What is pebbling? All about the love language inspired by penguins

For some people — and penguins — love is all about the little things.

If you demonstrate affection by sending memes, TikTok videos or trinkets, pebbling might be your love language — according to the internet, that is.

Dubbed ‘pebbling,’ the act describes little deeds of love that remind your partner, friends, or family that you're thinking of them, such as gifting them small presents or surprising them with their favorite treat.

Samantha Burns, M.A., LMHC, a Boston-based couples counselor and dating coach, describes pebbling in relationships as “those little things you do to go out of your way to put a smile on your partner’s face.”

“It looks different in each person’s unique relationship, but it could be as simple as sending them a good morning text if you’re in a long distance relationship, or coming home with your partner’s favorite dessert as a surprise, or sending them a funny reel on social media,” Burns tells TODAY.com.

The idea of pebbling comes from an unlikely zoological source: penguins.

Penguins in Edinburgh Zoo (David Cheskin  / PA Images via Getty Images)
Penguins in Edinburgh Zoo (David Cheskin / PA Images via Getty Images)

“Recently I learned that the act of sending your friends & family little videos and tweets and memes you find online [is] called pebbling, like how penguins bring pebbles back to their little penguin loved ones,” an X user wrote on May 21.

Gentoo penguins, a species of penguin that lives on sub-Antarctic islands, are known for their unique relationship rituals.

To court a potential mate, male Gentoo penguins present female penguins with small pebbles, which they then use to build their nests.

While people don't usually give each other rocks to express their affection (unless we're talking engagement rings), the concept of pebbling among humans follows a similar principle.

At its core, pebbling stems from the desire to share something that you think your loved one would enjoy.

“What makes it special is when it’s very specific to the person and unique to their hobbies, interests, and beliefs,” she says.

When you send your loved one a meme, article, or video that reminds you of them, it reinforces your unique bond.

“It’s a great way to show them you’re thinking about them, and also create your own inside jokes,” Burns says.

On TikTok, creators who identify as neurodivergent have especially embraced the idea of pebbling.

“Pebbling is an alternative form of communication usually practiced by people who struggle with traditional shows of affection like verbal words or body language,” TikTok user @anastasia_the_fae told TODAY.com via email.

She describes pebbling as “small acts that have an impact on someone’s mood,” such as bringing homemade cookies to a meet-up, sewing pockets into a friend's dress, or sending funny videos to loved ones.

Though pebbling has recently garnered attention on social media, the concept isn't new, she points out.

“It’s a profoundly innate way a lot of neurodivergent people communicate — it’s just we have a term for it now,” she says.

No matter what your communication style looks like, Burns says that it's always a good idea to show your loved ones that they're on your mind.

“It's about letting your partner know you care without having to say ‘I love you,’” she says.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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