I Just Need a Hug- Thoughts on Male Friendships as a Black Man in the Midwest who is Kind of Sad
Losing friends hurts more and resonates longer than losing romantic relationships in my experience. I think this is due to the expectations each type of relationship has on the front end. When I was dating I knew I would break with everybody except one person. Breakups sucked but felt like part of the process. I never assume I am going to lose a friend when that friendship begins. Even the most seemingly surface level proximity based friendships still have a feeling that they will exist indefinitely. It’s hard to even know when a friendship is over and then you find out that you’re long forgotten. Romantic Relationships are constantly touched and evaluated, you always know where you stand or at least you want to know. Friendships are good until proven otherwise, but some of the best friendships can go into stasis for years and then be picked up right where they left off.
As a man, I have been forged in the fire of loyalty and bros emphasizing how timeless and important these male relationships are. One of my biggest issues is that nobody prepares you for when they end. I use to struggle when the season ended, when graduation hit, when I’d switch jobs and my network of bros would fall apart. That hurt and loneliness feels uniquely sharp because it feels almost secret and unspoken. In the media there are albums dedicated to lost love, but lost friendships don't have that large of a catalog. It almost makes me feel stupid for lamenting the loss of a friend, like it shouldn’t be a big deal but I can’t shake the hurt. I feel like I can talk about being dumped by a significant other and that’s normal. I feel like I am allowed to be openly sad about that but I don’t think people would respect my being sad and staying in because one of my best friends won’t hit me up anymore.
Sometimes I'll reminisce on a lost love but it's rare. Lost friendships seem to come up more. Friendships lack the boundaries of a romantic relationship and with that lack of boundaries the hole left by a missing friend feels bigger. Having a bad day, frustrated in your romantic relationship you talk to your friend. Lunches, jokes, sports, games are all done with a friend and those mundane experiences feel so empty when that friend is gone.
If you have difficulties with your spouse, you can see a counselor and that's fairly normal and accepted. I feel like people would look at me like a lunatic if I went to couples therapy to repair a friendship. It's like friendships aren't worth repairing or investing in. I think one of the reasons the Fast and Furious series resonated with me immediately is because it's ostensibly about male friendship and trust. It's about Vin Diesel and Paul Walker having such a deep friendship that Walker is going to leave his chance at a clean slate and normal life because he is part of Vin's family now. I use their real names because the friendship seemed to permeate their real lives, friendship so strong a movie can’t contain it. I love tag teams in wrestling and factions because friendships and relationships are infinitely more interesting than the individual journey. The idea of the individual journey is a lie. Nobody exists in a vacuum, we all interact with others.
Rehabilitating a friendship feels a lot harder than a romantic relationship as well. Showing friendship is different than showing love...I think. You can, "kiss and makeup" with a significant other. I can't kiss and make up with my boys. But I wish I could. Masculinity sets up this dichotomy where being a good friend, a bro, is hyper valued but also holding a grudge is part of being a man too. This idea of honor and not forgiving slights is hugely masculine. For me, it inhibits my ability to apologize and mend broken relationships because I don't want to look weak and I don't know how to handle being rejected again in that capacity.
To clarify, I specify male friendships in this because I don't seem to have the same issues working through friendship issues with my non-male identifying friends. There is more of a dialogue. Maybe it's because I make a different investment in these relationships based on my gender assumptions. Male relationships feel safer to me, there isn't the same pressure or navigating boundaries that I feel like I need to do with my female identifying friends. There are jokes and stories that will just never be told to my non-male friends but those walls don't exist in the same way for the male friendships.
Spending time with elderly people has shown me how different friendships with men can be. I work in home-care (one of a few jobs) and I have observed that older man will hug you and tell you how happy they are to see you. My elderly male residents will put their arm around me and let me know we are friends. The best part is they don't spend 10 minutes saying "no homo". There is no weird feeling of, “I hope he doesn't think I’m gay.” I was raised and told that nothing is worse than being perceived as a gay man if you are “straight”. I know better now but the damage lingers and I am interact in communities that aren’t super progressive.
I want to tell my male friends I love them. I want to hug them. I want them to know how much they matter to me. But I'm black and I have a lot of friends that are still uncomfortable with anything that might be “gay” and I'm Christian and with that I have a lot of people in those circles who are not very progressive.(Not all black people or Christians are homophobic). Your perceived sexuality is a very guarded thing of not only making sure people know your not gay but performing your lack of gayness. I want to hug you, not fuck you. We can talk on the phone and it doesn't mean I'm trying to date you but everything gets caught up in optics and performing straightness. It's a box that leaves me feeling really empty sometimes. Sometimes I'm just sad and want to tell my boys I'm sad but that's weak. I've made that mistake, I could feel the distance it created. My friends that identify as women don't judge me like that. I want to be able to call my best guy friends with no reason but to just know they are there on the other end. It's hard to type this without feeling..weak? vulnerable? I don’t even know but I can feel my friends and other men making fun of me as I type. I just need a hug.