This Bud Light commercial from 1995 (it was the first in a series of commercials) made the expression, “I love you, man” part of popular culture.
The thing that made the commercial so hilarious and compelling, at the time, is that you didn't hear guys say “I love you” much back then. So it sets you up. It begins with a guy who is a bit choked up, opening up to his dad in a way which, well, guys just didn't. So it grips you, as you wait for the dad to respond, and then you realize that it wasn't a sincere moment at all. Or that it was, but sharing a particular cold beverage was even more special.
It seems like things shifted after this, and this funny statement, “I love you, man,” came into our culture. Guys started saying this to each other in humor (just like they have with other catchy, funny Bud slogans in the years which followed). I think we needed a little humor to make it comfortable for a man to say that to another man. And to be willing to receive “I love you” from a friend without it being awkward. And if were still a little awkward, you could add the last part, “I love you, man,” and that lightened it up even more, especially if you inflected your voice a little. This might all seem silly to a younger guy (since this has been part of popular culture for decades and there was even a movie made by this title), but at the time, it allowed you to express something that men have had trouble expressing to one another. And still do today.
We all need to be able to receive other people's love. It's not just the case for men. Men seem especially good at putting up a false self to hide our failures and fears behind, but we all do this, men and women alike. We do it because we're afraid that if someone really knew us -- the real us, behind the fascade -- they wouldn't love us. As a result we keep our inner lives private, and put on a false self that hides our pain, fears and weaknesses. Many of us live our entire lives with friends and spouses that don't really know us. We're afraid to let them.
The problem is that we can't become the people we were meant to be that way. We need help and encouragement, to break free of things that hold us back and trap us in sin. God has that love for us -- a love which will empower us to grow and make a difference for him in this life, but one of the primary ways we experience his love is from others. If we are not open with people, we are missing out on healing that he has for us. We are missing out on the chance to be loved and accepted in spite of our failures, and to be truly known. It is what God wants for us, but to receive it, we have to be willing to be open with at least a couple people.
It's hard. We're afraid to be rejected. But here's the thing to remember. If you open up to me, and I don't love you after you've shared your biggest struggles and failures, then I am not the person God has picked to be there for you. He has picked someone. A true friend. And you need to find that person (or a couple people), to love you with the love of Christ.
The way you find that person is to be that person for someone else. To put yourself in a spot where other people are comfortable opening up to you. You do that by dropping the false self and being real. I am a person who struggles and fails. I am a sinner. But I am on a path, and when I fall, I get back up in pursuit of the goal. That's who I am. If I let people see that, I create opportunities for people to share with me, and I with them.
The book of Proverbs has many verses about this, but I will list two:
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17; NIV)
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24; NIV)
You need someone in your life who will sharpen you. Iron sharpens iron by wearing away rough edges. Both pieces of iron can get equally sharp. You don't sharpen people simply by having fun (and that might include sitting on a dock fishing with a cold one in hand), you sharpen by being honest and by challenging one another. You need a friendship that can endure your failures and which is not afraid to call you on your mistakes. And which looks for you to do the same for them.
That friend is a friend you cannot lose by messing up. If I fail and a friend departs, that was not the person God intended to be my true friend. I need the friend who sticks closer than a brother. The only way to know is to be real, invest myself in someone else, and then live life, with their help. Across the years, that person (or a few people like that) will emerge.