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From The New York Times and Boston, this is Modern Love. Stories of love, loss and redemption. I'm your host, Meghna Chakrabarti. Do you tell your friends you love them and do you say it like that using those three words, is it easy for you to say, is it fraught?
Ricardo Hamako takes on those questions in this week's essay. It's read by Shooty Ghawar. He stars in sex education on Netflix.
I'm having our troubles, but my troubles don't involve a lover. There's no romance or sex in this, no flowers, candles or dancing, my our troubles of my boy, my best friend, Kiguchi. I told him I love him probably five or six times now, but he never says it back when people say I love you, especially for the first time, there are a number of things they may be saying. Maybe it's do you love me?
The question smuggled inside the confession or more urgently, please love me. With Kichi, it's not like that. I know he loves me. I feel all the time I don't need to ask for his love, I don't need to wonder. I tell him I love him for a simple reason. Nothing could be more true. But he doesn't say it back. Most of us said it when we're leaving each other a couple of times over the phone once when I was drunk, another time when he was hurt and I was trying to be supportive, there's always silence for a moment.
And then he says something like. Deborah, I'll catch you soon. I don't need him to say those exact words to me. I wonder, though, about what keeps him from seeing them, what keeps nearly all young men from being able to tell their male friends that they love them? When I was eight, I made my first best friend, Pedro was twig thin, messy haired and jittery, brimming with the kind of untamed tenderness found only in children.
When I moved to Philadelphia, he took me a nervous new boy at school in his arms and under his wings. Pedro and I spent our weekends on walks with his mother through the forest trails near their house. He and I walked slowly holding hands while we stepped interlocking our fingers. To this day, whenever I participate in the sacred human practice of handholding, I think of Pedro. On one of our walks, Pedro and I were interrupted by another boy, Pedro's neighbor, who chopped his hands between our startling us you to hold hands, he said that's gay.
I remember not knowing exactly what gay meant, but sensing in the way other boys wielded the word that it meant something you didn't want to be. I had a terrible feeling that the outside world had broken into a quite grim place. Pedro and I never held hands again. He and I still cared for each other, but that day we learned our care was something we needed to regulate, subdue, placed in a chokehold and never let loose. We learned this at the hands of another boy our age, who probably had learned at the hands of another boy of whatever age.
Paduan, I learned what men in America have learned repeatedly that tenderness must be tamed in accordance with a set, of course we must become fluent in as if our survival depends on it. This lesson has learned over many years, passed between generations and like the best taught lessons, it claws into you until you can hardly distinguish where the lesson ends and you begin. Somewhere inside, each man has a list of all the other men he's loved without ever finding the words to tell them.
So. I met Kiguchi in the middle of my freshman year when I was once again a nervous new kid, this time throwing a party. I've gone through life of a rotating set of anxious ticks that year, I've become fond of swinging my university lanyard with my key in circles, wrapping and unwrapping it around my finger when people start flowing into my dorm room. I began my nervous swinging, not noticing what I was doing until I heard a crack and saw that my key had struck a stranger's iPhone screen, leaving a minor scratch.
That stranger, Kiichi. My first message to him was an apology sent the next morning, he was kind and forgiving. We agreed to hang out. Freshman year, in easy times attached to people, I started hanging out with Kiguchi more and more almost every day, then several times a day. When it was time to choose housing for sophomore year, we decided to room together. We fell into each other's lives quickly because we were both hungry for closeness in a new place.
We stayed in each other's lives because nothing has ever felt more natural. Kiki and I are both mixed race with white mothers, immigrant fathers and hard to pronounce names. We are from cities in Seattle, Philadelphia, that we take pride in. But mostly we are different. He's calm, cool, rides a skateboard, keeps his clothes neatly folded, writes poems and loves immunology when he said he doesn't stay sad for long. I admire how quietly deliberate she is in the balance he brings to his life.
When I go to him with girlfriend problems, writing problems or any other kind of problems, some little thing he says or notices always stays with me for days. I appreciate his steadiness and he appreciates how emotional I am, how I'm really balanced or collected at all, how I'm messy and clumsy. As we became closer friends, I started taking some of them with me and he started taking some of me with him. He appreciates the mess of me, which is maybe how I know that he loves me.
What else is there to love anyway? The courts men follow in love are tricky, for example, while seeing a straight I love you is frowned upon sometimes saying to another man, Much love or love for you is OK.
I love you. Might even be possible if it is quickly followed by bro or man. These are the linguistic gymnastics masculinity asks us to perform the negotiations we make through language to keep within the acceptable bounds of manhood.
A footnote should be added to the code sometimes the most inconvenient or terrible circumstances can occasion an acceptable expression of love, but only at that moment never to be spoken of again. Two years ago, Keets united semesters off from college and spent that time in Colombia where my father's from, one day while in the coastal town of Capuana, I got so suddenly sick with fever and dizziness, I dropped to my knees while walking on the beach. I was scared to be mysteriously ill in a place where I knew it could be hard to find help.
Kiguchi searched all over town for a doctor when he couldn't find one. He decided his premed coursework would have to do, and he tended to me. He put his hand on my forehead. He whispered in my ear, he told me over and over that I was going to be OK until I was. This was perhaps our most intimate moment brought about by my sickness and unthinkable at any other time. This is the code as intricate as it is, far reaching.
Kiki and I do not possess the flagship qualities of masculine college boys. We aren't in fraternities or on sports teams. We have even talked more than once about masculinity and the illogical things it requires of us. But still, we have lived in this world.
We grew up as boys in America. We learned this code and we practice it. There's no immunity. There's a part of this story I haven't admitted yet. Each time I say I love you to Kiki. It feels uncomfortable. I feel the weirdness of it even in myself. The lesson is borrowed in that deep. I hesitate, flinch, but in my conscious mind, I know it's what I want to say, so I try to see.
I want to say I love you, Sakichi. I mean, just that I don't want there to be any desire or questioning or expectation lurking inside my words. I want to love in a way that surpasses the need for affirmation, for return. This is what I've come to know as a purist kind of love, expecting nothing back. I remain hopeful. It's not that I need to hear those words, I'm just ready to be free from all the forces, voices and gestures that keep us from seeing them.
Still, I can't help but wish that one day Kiguchi will forgo all the masculine klatell look me in the eyes and simply say. I love you, too. That's Shooty Gawa reading Ricardo Harami Cho's essay, Why can't men say I love you to each other? We'll catch up with Ricardo after the break. Deep down, we all like to get scared around Halloween, but policy genius thinks one thing should not be scary shopping for home and auto insurance.
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It's nice to get it right.
Ricardo Romero's essay was a finalist in the 2009 Modern Love College essay contest.
We talked to him in May and he told us that after his essay was published, he got a lot of messages from people telling him they loved him. Some of those messages were from friends and some were from people he'd had a class with once. As for whether Kiguchi said it.
There's a million dollar question, this article, though, I don't know, I mean, the short answer is no, but I don't think much actually hinges on him saying that in our relationship. I guess that's sort of how I wouldn't want people to misread the piece. Like he's just someone that has loved me really well and, like, completely saved my life. And like, I hope that's made clear in the writing. And maybe one day I would just open the door and he will be there with some sort of love actually type posterboard situation.
You know, if he needed me tomorrow, like I would drive to Seattle, even though my license is expired and there's a pandemic, like, you know, like whatever he needed, like I would do it. And I know that if I called him and he needed me, like his license is probably not expired, but, like, he would probably go. I don't want to make any promises for him, but I imagine he would. Ricardo says that language fails men in a lot of ways, not just around the phrase, I love you.
There's a poet, Ocean Viking, that talks like so beautifully about it was like so much of the language of that boys use to talk about victory is so connected to violence like you kill that you kick the shit out of then all this stuff. So I think sort of cooked into the language that we have already sort of bounce like only go this far. And that was there's some sort of natural collision that occurs between those bounds and then where I love might ask us to go.
The two languages in my life are English and Spanish in English, we have one word for love in Spanish, there's two words for the kids and I love you. And I hope that in 200 years we live in a world where there's a lot more language available to us. Like, I hope that we have like 30 words available to us for love, because I think that will mean as a society that we've worked to know it better. I feel like in a lot of ways the piece is about affection and like.
How we can sort of translate or communicate or lay bare in words our affection, and we are in to such a heartbreaking moment, and I think that one of the only responses to that is to sort of drop down into the humor and like and participate in affection. Yeah, I think that's sort of like what can save us.
That's Ricardo Rumiko. He's a teacher, essayist and Fulbright Scholar. His latest essay will be published this week through Why Philadelphia's public radio station. More after the break.
This is Sam Dolnick, I'm an assistant managing editor at The New York Times, our newsroom has been empty since March, but we've been busier than ever before. The pandemic has changed how we work, but it hasn't changed what we do. We are living through history. Every single one of our journalists is trying to match the moment. We have political reporters analyzing every development of this historic election. We have data journalists tracking every single virus case in America.
We've national reporters braving wildfires and floods to witness and understand the effects of climate change. And then there are food writers offering advice for what to cook during these many nights at home. This is why we became journalists to bring to light real verified information when the stakes couldn't be higher. We can't do this work without our subscribers. If you'd like to subscribe, please go to NY Times dot com slash. Subscribe and thanks. Here's Daniel Jones, editor of the Modern Love column for The New York Times Riccardo's essay came in as part of our last college essay contest, and I thought it was such a brave exploration of toxic masculinity and its causes and effects.
And one line in particular really struck me.
Where he talks about tenderness is something that must be tamed and and how much damage that goes on to cause in families and relationships and in the world.
It's sort of incredible to me how how that starts, you know, in childhood through shaming and works its way through our education system and has these lifelong implications. So to read Riccardo's essay, which is such a refreshing look at where this comes from and how hopefully it can be undone. And here's Utegate, Ghawar on why he chose to read this piece. I think I was just drawn to how honest it was.
And I mean, I think in society we're having a real rethink about masculinity and what it means. And I think that this this piece kind of encapsulated like that kind of conversation. Um, as a man myself, as a boy, I'm very aware of all these codes.
I grew up with them.
There really is like an unwritten code of masculinity that I think needs to be broken.
And I think we as humans need to not be afraid to say that we love each other and not hold back from that, because I think the more love we can get in this world, the better. Thank you to Shooty for recording himself at home.
You can see him now in the Netflix show Sex Education. Modern Love is a production of The New York Times and WB.
You are Boston's NPR station.
It's produced, directed and edited by Caitlin O'Keefe, Original Scoring and sound design by Matt Reed. Iris Adler is our executive producer. We are edited by Catherine Brewer.
Daniel Jones is the editor of Modern Love for The New York Times and adviser to the show special thanks to Julia Simon on Australian and Millie at The New York Times. And to Michael Garth, AWB, you are. The idea for the Modern Love podcast was conceived by Lisa Tobin. Additional music courtesy of APM. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.
See you next week.