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Oneil Madden | Masculinity, language and society: Why don’t men say ‘I love you’?

Published:Saturday | February 15, 2020 | 12:00 AMOneil Madden/Guest Columnist

“I love you” are three of the most life-changing and relieving words that bring melody to the human ear; yet, this affirmation of affection or deep care is one that is hardly uttered by many men.

Former American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, proposed the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The third stage of his pyramid speaks to humans having a need for love and belonging, whether this comes from friendship, intimacy, family or just a general sense of connection. Thus, everyone wants to know at some point that they matter to someone else, especially the people with whom they interact on a daily basis.

However, the dynamics of the Jamaican and other predominately Black societies are of such that a bro-code handbook has been developed and circulated, albeit subconsciously, that the male population tries its best to avoid using the words “I love you” to each other.

Socio-linguistically speaking, it is normalised for Jamaican men to express manly affection by saying, “nuff/much love”, “mi rate yuh”, or “yuh a mi chargie” to each other. Interestingly, there are a few men who say, “[I] love you, bro,” but if the word “bro” were ever forgotten in this context, this may change the entire interpretation of the message being communicated. However, beyond the sociocultural code that serves as a barrier to expressing one’s sincerest emotions, there are several males who have a list of men that they genuinely love and appreciate and to whom they would like to say “I love you”.

Understandably, the homophobic society in which we were socialised would not allow it. It is rather ironic that one of the most beautiful and most powerful phrases in the human vocabulary could also be the cause of much destruction. Our society has taught us to stifle our emotions, especially as an emotional man is considered a weak man.

Furthermore, it is just ‘gay’ to tell another man that you love him. This has caused a lot of ‘straight’ men to question their sexuality and identity as they are quite positive about their straightness but expressing such an affection makes them very uncomfortable. Of course, I am not ruling out the possibility that there are some men whose motives are not always right.


The issue does not only concern male-to-male relationships; it also affects father-son and male-female relationships. Many of our boys grow up to be aggressive, insensitive and feeling unloved simply because their fathers have never taken a moment to say, “I love you”. They have never heard it; they have never lived it.

Speaking from a traditional perspective, there has been the view that fathers, especially those who are breadwinners, are to provide the food and lunch money, while mothers take care of the emotional and affective needs of the children. On the contrary, both parents play a pivotal role in meeting their children’s emotional needs.

It is often said that we cannot give what we do not have. A lot of heterosexual relationships are dysfunctional or deficient because the male partner struggles to validate his spouse or girlfriend by articulating his love through words. However, it is a strong possibility that this partner in question was never told by his dad that he loved him, or he never heard his father utter these words to his mother. It is, thus, awkward and unnatural for him. If this is not corrected, the cycle will inevitably continue into future generations.

It is time for us to reshape our culture and re-educate our boys. Some men only express their deepest emotions over a casket when it is obviously too late. Let us redefine masculinity by propagating love. This could help us in our efforts to save our boys as we seek to save our nation.

Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate, didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France. Email feedback to and