My brother is one of the people I love the most. My family knows it. My friends know it. I’m pretty sure everyone knows it, except my brother.
That’s because I haven’t told him. I think it would be awkward.
Don’t get me wrong — we hang out all the time and text almost every day. I don’t generally feel awkward, but I do when it comes to my feelings.
Maybe it’s a quirk of our relationship, but I’ve got a hunch we aren’t the only ones.
Romantic relationships are privileged when it comes to telling our loved ones how we feel. Anything that’s not romantic often gets sidelined. We even have a whole day — Valentine’s Day — centred around telling our significant others how much we love them.
The Greeting Card Association estimates that about 145 million greeting cards will be purchased for Valentine’s Day this year. But when was the last time you sent a friend or family member a card just to say you love them?
Probably on their birthday.
That’s because it can be difficult for people to express affection in any non-romantic relationships.
Rory Grant, who helped create Queen’s first Maskulinity Summit last year, said that many men are less comfortable demonstrating affection than women.
“Guys fear losing social status by telling someone that they love them because they look down on that,” said Grant, ArtSci ’15.
“They need to be tough, they need to be strong and on the offensive. They can’t bring people in. So, it’s rare.”
Grant noticed this hesitance cropping up as early as elementary and high school. It’s particularly evident in boys who are taught from a very young age to conform to traditional ideals of masculinity.
These values forced boys to be more reserved in their social interactions and led to an environment that was implicitly or explicitly homophobic.
“There was this discomfort associated with hugging between men or with saying ‘I love you man’ … and this discomfort with being possibly perceived as gay,” Grant said.
It goes without saying that the consequences of homophobia are much more harmful than this possible awkwardness. Yet it seems plausible that subconscious homophobic values prevented some individuals from expressing themselves emotionally.
After all, most of us have probably worried that we’ve led someone on when we’re just being friendly. But just because someone doesn’t say they love you outright, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t telling you how they feel.
Gary Chapman, author of a series of books on “The Five Love Languages”, came up with the idea that we’re more comfortable and skilled at expressing our love in certain ways.
Chapman suggests there are five languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and the physical touch. Using these languages, we’re able to express our love. Some of us may simply speak some languages better than others, though.
A quiz on Chapman’s website allows you to determine which language you speak best. It turns out that I score highest on quality time, which means that I’m best at communicating my love for someone by just spending time with them.
The quiz indicated that I also feel most loved when others take time to spend with me.
Just because my type isn’t very good at telling people we love them doesn’t mean we aren’t expressing that love in a meaningful way.
But if we’re expressing our preferred love language in romantic relationships — but not platonic ones — there’s still a disconnect.
Kyla Craig has felt that disconnect since becoming involved with her boyfriend of over a year.
“It’s always been super easy for me to be emotional with him … but pretty much [with] my whole life with my family, I’m just not an emotional person with them. I can show affection, but I just find most of the time it makes me uncomfortable and I’d rather not,” said Craig, ArtSci ’17.
“So I had always assumed that once I had a romantic relationship, it would be the same, but I was surprised by how easy it was to be emotional.”
She thinks that part of that gap might come from romantic relationships being based on commonality, where families have potentially more diverse interests.
“Maybe it’s because I just feel like sometimes I’m a very different person from my parents, for example.”
Where it can be difficult to reach out to our families even when we want to, Craig said the opposite problem can creep up when it comes to platonic friends.
Rather than seeking out more effective communication, it’s sometimes hard to tell friends we love them if we think they might misinterpret our affection. Craig had this experience with a close male friend she’s known since high school.
“He has always really meant a lot to me, but I get really awkward when I try and tell him that because I’m afraid he might think that I mean something more, when I don’t,” she said.
Worrying about how you will be perceived might keep people from expressing themselves, according to Karen Blair. It’s especially relevant to communicating love.
Blair, who is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Utah, said that developing trust with your partner in any relationship is integral to expressing affection.
“Sharing affection can open you up to rejection, so that is why trust can be an important factor,” Blair, PhD ’12, told the Journal via email.
“A great deal of our ability to share affection has to do with our levels of trust that we have for other people.”
If we’re mostly seeking trust in loving interactions, it makes sense that we might find it easier to be fearlessly affectionate.
In any event, it’s important to develop the courage to be loving in our relationships, romantic or not. According to Blair, the benefits of doing so might outweigh the risks of opening up.
“Supportive and loving relationships provide a great variety of benefits to the people within the relationships,” Blair said.
Even just one affectionate act can give instant benefits to recipients, she added.
“The actual act of physical touch between partners has been shown to have positive and immediate health benefits,” Blair said.
A 2003 Behavioral Medicine study suggests that individuals in stressful scenarios experience less stress when holding their partner’s hand, compared to those who undergo the process holding the hand of a stranger to whom they had no emotional attachment.
“In a more day-to-day setting you could imagine this taking place between partners when facing any sort of stress,” Blair said.
“Perhaps one partner is waiting to write an exam and the other offers a comforting touch on the shoulder, a hug, or a hand to hold — if this reduces their exam writer’s stress responses, this is good for their health, and probably also good for the outcome of their exam.”
During the stressful midterm season, it’s hard to imagine a better incentive to open up to our loved ones.
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