Sooo, it’s almost the end of Month Two of the new year. How are y’alls new year’s resolutions coming along? Good? Bad? Didn’t really make any?
Well, this is the two-part story of my new year’s resolutions for 2019 — on how I thought it was going to be one of the most loving, fun years of my life but turned out to be a very painful one; on how I’d formed a certain understanding for expressions of love and how it turned out to be completely different.
In the year of our Lord two thousand and nineteen, a fun idea came to mind. Instead of coming up with a new year’s resolution that would require me to exert some striving effort or discipline, I thought of a fun goal for the year instead. Better to have a more fun-oriented and #StrengthsBased approach, right?
This is an entry from my prayer journal dated 12th of January 2019; it’s a prayer that became my goal for the year.
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But what did “To love more affectionately and not robotically” actually mean? Reading it back now, I realize it’s a somewhat weirdly phrased sentence.
Well, to explain, we need to go back to the depths of the primordial chasms of time and space.
I’m unsure if it was the general culture growing up in the Philippines or just my particular family, but I grew up in an environment where love wasn’t really expressed through words or physical affection.
From a young age, I was taught the Filipino concept of pagmamano. Pagmamano (noun) or mano (verb) is a greeting gesture of taking someone’s hand, normally an older person like a grandparent, and placing it against your forehead as a sign of respect, as if to gain his or her blessing.
Basically, a mano was the closest thing to physical affection I experienced growing up. My family also didn’t talk much, whether general things in our daily lives or deeper things like our feelings.
The only things my family talked about, beyond all the shouting, were things like: “What’s for dinner?”; “What time are we leaving for church?”; and “Why are you a gay?” (okay, maybe not that last one).
Essentially, my family only talked about the absolutely necessary things we needed to talk about whilst living together.
As a result, I grew up a socially awkward introvert, not knowing how to navigate social situations. But I determined that to be a personal benefit rather than a setback.
Growing up in a Christian environment and realising I had same-sex attractions (SSA), I found my stoicism to be helpful:
Not having physical affection = experiencing less gay temptations = getting more love from God
Not having deep emotional attachment = not needing to worry about getting into relationships with men = being more loved by God
After moving to the big city of London a couple years ago, my socially awkward little bubble started to shake up. The city naturally forced me into social situations that I’d never experienced before, and I loved it!
I started meeting new acquaintances at church and eventually established deeper relationships. I had to navigate these new, more intimate relationships within a hodgepodge of cultures.
It was initially weird for me when people from my London church, especially other guys, greeted me with a hug. It was such a new thing for me!
At my church in the Philippines, we just greeted each other or said goodbye with nice Asian waves. I remember visiting back home after living in London for a couple of years, and I started offering hugs to people, forgetting where I was.
The women cringingly swerved into side hugs, and the men awkwardly deflected with a “hey, don’t be gay, bruh” joke, or a low-five, or an awkward back-pat (without their arm touching any part of my body, of course).
After moving to London, I started seeing my friendship circles not just expanding but growing deeper. I established relationships with people who actually cared for me — people with whom I could do everyday life.
My Goal for Affectionately Loving
I’d entered this new era of deeper, more intimate friendships, and so this was the motivation behind my resolution/prayer to start 2019.
I’d felt many internal changes, but they hadn’t been expressed externally yet: changes on how I viewed friendships, how I viewed the church as my family, and how I viewed the concept of brotherhood (and sisterhood!).
I wanted those internal changes to start manifesting externally. I wanted to give more and longer cuddlehugs, give more personalised gifts, spend more intentional time with friends, and say “I love you!” more.
It was going to be my year of metamorphosis — from Robotic Stoic Stump to Cuddlesome Care Bear.
A vision for my whole year started forming: a cosy, snug year, bundling up in the warmth of other people’s bosoms. I imagined hangouts, dinner parties, day trips, and trips abroad.
My mind even went into Christianese mode as I imagined recreating Jesus’ dining with his disciples, including his bro/bae John reclining upon him, enjoying an intimate meal together.
I laid out a couple ideas for certain months in my calendar, and I just brought the other months to God.
“God, I want to love people more affectionately. How I’m going to do that the rest of the year, I’ll leave it all to your perfect plan. I want to be able to love how you loved. To have the same kind of healthy, intimate relationships you had with your disciples. People from both sexes.”
Simple and fun, yet dramatic and Christianese. What more could I ask for?
Well, hunny bro me of 2019, be careful what you wish for!
And so the year started with ecstatic expectations . . .
Loving the Dream
May 2019 was a very affectionate month. I took a trip to the U.S. and had a long overdue catchup with the guys and gays of the YOBBERS retreat. I also took an American road trip and caught up with one of my closest girlfriends who used to live in London.
I gave and received lots of love that month: memorable once-in-a-lifetime moments, long and deep conversations, and lots of warm cuddles.
In June, I went on another Christian SSA men’s retreat in the countryside of the Czech Republic. It was another amazing time with lots of personal reflections and new bonds made. We cooked together, hiked together, and talked about all the boyz whose beauty we admired.
Some of those men experienced such vulnerability with others for the first time.
Right after that retreat, I headed to Prague to meet with some of my closest friends and celebrate my birthday. We rented a boat and cruised the Vltava River whilst soaking in the summer sun. We ate, we drank, we laughed — all in such a picturesque city.
July is my best friend’s birth month; like me, he’s also a little extra, so we decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with one of our best gal friends. We went around the Old City of Jerusalem, floated on the Dead Sea, and trekked the Jordan Valley in Jericho under the scorching heat.
We also walked the powdery white beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and ended up half-naked in a little bathtub together needing to soak in hot water because of jellyfish stings.
My best friend and I had amazing revelations, shared our deepest fears, and formed a deeper bond. He also asked me to baptise him in the Jordan River!
So, these were the fun things I’d had in mind from the beginning of the year, my specific ideas for loving others more affectionately. Those three summer months were filled with love, affection, and adventure — just the way I wanted them to be.
As for the rest of the months that year, well, I learned God had another side to loving than what I’d considered, and he sure taught me this side.
To be continued . . .
Have you ever made any goals to love others more intentionally and affectionately? Does physical/external affection come naturally to you or not so much?