Somewhere around my freshman or sophomore year, my high school invited a motivational speaker to present to my class about the dangers of bullying and harassment. The speaker was the father of a young boy who had committed suicide following years of torment from his prepubescent classmates. As a suicide attempt survivor myself, the story deeply impacted me, and before the end of the hour I had been reduced to tears amongst the mixed rows of giggling and sniffling behind me. Admittedly, I was still mildly distracted by thoughts of unfinished Spanish homework and whose table I was going to sit at during lunch next period, but then the man closed his presentation by inviting students to meet him afterward. As a sensitive soul who requires a lot of emotional validation, I jumped on the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for his story. I stood in line behind several other students who were tearfully waiting for the same opportunity.
Instead of just nodding and smiling and sending us on our way, I watched as the man pulled each of us into a hug and said “I love you. Thank you.” I remember that the hug was genuine and the tone of his voice was clear and meaningful. I remember pausing for a moment, sitting with the brief instinct to be uncomfortable, before whispering “I love you too,” and truly meaning it. I remember texting my friends to pass on the same sentiment, my heart bursting out of my chest with grief that wasn’t mine, and with love that seemed to flow through the bodies and experiences of the people around me, above me, and back into my veins. Though I don’t remember the man’s name or his face, I remember how it felt to share physical touch and platonic love with a stranger whose pain was deeply visceral. Despite his personal tragedy, the man transformed his anguish into meaning, and his heart grew with love instead of shriveling up to avoid future pain. I credit that moment as one that changed my life, and I wish I could thank him for it.
The Ian Maclaren quote about everyone fighting their own battles has informed my most foundational philosophy for life. I believe that since we have no way of knowing who needs love, we have a responsibility as human beings to provide that love to as many people as we possibly can. I ascribe to the idea that treating everyone with compassion is the most powerful way to fight against fear and evil. I recognize that there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, particularly when it comes to people abusing their positions of authority and directly contributing to the suffering of others through force, but those highly complex, systemic injustices are not the ones I’m focused on for the sake of this article.
When it comes to daily, basic interactions, I am a major proponent of open, honest, platonic love. I perceive love and being in love as two very separate emotions, and I believe that normalizing the former is the key to radical acceptance not only of others, but of ourselves. I don’t believe that you have to be intimately familiar with someone in order to love them; rather, love is the default and indifference is earned. Though I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, I’m comfortable being alone in this mindset knowing that no one can be harmed by the knowledge that I love them. There are very little, if any, downsides to the radical normalization of platonic love.
If you have ever been blessed enough to be present in the girl’s bathroom at a crowded bar, you have likely bore witness to the epitome of this kind of love. Women praising each other, wiping each other’s tears, holding their hair back, hyping each other up — sometimes, and often, without even knowing each other. Any Instagram selfie comment section can affirm that women are culturally and societally encouraged to make these connections and express their love vibrantly and unapologetically; men, unfortunately, are almost never granted the same freedom. Psychological research suggests that all people are born with an inherent impulse toward attachment and love, but American men are socialized by their parents and peers into suppressing that impulse until even a simple compliment to a friend must be punctuated by an assertion of masculinity. The negative impacts of this toxic discouragement are far too complex to fit into this article, but it is my hope that by encouraging the normalization of expressions of platonic love, we will begin to dismantle the biases in place designed to prevent people from presenting their truest, most authentic selves.
I am often plagued by the fear that I love too hard, too much, too easily, and too frequently. Friends will vouch for the fact that I get overly attached to the fantasy of forever. After receiving a friendly wave from someone who I let pull in front of me on a busy road, I thought about that person for days — what are they like? Did I make their day? Do they think about me? Where were they going? If a stranger in line at a store makes idle commentary about the weather, I will think about them every time similar weather arises. If I sleep with someone and they stick around to talk and cuddle, I’ll ride that seratonin high for weeks and gleefully picture us as gray, wrinkled Mahjong buddies at the local nursing home.
Maybe my inability to form internal boundaries and perceive basic kindness as just that — basic — is a product of my own insecurities and past relationship traumas. Or maybe I’m just an empath who, like my mother, is most fulfilled by acts of service and love to others. I understand and acknowledge that many people are turned off by this behavior; they may perceive it as my attempt to lock them into commitment, or they may not be used to so much affection and get uncomfortable when it’s poured over their heads like an ice bucket challenge of love. I also understand and acknowledge that there are cultural norms at play, and that it is not my right to challenge someone else’s parenting style if their household is one that rarely engages in the kind of vibrant, sometimes overdramatic love that characterized mine in my youth. I could never ask my friends to lower any preexisting guards for me or return sentiments they may not feel just to placate my compulsion for connection.
My only request is that the people who enter my life do so with the knowledge that I intend to spread my heart wide open, with passion and excitement and appreciation spilling from my guts, ready and able to accept every beautiful, tragic, wonderful facet of their existence with every fiber of my being. I want to live every day like I’m standing at the mirror in a bar bathroom, three vodka cranberries deep, braiding the hair of some stranger whose boyfriend didn’t text her back. Although emotional vulnerability can be scary, I want to bare my soul to world in the hopes that someone will find the courage to do the same, knowing that I’ll be standing there with my heart wide open, ready to love them freely and radically. I want to believe that we haven’t all lost our impulse for attachment and that there are children in all of us who still want to love the world and have it love us back.
I want to scream, I love you. Thank you. I love you. Thank you. I love you. Thank you.