotiations toolkit and you’ll find yourself much more successful in expanding the love pie and getting your fair slice.

Kaneisha Grayson (MBA/MPA) plans to one day work as a talk show host, self-help author, and filmmaker. She welcomes feedback and further ideas for lifestyle and dating articles at her website // or at her HBS email address.

May 4, 2009
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