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.”
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.