Last year sometime, I had a meeting at an organization for which I used to sit on the Board.
While I was in the building, I stopped by the office of someone who I had been quite friendly with over the years. We had gotten together for lunch a couple of times, in addition to the work we did on the Board together.
I always felt like we “got” each other. We were on the same wavelength. I was always happy to see him.
I stuck my head in his office. He smiled when he saw me. I sat down.
First of all, I miss you.
I responded reflexively:
I miss you too.
I mean, how else do you respond when someone says they miss you?
But afterwards, when I had time to reflect, I decided that this (1) was a really odd thing for a grown man to say to another grown man, and (2) it made me feel really good.
Being missed is fundamentally fulfilling. Everyone wants to think that when they're not around, there exists some social or emotional void that isn't filled. And it's lovely when another person points this out.
But, still, “I miss you” is just not something you expect one man to say to another, outside of a blood relationship. It's oddly intimate, and it projects vulnerability, which is just not something men do.
Additionally, I think movies have created this aura of romance around the phrase. Whenever someone says, “I miss you,” it's always in the context of romantic yearning, usually followed by some pregnant pause, where the air becomes electric and anything is possible.
There are much larger points here, I'm sure, about toxic masculinity and the inability of men to show affection for one another. It's likely something which is mixed up in hetero identity, because I have a gay friend who lives across the country, and I have no problem telling him that I miss him. But it's not something you expect in a straight male relationship.
There's quite a bit of writing around this, which I've enjoyed.
The problem that straight white men like [mass shooter Elliot] Rodger face is one of their own creation. By perpetuating straight male homophobia, straight men starve themselves of a much-needed source of intimacy and affection: each other.
When I think of all the embraces that are not happening because of shame, and all the tender letters that aren’t being written just because a man thinks it’s not “manly” to express his feelings to a male friend, I get sad.
But male touch isn’t just essential for childhood development, it contributes to our overall emotional well-being as modern men. So despite the social anxiety around homosexuality that’s still prevalent, we’ve adapted to preserve this essential homosocial bonding.
I saw that word – “homosocial” – more than once. Clearly, that produces generally the same sound as "homosexual," but it's completely different. It means, “social intimacy between members of the same gender.”
And that reminds me of a joke I told my pastor once:
What's the most unrealistic thing in the Bible?
A 30-year-old man with 12 close friends.
Clearly, I'm off on the tangent of physical affection now, which wasn't the original point, but it speaks to how dysfunctional our thinking is here. We just can't seem to wrap our heads around male-male intimacy without it becoming sexual. Like, even talking about it is a slippery slope that ends up in a weird place.
I'm not a psychologist or a counselor, so I won't presume to dig deeper. But I will never forget my friend sitting across a desk from me and saying “I miss you,” and how much better that made my day.