Men Lovin’ On Men: Male Expressions of Love and Affection

This weekend I got to tell some amazing men that I love them, and I got to hug them, hold them, and remind them why they are worthy of my love.

I attended the first of what will be 10 Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership seminars in Tennessee, and I consider many of the men at that seminar my brothers and my friends.  There’s something about the HOBY spirit and community that always makes me more apt to openly show my love for my brothers and sisters.  But in mainstream American culture, men don’t a very good job of showing their love for one another.

In my letter to my Fairy Godson, the first thing I said to him was, “I love you.  Men don’t tell each other that often enough.  Knowing your parents, you’re going to have a tremendous amount of love to unleash on this world.  Never hold it back, no matter what anyone tells you about how men should express their emotions.”

Oooh the man hug…

Yet in my own life, I do not always show affection for the men in my life the way that I would like to or in similar ways that I show affection for the women in my life.  I end almost every conversation with the women I care about with, “I Love You!”  With the women in my life, I tend to hug them regularly, and we hold hands or show physical affection as a sign of our friendship on the regular.  With the men I love, though, I don’t tell them that I love them nearly often enough.  I don’t hold hands with my male friends or with my dad, and we don’t tend to greet each other with a hug.

Why is that?

I mean, I understand why it’s tough for most men to express our love for other men.  Dominant culture tells us that empathy, care, gentleness, and love are not masculine qualities, so from an early age, we suppress those feelings.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told growing up to stop “acting like a girl” if I cried or if I showed affection.  For many years, I kept it on the down low that I still cuddled with my mom or that I had that gentler side.

But at this point in my life, I consider myself pretty counter-cultural on most issues of masculinity and gender.  I tend to think of myself as forward-thinking when it comes to how men can and should act in relationships, and I like to think that I have made a lot of progress in overcoming some of the harmful ways that I was socialized to be a man.  So why don’t I more regularly tell the men in my life that I love them?

The reality is that it would be a bit awkward.  It always is.  Every time I tell a man in my life, “I love you,” I feel a little silly.  And that’s because we still have a long way to go in reconstructing masculinity.  We still have a lot of work to do to change the structures in wider culture that say, “Men don’t show affection to other men.  Men don’t cry.  Men don’t have feelings.”  We’ve made progress, but we still have some work to do.

And one way to do that work is to normalize more affectionate expressions of love among men.  Men!  I’m talking to you!  We need to tell each other that we love each other more often!  We need to hug each other (and I’m not talking about bro hugs).  We need to touch each other affectionately.  Every time we do these things, we are putting our hands against the walls of the box of masculinity and we’re pushing it out ever so slightly, and if enough of us push it at once, we can expand that box to be more inclusive and loving.  And one day, perhaps we can destroy that box and build something new.

To close, I can’t help bu think of when I spent time in Tibet. The cultural norm for ethnic Tibetans is that people who care about each other often hold hands when in public.  In turn, you will see women walking down the street holding hands with men, men holding hands with men, women with women, little boys with little boys and girls.  Now, in thinking about this cultural norm, I must say that I don’t know a whole heap about ethnic Tibetan culture, but it would be my guess that on the whole, the construction of masculinity in Tibetan culture is likely to be a might gentler than we see in the United States.  And they’re likely all the better for it.

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7 thoughts on “Men Lovin’ On Men: Male Expressions of Love and Affection

  1. Jamie, yes! I agree with you so much. I have struggled with this as well and fortunately I have a family that is accepting of, at least my, displays of affection. Nevertheless, it is hard to say I love you to a man, which is so strange, I too get that awkwardness. I am hoping this can act as the kick in the pants i need to start doing it more often and not just with my family. One thing i’ve noticed with my friends is that there is no awkwardness if it’s said in a general fashion, like “I love my firends” or “I love you guys” but when it’s singling out it’s awkward, why? we already established that we love each other… anyways. I think some of it could be the fact that love is such an all encompassing word. In spanish we have “quiero” which can be affection and love, as a friend, as someone who cares and we have “amo” which is a stronger word, normally used as in people in love, te amo, estoy enamorado, etc. I guess it’s easier that way.

    On the point about male physical contact, i find that is not so hard. Maybe it’s because i’ve always been a hugger, but I’ve never had issues with it. When i come up to someone that i know and they stretch their arm out to greet me I just open my arms and say “c’mon really?” or “I’m a hugger, unless you rather not”. I hope that hasn’t pressured people into hugging me, but i’ve never had a no, and i’ve never had problems after that. I think that;s an easier fix. As to walking hand in hand, i have one issue,and it’s practical. I sweat. I hate holding hands when it’s warm, so i don’t really do it with my female friends either that much.

    anyways, this was a rant. Sorry! But thanks! I think, that just like with the hugs, all we need is honesty, trust and repetition. That’ll make it easier. (also, did you see the movie I love you, man? I feel like that’s a good way to break it to some people? sorry ranting again, i’m done.)

  2. First things first: Jamie, I love you. And I just hugged my laptop because you aren’t here for me to hug you.

    I think that your analysis is missing one key facet to men showing emotion, especially physical emotion, towards other men: perceived homosexuality. Many boys and men, myself included, are brought up thinking that the only men who deviate from “traditional masculinity” are gay men. When this is compounded with the notion in many aspects of our society that gay is somehow less-than, there is added incentive for men not to show affection towards others.

    Yes, gender norms are arbitrary and confining. And yes, men should be able to show emotions publicly, including love, without having to fear ridicule. But I think a big step here is changing atitudes about homosexuality. If being a homosexual didn’t have a stigma attached to it people might stop avoiding actions where they might be perceived as homosexuals.

    • I agree with Brian – from my understanding (I’m not a dude) there is also this fear of perceived homosexuality – not only by expressing affection, but also in openly receiving it. Both sides. Funny thing, all that typically just comes back around to gender performance and social constructs of manhood – i.e. being seen as “gay” is really about being seen as “womanly” instead of “manly.” The point, as Hugo Switzer has pointed out, is also to change the idea that the opposite of “man” is “woman” – because it’s not.

  3. Just watch a “free hugs” YouTube to see how hungry people are for hugs. If we are comfortable with unconditional love ourselves, we can take it into the world and infect others. I love walking arm in arm with people (it’s even more cozy than holding hands). I think the more we can all display public affection, the more “normal” it becomes.

    (You guys do have a bit more work to do on this one than us gals, but I’m glad to enjoy a little break from the struggle this time around!)

  4. Hi Jamie, I’m a bit late to the party, but really liked your article – it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

    As well as the comments above about homophobia’s role, for me, there’s also something in terms of the traditional female role of care giver, so as men we can tend to expect female friends to be care givers for us and so receive and accept our need for physical touch.I’m not sure as men we really know how to play that role, because we’re too busy being tough, and so the discomfort i do sometimes feel when another man hugs me can also be about my own discomfort, from lack of practice, at being the caregiver. Learning how to do that, as well as the one of the person who wants to hug, seem important to me.

    thanks for your article though – really nice to hear someone thinking about similar stuff to what i’ve been thinking about.

  5. There’s many men out there in the western world hurting emotionally. Why can’t those men be held in a loving tender way by other men? If this did happen many men suffering inner hurt would be transformed in a short space of time. Us men are human beings as much as are women, and many of us hurt inside a lot. When us guys go to our doctor, what do we get? Pills!!! To heal inner hurt!!! How ridiculous!! Wouldnt a loving hug from a other man be much more effective?

    I’m a guy of 60 and was physically and emotionally abused as a child by my father. In my late twenties I turned to gay men for the love I never got as a child and also in the hope that physical contact with another man would heal my hurts over a period of time. I
    slept around for many years with gay men, but this I now realize for me was morally wrong. What I’m trying to say I’s I’ve met many ‘gay’ men who needed love from a father, didn’t get it, and did as I.

    Only now am I realizing that prayer has helped sustain me over the hell I put myself thru. I’m not a Bible thumper, but guys, try a little prayer, it can and does move mountains.

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