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I love you, guys – and I want to tell you when I’m sober as well as in the pub

As someone who likes to pretend they are above Love Island, but follows the stories on social media and gets updates from friends, I think one of the most interesting things about the latest series, which ended last week, is the relationship between the men. They’re exceptionally supportive and huggy, telling each other they love them; that they’ve got their back; offering counselling and advice.

My male friends and I have always said we love each other, but only recently when sober. Previously, it was isolated to the 10.30-11pm period of a night out, when everybody was feeling great and we were about to go on to a post-pub location. The final half hour at the pub would always consist of going up to each of the blokes you were with, putting your arm around their neck, then telling them that you loved them – while insisting they listened to you explain why. They would accept that love, then respond by telling you why they loved you. The next time you went out on a night, that would all happen again as if the previous conversations had never occurred.

I think male friendships have evolved, although I would argue they have got a slightly unfair rap in the past. The stereotype has always been that men can’t talk to each other about their feelings. Throughout my life, I have to say I have felt comfortable talking about my feelings and issues with any of my friends. But only on a one-to-one basis. There is something about a group of men. If you share a sensitive issue with the group, the rest will jump on you like a pack of raptors. I know this because one of our friends stopped coming to the pub for a while because he had been going to the toilet a bit too frequently, which meant that his bladder was referred to as “fucking pathetic”.

Among my group of friends, this has changed to a degree. There are different sessions of conversation. There are the traditional male slanging matches, where if somebody expresses the wrong opinion, or – God forbid – wears something slightly unusual, they are sacrificed to the banter gods. However, I have noticed, and I think this is partly about getting older, but also thanks to the breaking down of stereotypes about male conversation, that the conversation will move on to relationship issues, talking about mental health, life worries and even regrets about forcing someone home because they took a third toilet break.

I would even go so far as to say that telling friends you love them has become acceptable even while sober. I am not suggesting that every call ends with an “I love you”, or that we make calls at all, but sometimes if someone needs a pep talk, or you have done something to help them, or supported them through something tough, there will sometimes be an expression of love, without fear of ridicule. Though I have also expressed love to a male friend via text, and faced a nervy wait as I wondered whether he was going to reply or turn it into a meme.

So if the Love Island men reflected this evolution in male relationships, I think that is something to be celebrated. Lord knows the show needs something positive to come out of it, because despite its promises that people will be protected, and imploring people to “be kind”, the fact remains that if a contestant so much as looks at somebody sideways, their name trends online alongside a level of anger that suggests they have been involved in some sort of war atrocity.

Anyway, if my friends are reading: I love you, man.