“Love you mate,” I said as I put the phone down. Suddenly a rush of warmth flew through my veins and spread all over my body. I needed to let him know that I had his back. That it was all going to be ok. He needed to hear that he was loved. And I needed to tell him.
I think it’s odd with blokes. We are scared of the word “love”. I’m lucky to be comfortable with it now. I heard it a lot from my mum growing up. But I didn’t hear it at all from the men in my life. And almost never from my stepdad. He was (and still is) a typical Yorkshireman. Although he joined us way back when I was 12 – and I absolutely knew he cared for me – “love” was not a word liberally used in his vocabulary.
But as I explored my own emotions in my mid 30s, I began to tell my stepdad at the end of phone calls that I did love him. And he’d begin to reply “you too.”
What is love? What does it mean? Why are we scared of it?
When I was growing up, blokes didn’t say that word to each other. I remember putting a kiss on the end of text by mistake to a male friend in my late teens and being ridiculed the next day for it at football.
I suppose we should begin by joining the Trinidadian-born German singer Haddaway by asking “What is love?”. What that 1992 eurodance track does, in its own unique way, is debate the four-letter word. What is love? What does it mean? Why do we need it? Why are we scared of it?
For those of us who have been “in love” it’s a feeling like no other. It can be blinding, encapsulating and all consuming as you let yourself go to a new level of vulnerability. It’s something that only happens a few times in your life.
Everything changed when I lost a friend – I never said I loved him
This isn’t to be confused with “lust”, either, which we have all been in before and which serves a very different need.
To me, love is care. Love is belonging. Love is support. I have unconditional love with my kids. I’m in love with my wife. But my family and my friends? I love them, too. They make my life better and I tell them so. Why wouldn’t I?
I wasn’t always this way. Everything changed in my mid 30s when I lost a friend. I took his death pretty badly and I realised in those long weeks and months after his death that I never told him I loved him. Which is still hard to take.
A huge 86% of the men had never told their dad they loved them
I debated this with another friend, the poet and author, JJ Bola. Congo-born JJ explores masculinity in much of his work. For example, how, in his experience, men find it hard to show real emotion. And why we hide love behind banter and common social constructs.
I told him about a survey I did two years ago where I asked 100 men of different ages and backgrounds “Did they regularly, or had they ever, told their dad they loved them?” The results were quite worrying.
A huge 86% of the men said they had never, or very occasionally, told their dad they loved them. Shocking, right? That’s a whole generation of men that have never been told they are loved by their child.
Men find it hard to say ‘I love you’ because it’s hard to love themselves
One man told me he actually remembers being 14 and writing a birthday card to his dad, lingering for far too long over whether to write “love from” or just “from” on it. In the end, he left the love off.
JJ and I talked about it for an hour. Why don’t we, as men, feel comfortable saying those words? Was it because heterosexual men worried about being accused of being gay?
We reached the conclusion that many men probably find it hard because they find it hard to love themselves. That unless that word is used regularly and routinely in a positive, supportive, nourishing way, then how could they use it?
I challenged poet JJ Bola to write a poem to men for Valentine’s Day
This debate was in early February. The month of love (apparently). As I walked my kids to school one day, the shop windows full of red hearts and restaurants offering special meals, it made me wonder who Valentine’s Day is for.
Women may say it’s for couples. But I believe most men would say it’s for women. For them to be spoiled. For them to get flowers. But I decided right then that I love flowers and I’ve never been sent a bunch.
So that’s what I think. We should tell the people we love that we do. Don’t be afraid of the word. Tell your mates, both male and female, that they are important to you.
That as the world continues to pull us apart, you can overcome and connect with the people you care about with three little words. “I love you.”
Images: Courtesy of Ben Akers x Talk Club