The other day a buddy of mine sent a group text to me and another guy that said, “I love you guys.”

I stared at the phone for a few seconds a little rattled; I wasn’t sure how to respond. Obviously, the appropriate response was, “love you too.” And if we had been face to face I would have had no problem saying “I love you” back, but for whatever reason, at this moment texting “I love you” to another dude was intimidating. It felt like the equivalent of sending heart and kiss face emojis.

While I was deciding what to do the other guy in the text responded with “love you.” Now I’m freaking out because I’m the only one who hasn’t said, “I love you.” I imagined my friends staring at their phones looking at the text bubbles waiting on me to say it back. I panicked and did what cowards do; I made a joke. I sent this gif.

I have a confession to make; I find it difficult to compliment men. I’m 33 years old, and here is what I have learned about relationships, especially relationships that matter: surface level conversations are easy; meaningful conversations are awkward.

It’s so easy for me to spend time with people I care about, have nothing but surface level conversations, and make sarcastic jokes about each other. I feel like me, and most of my guy friends act like a Will Ferrel character. Just about the time we get ready to break through surface level interactions, in that split second of awkwardness when everyone is deciding if we’re gonna “go there,” there’s always that one guy who makes the self-deprecating joke or the sarcastic comment. The moment is missed, the tension is broken, and we all go back into caveman mode burping and grunting thrilled someone saved us. Why is it so easy to be a caveman and so hard to be a real man?

I’m at the point in my life where I’m fine with acquaintances, but I also want relationships that matter. As awkward as it is, I want to be able to tell another person, “I care about you,” “I’m proud of you,” and yes, “I love you.”

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone said, “Sarcasm is the language of cowards.” It’s what we do when we’re afraid to get our hopes up or share how we feel.

A few years ago I went through counseling to help me past a difficult time in my life. In the process of explaining to my counselor feelings of betrayal by a friend, he said to me, “It’s obvious you really care about this person, have you ever told them what you’re telling me?” The answer was no. So my counselor challenged me to tell my friend how I felt about them.

A few days later I setup lunch and after a few minutes of small talk I said to my friend, “I need to tell you something, and I need you to sit there and let me finish because this is going to be awkward.” For the next 10 minutes, I stumbled and fumbled my way through a speech about my feelings. I ended the disaster of a monolog with an excruciating and awkward, “so I guess what I’m trying to say man is… I love you, and I just wanted you to know.” By this point, I had sweat through my shirt. It was easily one of the top 5 most awkward moments of my life. How sad.

The truth about breaking beneath the surface level is it’s awkward until it’s normal, and then it’s not awkward anymore. It doesn’t take as long for something to feel normal as you think. I can promise you, hugging someone if you’re not a “hugger” will be really awkward… for like two weeks. People will make jokes like, “are you dying?” but just keep hugging. When you say “I love you” to your buddies at first, they’ll respond with something like, “uh… yea… love you too bruh.” But just keep saying it, before you know it, it won’t be awkward it will be normal.

Men are desperate for someone to tell them they’re doing a good job. It means a lot coming from their wife, but it means even more, coming from another man, a peer. Sarcasm is easy, don’t be a coward, be a man. Go deeper than the surface. Break the ice. Own the awkward. Don’t be this guy…

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Great post Jason. It’s not a societal norm for men to express those emotions. We are taught at a young age that men are tough and only women share feelings, but that’s wrong. If more men would make the realization you have I think the world would be a better, kinder place.

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