Why Can't Straight Guys Love Each Other?

Illustration for article titled Why Can't Straight Guys Love Each Other?

The word "love" may get thrown around a lot these days, but there's one group conspicuously not using the L-word: straight men when talking to each other.

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Many women feel comfortable expressing love for our platonic friends — and we're not just throwing it on the end of an email, either. For my closest female friends, saying "I love you" means "Even though we're not blood relatives or sex partners, I have your back and you're important to me." And it can be really nice to know that personal ties can run deep, even if they're not forged by blood or other bodily fluids. However, saying "I love you" — like crying — is a lot more difficult for dudes.

Jack Valero bemoans this problem in the Guardian, complaining that just because Victorian-era Cardinal and saint candidate John Henry Newman shared "an intensity of love" with his best friend Ambrose St. John, and was buried with him, this doesn't mean they were gay. Unfortunately, like much writing that speaks wistfully of a bygone age of platonic love, his piece has some hints of homophobia. He says a gay activist "noisily alleged" that the Catholic Church wanted to cover up Newman's homosexuality (the Church covering things up? Never!). And here's how he concludes:

Can a man nowadays own up with pride to having a dear and close friend, another man to whom he is devoted? Can he, without it being suspected as repressed homosexuality? I fear the answer to both may be "no". And it is hard to know which is the sadder.

Is it really so bad to be suspected of being gay? I think this is the real problem, not a modern conflation of love with sex. Being perceived as gay is so anathema to many straight dudes that they not only can't say "I love you" (except maybe as part of a semi-ironic "I love you, man") but they have trouble hugging or even complimenting each other. Maybe if male homosexuality were truly destigmatized, then a dude could "own up with pride to having a dear and close friend," because nobody would even care if they were fucking. But we're a long way from that, unfortunately, and many male-male friendships have to make do with a limited repertoire of jokes, disses, and side-hugs. Which is, as Valero says, pretty sad.

The Sad Demise Of Celibate Love [Guardian]
Top Ten Things Women Can Do (That Men Can't) [Ranker]

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Earlier: Everyone Says I Love You: When Did "Love" Become Mandatory?

DISCUSSION

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For anyone who might be interested in the academic side of this—check out Alan Bray's book "The Friend."

I'm a grad student in English, and I read approx 4 billion books a year, but this one really stands out. Bray was one of the leading queer scholars before his death a few years ago, and wrote some groundbreaking books on sexuality in the renaissance.

"The Friend" traces a somewhat quiet history (he calls it an "archaeology") of institutionalized male friendships from sworn brotherhoods (in which male friends had church-ordained legal rights and responsibilities to each other's families and properties) to joint male burials. It's an absolutely fascinating study, and it's really interesting how Bray (a gay man) chooses, in some ways, to elevate the importance of friendships over sexual relationships.