“I love you, man.”
I froze. A man who was not my father or a relative had deliberately told me that he loved me. I didn’t know what to do. I felt awkward. So I did nothing, and I said nothing. I must have changed the subject or diffused the situation somehow by turning it into a joke. Either way, I know I didn’t respond by telling him that I loved him back. I wasn’t sure that I could use the word “love” in describing my feelings especially towards a guy friend.
I stewed on what he said for a long time. Guys don’t tell other guys they love each other, it’s in some unwritten “bro-code.” Right?! I wasn’t used to hearing the word “love” from a non-relative in a way that had no sexual connotation, and most of all from someone of the same gender as me. I couldn’t decide if I was touched, or if I was just weird-ed out…
But then I remembered moment when I met this friend. We were in college and lived with a bunch of men during my first two years of school, since we went to a seminary. (A place where you go to study to be a priest or pastor). I had settled in on my first day and was making my way to the chapel where we were supposed to meet. I saw this guy walking in before me, but before he reached the door, he noticed me and turned around to greet me with a handshake. He welcomed me with the most genuine smile I had seen on a person’s face before. That brief exchange left a big impression on me, because he was so authentic.
He began inviting me to hang out with him and some of the other guys we went to school with. At first I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to include me on so many of the things he was doing. I distinctly remember thinking: “He’s either being genuine in his kindness, or he’s somehow being totally fake and is going to screw me over at some point.” In my past experience with friendships, I had learned to mistrust people. So when I met this friend, I couldn’t help but apply my previous friendships to this one.
As men, I think our culture tells us that we can’t love our guy-friends, and especially that it’s taboo to express “feelings” and talk about something deeper than sports or beer. But through this friendship, I personally experienced the richness of life that I, and so many men have been missing out on due to our fear of vulnerability.
When you realize that your friend would most likely take a bullet for you if it came to it, or that he would tell you when you need to knock it off and be a better man, the relationship takes a different tone. You start talking about life. You start talking about what you think, what really matters to you. When you know your friend cares about your spirit or your heart, then you know that you have found a great treasure.
Eventually I have become more comfortable with the idea of loving him as my friend. Because he had become more than just a friend to me, he had become a brother. He was someone I could count on, someone I could truly want the best for, someone I loved. And now I long for more friendships like that. I strive to be a true friend, use the friendship as a model for other male friendships in my life. While not all will look like this one, I can at least try to develop a caring friendship that is built on more than sports or video games. I have made a promise to always strive for a friendship built on legitimate love and respect, starting with the same genuine smile and handshake that hooked me in 7 years ago.