Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Love You, Man.

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
We're really good friends,
And I love you,
It’s February, y’all. Love is in the air. Chick-fil-a is selling heart-shaped chicken biscuits. I do love Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits.

Even better, the Chick-fil-a by campus is giving away free chicken biscuits on Tuesday mornings in February. No purchase necessary. If that’s not love, I don't know what is. It's certainly better than the McDonald's "Pay with Lovin" campaign, which still sounds slightly illegal. 

All fast food aside, though, it's Valentine's Day, and even though my college-nightmare has come true [26 and still single], I'm doing just fine. Okay, stop...pause. This is not one of those "I'm single, but it's okay because I'm dating Jesus" posts. I promise. Bear with me. 

No, the reason I'm doing just fine on Valentine's Day is not because I'm doing Olive Garden and the Spongebob Movie with Jesus tonight. Yeah, I'm single. Yeah, that wasn't in my master life-plan as a Samford sophomore. But despite my lack of a date on Valentine's Day, I'm not without love. I love my friends. 

Okay, so I've always had friends, and yes, I've always loved my friends. But what I've been learning over the last couple years is how to actually talk about that love. I may have always loved my friends, but I've never had any idea how to say it or talk about it...certainly not out loud. That gets tricky, right? Can guys just say "I love you" to each other? I mean, I have said it before, but it always made me break out in cold sweats.

Of course, I know I'm not the only guy to struggle with saying "I love you" to another guy. Everywhere you look in pop culture, you see men who are uncomfortable expressing affection with one another. In one episode of Fox's "New Girl," Nick is appalled when his roommate and best friend Schmidt brings him home a cookie, simply because he was thinking about him.

 "You don't think about me?" Schmidt asks Nick.
"Why would I think about you?" Nick responds.
"Because we're friends, we're not animals."
"We're men, Schmidt. The only time a man is allowed to think about another man is when that man is Jay Cutler."
I could keep listing example after example from modern movies and television where male friendship is lampooned or depicted as little more than "a retreat into thoughtlessness, crudity." Of course there are exceptions, "Sherlock" being one shining example (and thankfully, this "New Girl" episode does have a good ending), but our popular media as a whole still demonstrates our society's belief that men aren't cut out for close, intimate friendships.

I think Eric Metaxas hits the nail on the head when he writes:
“You see, to the modern eye, all close love is sexual love. Deep friendship, especially between men, gives us an uneasy feeling. This leaves modern men with a tough choice: They can risk being pegged as gay for forming deep friendships with each other, or they can give up on making friends and just have ‘bros.’” 
Readers, meet my fear. readers.

See, herein lies the complication for me: I am same-sex attracted. I do have friends that I find attractive. Where does that leave me when it comes to friendship? Where does that leave me in expressing that friendship? Because I do love my friends. I love them a lot. It's not the same kind of love that I would need to feel for a future wife. It's not eros. But it's still love. Very much so. It's love...even if our culture doesn't have a category for it. Even if our churches don't have a category for it. 

It was hard enough to say "I love you" before my friends knew that I am same-sex attracted, but after I shared that part of my story, it only seemed to get more complicated. If it felt awkward before, now it felt unthinkable. How could I say "I love you" to one of my friends if he knew I was same-sex attracted? Wouldn't he wonder if it meant something more? Wouldn't he think it meant I had a crush on him? Wouldn't it ruin everything?

I didn't want to ruin everything. 

From the research I've done--and from many, many conversations with other guys--I don't think I'm alone here. For same-sex attracted men, like myself, there is a lot more fear about expressing healthy, platonic affection for our male friends.

Of course, that isn't to say that same-sex attracted men are the only ones who struggle expressing affection or simply saying "I love you"to their male friends. I recently did a very unscientific online survey of around 80 men about their male friendships, and one of the questions asked about saying "I love you" to male friends. Even among the opposite-sex attracted men who said they told their friends that they love them, there was a great deal of anxiety and confusion.

One guy in Alabama wrote that saying "I love you" to a friend "feels weird" except "when one of us is really suffering." Another guy in Tennessee said that he has a best friend who will say "I love you" to him, but he sometimes hesitates to say it back. "I do love him," he writes, "So I don't know why I don't [say it out loud]. Maybe I have ideas of men that I shouldn't say that. Maybe I feel weird saying it even though I do feel it."

Can you identify with those responses? 

I've noticed that whenever I do say "I love you" to a friend, I tend to follow it up with "man" or "dude."man or bro or dude when saying "I love you" to a friend--was mentioned often in the survey responses. One guy on the survey called it a "distancing word," and I thought that was rather profound. Maybe it softens it, or takes the edge off. It's the subtle signal that separates it from romantic love, a more sophisticated version of "no homo." (Don't get me started on "no homo.")

They are distancing words. Love is a scary thing. Love involves vulnerability. Saying you love someone opens you up to rejection. What if they don't love you back? Or what if they do love you, but they would never say it that way? It makes sense that we want to distance ourselves from that, to leave some protective space, a buffer. But should we?

I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "I love you, man" or "I love you, dude." I'm not on some crusade to get rid of the "distancing words." But I do think it's interesting that we feel the need to use those words in the first place. It goes back to Eric Metaxas' point, that modern society views all close love as sexual love. "I love you" feels romantic. "I love you, man" clarifies that it's not. The simple fact that the clarification is necessary is a sign of our society's larger problem--a problem voiced so well by Carrie English in her excellent short essay, "A Bridesmaid's Lament":
"There's no denying that weddings change friendships forever. Priorities have been declared in public. She'll be there for him in sickness and in health, till death do they part. She'll be there for you on your birthday or when he has to work late. Being platonically dumped wouldn't be so bad if people would acknowledge you have the right to be platonically heartbroken. But it's just not part of our vocabulary. However much our society might pay lip service to friendship, the fact remains that the only love it considers important – important enough to merit a huge public celebration – is romantic love.” 
Ain't that the truth. 

So whether or not someone sent you flowers or took you to a fancy restaurant tonight, whether or not you are married or dating or single, remember all of the people you love, and those who love you. Valentine's Day is a day that we celebrate romance--either the romance we have or the romance we want--but tomorrow, consider telling your friends you love them too.

Consider telling a friend, "I love you"...and maybe just leaving it there.

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