Why Can’t Men Say ‘I Love You’ to Each Other?


I’m having L-word troubles, however my troubles don’t contain a lover. There’s no romance or intercourse on this. No flowers, candles or dancing. My L-word troubles are with my boy, my finest buddy, Kichi. I’ve advised him I like him in all probability 5 or 6 instances now, however he by no means says it again.

When folks say, “I love you,” particularly for the primary time, there are a selection of issues they might be saying. Maybe it’s, “Do you love me?” (the query smuggled contained in the confession), or, extra urgently, “Please love me.”

With Kichi, it’s not like that. I do know he loves me. I really feel it on a regular basis. I don’t want to ask for his love. I don’t want to surprise. I inform him I like him for a easy purpose: Nothing may very well be extra true.

But he doesn’t say it again. Mostly I’ve mentioned it once we’re leaving one another, a few instances over the cellphone, as soon as after I was drunk, one other time when he was harm and I used to be attempting to be supportive. There’s all the time silence for a second, after which he says one thing like, “Yeah, bro, I’ll catch you soon.”

I don’t want him to say these precise phrases to me. I ponder, although, about what retains him from saying them. What retains practically all younger males from having the ability to inform their male buddies that they love them?

When I used to be eight, I made my first finest buddy. Pedro was twig-thin, messy-haired and jittery, brimming with the form of untamed tenderness discovered solely in kids. When I moved to Philadelphia, he took me — a nervous new boy in school — in his arms and below his wings.

Pedro and I spent our weekends on walks along with his mom by way of the forest trails close to their home. He and I walked slowly, holding fingers whereas we stepped, interlocking our fingers. To today, each time I take part within the sacred human apply of hand holding, I consider Pedro.

On one in all our walks, Pedro and I had been interrupted by one other boy, Pedro’s neighbor, who chopped his hand between ours, startling us.

“You two hold hands?” he mentioned. “That’s gay.”

I keep in mind not figuring out precisely what “gay” meant, however sensing in the best way different boys wielded the phrase that it meant one thing you did not need to be. I had a horrible feeling that the surface world had damaged into our quiet inexperienced place. Pedro and I by no means held fingers once more.

He and I nonetheless cared for one another, however that day we realized our care was one thing we wanted to regulate, subdue, place in a chokehold and by no means let free. We realized this by the hands of one other boy our age, who in all probability had realized it by the hands of one other boy of no matter age.

Pedro and I realized what males in America have realized repeatedly: that tenderness should be tamed in accordance with a set of codes we should grow to be fluent in, as if our survival is dependent upon it. This lesson is realized over a few years, handed between generations, and just like the best-taught classes, it claws into you till you may hardly distinguish the place the lesson ends and you start.

Somewhere inside every man is an inventory of all the opposite males he’s liked with out ever discovering the phrases to inform them so.

I met Kichi in the course of my freshman 12 months, after I was as soon as once more a nervous new child, this time throwing a celebration. I’ve gone by way of life with a rotating set of anxious tics. That 12 months, I had grow to be keen on swinging my college lanyard with my key in circles, wrapping and unwrapping it round my finger.

When folks began flowing into my dorm room, I started my nervous swinging, not noticing what I used to be doing till I heard a crack and noticed that my key had struck a stranger’s iPhone display screen, leaving a minor scratch. That stranger was Kichi.

My first message to him was an apology, despatched the following morning. He was type and forgiving. We agreed to hang around.

Freshman 12 months is a straightforward time to connect to folks. I began hanging out with Kichi an increasing number of, virtually every single day, then a number of instances a day. When it was time to select housing for sophomore 12 months, we determined to room collectively. We fell into one another’s lives rapidly as a result of we had been each hungry for closeness in a brand new place. We stayed in one another’s lives as a result of nothing has ever felt extra pure.

Kichi and I are each blended race, with white moms, immigrant fathers and hard-to-pronounce names. We are from cities — him Seattle, me Philadelphia — that we take satisfaction in. But largely, we’re completely different. He’s calm, cool, rides a skateboard, retains his garments neatly folded, writes poems and loves immunology. When he’s unhappy, he doesn’t keep unhappy for lengthy.

I like how quietly deliberate Kichi is and the steadiness he brings to his life. When I’m going to him with girlfriend issues, writing issues or some other sorts of issues, some little factor he says or notices all the time stays with me for days. I respect his steadiness, and he appreciates how emotional I’m, how I’m not often balanced or collected in any respect. How I’m messy and clumsy.

As we grew to become nearer buddies, I began taking a few of him with me, and he began taking a few of me with him. He appreciates the mess of me, which is possibly how I do know that he loves me. What else is there to love, anyway?

The codes males comply with in love are difficult. For instance, whereas saying a straight “I love you” is frowned upon, generally saying to one other man “Much love” or “I got love for you” is O.Ok. “I love you” may even be satisfactory whether it is rapidly adopted by “bro” or “man.”

These are the linguistic gymnastics masculinity asks us to carry out, the negotiations we make by way of language to hold inside the acceptable bounds of manhood.

A footnote needs to be added to the code. Sometimes probably the most inconvenient or horrible circumstances can event a suitable expression of affection, however solely at that second, by no means to be spoken of once more.

Two years in the past, Kichi and I took semesters off from school and spent that point in Colombia, the place my father is from. One day, whereas within the coastal city of Capurganá, I obtained so instantly sick with fever and dizziness that I dropped to my knees whereas strolling on the seaside.

I used to be scared to be mysteriously sick in a spot the place I knew it may very well be laborious to discover assist. Kichi searched throughout city for a health care provider. When he couldn’t discover one, he determined his pre-med coursework would have to do, and he tended to me. He put his hand on my brow. He whispered into my ear. He advised me time and again that I used to be going to be O.Ok. — till I used to be.

This was maybe our most intimate second, led to by my illness and unthinkable at some other time.

This is the code, as intricate as it’s far-reaching. Kichi and I don’t possess the flagship qualities of masculine school boys. We aren’t in fraternities or on sports activities groups. We have even talked, greater than as soon as, about masculinity and the illogical issues it requires of us. But nonetheless, we’ve lived on this world. We grew up as boys in America. We realized this code and we apply it. There’s no immunity.

There’s part of this story I haven’t admitted but: Each time I say, “I love you” to Kichi, it feels uncomfortable. I really feel the weirdness of it in myself. The lesson is burrowed in that deep. I hesitate, flinch. But in my acutely aware thoughts, I do know it’s what I need to say, so I attempt to say it.

I need to say “I love you” to Kichi and imply simply that. I don’t need there to be any need or questioning or expectation lurking inside my phrases. I need to love in a approach that surpasses the necessity for affirmation, for return. This is what I’ve come to know because the purest form of love: anticipating nothing again.

I stay hopeful. It’s not that I want to hear these phrases. I’m simply prepared to be free from all of the forces, voices and gestures that hold us from saying them. Still, I can’t assist however want that sooner or later Kichi will forgo all of the masculine clatter, look me within the eyes and easily say “I love you, too.”


Ricardo F. Jaramillo, a finalist in the Modern Love college essay contest, graduates from Brown University this month. He is from Philadelphia.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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