Wil Wood, contributing writer

 

 

I think I love you. Does that make you uncomfortable? It makes me just a little uncomfortable, but less so than it used to.

After my mom died I started sharing my feelings with abandon. Specifically, I started telling close guy friends I love them. Just like that. “Casey, I love you.” Or to my friend in Idaho over the phone, “Bye, Jason. Love you.” It took some of my friends by surprise, others just said it back easily. Since I have begun telling my guy friends I love them, I’ve wondered often, “Why is this not more commonplace?”

Late last fall, I was in Eugene, Oregon with my brother. Contemplating my long drive back to Utah we decided to sneak in one last mountain bike ride before I hit the road to return home. It felt like we had squeezed another bit of fun from an already rewarding trip. So there we were in the trailhead parking lot, high on endorphins having just finished a 10/10 ride, but I was already feeling an oncoming homesickness for my brother. I looked over at him and said, “Gordo. I love you.” He smiled, and easily returned the words with no hesitation or gratuitous fluff to cheapen the declaration.

This would be a different essay if I were writing it in Greek. Unfortunately, English only has the word “love” to convey what Greek has four different words for. Eros seems like the least nuanced type, which is the romantic love we seem to come by innately and understand easily. Agape is a love toward mankind and a hope for good in humanity. Storge is the love hopefully found in the family and involves empathy, compassion, and affection. The love I’d like to concentrate on is Philia, the love that is found in friendships and is defined by support, affection, and a sense of equality.

If the English language were a game of Tetris, the word love would have all sorts of holes and gaps around it that keeps it from being whole. These four types of love help us understand what we are missing and help all the blocks fall into place. C.S. Lewis described Philia as the least instinctive and least necessary type of love. But I would argue that because we need it the least for our survival, it is the type that most helps us understand what it is to be human.

So what is it that makes a man-to-man declaration of love potentially awkward? Is it a culture steeped in homophobia? Is it that our best masculine role models don’t model this for us? Is there some inherent awkwardness in men expressing emotion? I don’t believe the answer is simple, but I do understand that, especially for men, professing and even feeling “love” is a vulnerable action. When using language to express it, we don’t want to be misunderstood.

As a man, father, and friend, I try to emulate men who I see as being worthy of praise. Two of the most masculine figures in history professed Philia openly to their friends Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic and a Roman Emperor, was known to be an openly affectionate and loving man. And Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet and, most of all, freely spoke of love to his friends.

If you feel love for someone, it is worth expressing. If they misunderstand you, then it’s worth clarifying.

I see the different types of love unfolding in different ways in different chapters of my life. My parents were openly loving to me and to each other. Even in such a good atmosphere, as a kid and then a teenager, I was uncomfortable with people hugging me or getting close to me; snuggling from my mother, my dad tousling my hair or wrestling with me, then teenage hugs (eek!), and slow dancing. After white-knuckling it through my teen years, I served a two-year mission for my church, and a lot of good things came from that, one of which is that I was finally able to show affection for people I felt close to. Basically, I learned to enjoy hugging people for whom I feel love. Now I am working on sharing it verbally also. Experiencing all four types of love, and expressing them, helps us to live the ultimate human experience and grow closer to those around us.

If you love someone, tell them. If you made it through this essay, I think I love you … in a connected Philial way.