For women, saying “I love you” to friends and family comes naturally – and at times, too easily. For men, outside of a romantic or sexual relationship, those words may feel impossible to say.
Whether it’s the long-lasting “codes” that men need to follow, passed down from generation to generation, or the possibility that saying “I love you” may be linked to weakness or a lack of masculinity, men saying these words to each other is not as normalized as it is for women.
This isn’t limited to the uber-masculine “bros,” either. Most men struggle to express love outside of a romantic relationship with passion, sincerity, and comfort.
But when those words really count, they may wish they could.
Why Do Men Struggle to Say “I Love You” to Each Other?
The cultural construct around men suppressing emotions starts early – often in young adulthood. Based on Niobe Way’s 20 years of research, Andrew Reiner said that “many boys, especially early and middle adolescents, develop deep, meaningful friendships, easily rivaling girls in their emotional honesty and intimacy. But we socialize this vulnerability out of them [once they reach 15 or 16 years of age].
It’s even a trope in film and television. As children, boys have seemingly inextricable bonds, but as adults, the idea of saying “I love you” to each other is played off as a joke.
Eventually, young men stop forming nurturing bonds and connect by teasing or bullying, which can be more harmful than affectionate. Without the balance of the expression of love, the actions and words between friends become more negative.
In a sense, society gives men less of a vocabulary surrounding affection. They don’t hug – and if they do, it’s not long enough – and the greeting rituals are more “bro-like” with elaborate handshakes, upward nods, or the “pelvis-away, pat-on-the-back” hug.
Men understand genuine displays of affection as weakness that should only be used with romantic or sexual partners. Instinctually, men shut themselves off as they approach that level of vulnerability that was pushed out of them in adolescence.
The consequences of this are becoming apparent. Men need and crave connection, just like women, and social isolation is a driver of larger issues. This need to belong and feel connection can leave men vulnerable to radicalization.
On top of that, the toll on men’s mental and physical health can lead to cognitive decline, heart disease, and depression.
How Can Men Normalize Showing Love?
Before men can express emotions freely, they have to break the barriers that limit their emotional needs – including saying “I love you” outside of romantic relationships.
Here are some rituals and practices to normalize showing love:
- – Take time to check in with yourself and your emotions. If you have something to express, consider expressing it to other men.
- – Ask a male friend how they’re doing, genuinely, and listen to the answer. Just like a romantic relationship, friendships require this give and take.
- – Talk about opening up to one another and build stronger mutual trust. It’s likely that they want to share as well.
Begin with the words, then build to sharing love with deeds and actions. You should all find comfort in your vulnerability and see the strength that comes from expressing your emotions (and not just anger).
Find Ease and Comfort in Expressing Love
Men have successfully rebranded anger as “not an emotion,” but they’re suffering for it. Thoughtful, honest, and open expression of emotions like love and affection between male friends and family members deepen the relationship. It won’t be easy, but you can be the brave one to set an example for others.