Boys, Brothers, and Saying “I Love You”: 18 Readers’ thoughts about #NurturanceCulture

Readers sent in your experiences and wisdom about #NurturanceCulture. Here are some of my favourites:

Nurturance is like a pot of soup that grows for both/all the more you put in.


Nurturance is my 16-year-old brother, waking up his little sister (me) with breakfast on a tray the morning we have to leave early on a long car ride. I am an adult now, but this memory of my brother, who taught me so much about nurturance, is still bright in my mind, especially now I have a baby of my own. – anon

Marie (10) has been getting bullied at school and she’s been having nightmares of the kid being sent to jail because she wrote him up in the school’s peer justice system. The kid she wrote up is having a lot of trouble and is being written up many many times a day by many different people, so she’s not being targeted, just feeling really raw about being shoved around by him. Alex (12) stood by her like a body guard all day yesterday. We didn’t even ask him to. He just asked why she’s being so crazy lately, and I told him that she’s not sleeping well because she’s having nightmares and getting bullied at school, and he said, “What? Who! I’ll help her! Tell her to tell me and I will help her!” and then he just stuck right beside her the entire day, in case she was too scared to look for him. Best big brother ever!  –  anon, Vancouver, BC

Nurturance is when my brother listens to me when I’m melting down and tries to help. He’s really, really good at listening. We’re both adults now; we’re three and a half years apart. We’ve always gotten along really well (ever since I started giving him dating advice in high school haha). And now we talk and we support each other. We live in different cities now, so we keep in touch mostly by phone or skype. When my son was born, he came and stayed for a week and helped look for tricks to make my colicky son stop crying, and also made us laugh by doing fantastic ‘newborn’ impressions. – Lisa, Montreal

Nurturance is this big brother who loves his baby sister. My godson at age five knew that his little sister was coming soon and was in mama’s belly. When I said to him that he was ‘going to have a sister soon’ he corrected me indignantly, “I already have a sister.” He liked to kiss his mum’s belly and say ‘my sister is in there. – anon

Nurturance is when my male partner learned how to touch the scar along my spine with a caressing gesture in a way that no one — friends, family or physicians — had the patience to do before. It is the way that he carries me to bed when I fall asleep on the couch and always makes sure that I am tucked in comfortably before he leaves the room. It is the way that he listens to me so intently that he remembers everything that I tell him.

Nurturance is when he embraces me and assures me that everything is okay after I accidentally spill or break something in a situation where I have learned from other relationships in my life to anticipate criticism or shame. It is feeling comfortable taking my time eating or walking, two things that I am usually slower at than others and feel pressured to compensate for. It is feeling completely safe when sharing my thoughts, even if I know they could be potentially upsetting to my partner. It is knowing that communication is valued over anything else. Nurturance is feeling validated in my experience even though my partner has experienced significant emotional trauma in his own life. It is feeling loved because not only his words, but also his actions, indicate his will for me to grow and achieve the goals I set for myself in both the short and long-term.

No matter how many times he says he loves me, it never feels exhaustive. And when he hugs me, he holds me until I want to let go. I know that he feels my love and he knows that I feel his. In his arms, I feel safe and warm — not because he is a man but because I know that no matter what happens in the world, good or bad, we can face it together because of our values and the love we share.  – Karlie R. E., Michigan

Nurturance is suddenly being smitten by how beautiful your wife or lover is for the ten-thousandth time and saying so. – Michael,

Sometimes it’s pushing a large garbage bin out when both our backs are sore, and the sidewalk looks slippery, and one of us has a weak leg. – A.L.

Nurturance is not only expressing compersion when your primary polyamorous partner goes on dates with other men, but also rescheduling your own polyamorous dates because she needs your support near the anniversary of her mother’s death. – Eric B., Aurora, CO

Real emotional independence is reliant on emotional interdependence to exist. Train yourself to consider empathy valuable. Humanity’s greatest strength is our social bonds, so elevate the skills required to make and maintain those bonds to the same lofty heights as genius in science, brilliance in business, and cunning in the stock market. Convincing yourself of the objective value in social bonds lets you pursue them without feeling a need to justify the time spent.

Nurturing and growing mean tackling the assumptions that have been pounded into your head consistently and repeatedly since day one: “Asking for help or even just attention is annoying and will be met with hostility ,” “I can have my safety stripped away at any moment.” We build – I built– defenses against this sustained assault.

These defenses are the barriers to intimacy and to emotionally supporting others, no matter how sincere your intent. If I do not heal this, I am unwittingly telling her the same thing my father told me: “I don’t care how upset you are, my need to be reassured that I have value comes first. If you fail to provide this I will punish you with an outburst of uncontrolled emotion.”

To be nurturing is to nurture and develop one’s healthy self, so you can act with kindness and compassion, with empathy and care when your partner comes to you and needs your love and support.    –Patrick, San Jose, CA

I am a 29-yr old man who feels he has come a long way in developing an ability to nurture, especially since he was almost entirely unable to do so when he was younger.This is written with other men in mind who are struggling. So, if you’re a man who wants to change, you probably want to know “what is the first step?” (we have that tendency to demand logical breakdowns so we can achieve what is needed)Fortunately you’ve already overcome the first step, which is desiring change in the first place.’To nurture’ is at the heart of what love is: love is not bringing a girl flowers and taking her out on a fancy date: it is something founded in a deep and abiding symbiotic trust.

So we need to call ‘an ability to nurture’ an ability to love, and start accepting the idea that love is not an airy-fairy concept but an actual behaviour as well as a feeling that generates whenever you engage in said behaviour.

After we have accepted this, there is no simple sequence of steps you can take from A to B to become a loving human being. Instead I have put together some different approaches (all tried and tested by myself, and which I believe have helped me considerably).

a) Prepare yourself to ‘be the small one’ physically when you are holding each other (this is terminology me and my partner use but I think it conveys the idea well). As a man, you don’t always have to be the one doing the nurturing: you can curl up and be held too. It’s OK. It’s not ‘un-manly,’ it’s HUMAN. It’s what a creature sometimes needs to do. Whoever or whatever taught you that ‘being small’ is not manly was a product of a tradition that has been handed down for waaaaaaaaay too many generations. Remember that. In this situation you can use your male pride to your own advantage: are you a slave to tradition, or are you ready to re-shape it? Allow yourself to be vulnerable. How can you ever really nurture someone else unless you experience it for yourself?

b) If humans are too scary, start by nurturing the non-human world. It is very much alive and responsive. If you don’t already spend time in nature, please start. The natural world is not indifferent but rife with instances of nurture and satisfaction. Track down some birds and watch them interact: there will be moments of irritation but also many moments of nurture and love between them. Take time in nature and stop thinking about yourself: just absorb and observe and listen: this is all part of the vital ego-shedding process which is really a pre-requisite for being able to nurture others. Finally, get a companion animal: a snake, a dog, a cat, anything, and look after it. Observe and then share in the eye contact and body language bonding signals of a dog or cat you love. Experience bonding with them, then come back and observe and practice how to be part of the eye contact and body language signalling of close human relationships. Spend time with this one animal until they become special to you, and try to imagine what its like to be that animal, to be under your care, to be alive. Value that relationship. It is meaningful and beautiful.


c) Have compassion for yourself. This means forgiving your mistakes, your negative or unloving thoughts and your current inability to be close to others. There has been so much written on this topic: you can start by just googling “Compassion for Self” – I also recommend the writings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun with a great deal of excellent advice on this topic.For at least a little while, especially when someone you are with is in need of nurture, let go of your own needs and desires. What does that mean? It means stop thinking about anything related to yourself: how youfeel, what youneed, what you think is best. Just listen and listen very closely. Try to imagine what it must be like to be this other person: absorb everything you know about their history and experiences and try to embody these. Listen to what they are saying, and repeat it back to them in order to clarify whether or not you’ve actually absorbed the essential meaning of what they are communicating to you.

d) Accept that relationships are difficult and turn towards this difficulty. Turn towards it in yourself, and find out what is on the other side of that feeling when you move through it instead of away. Sometimes on the other side of difficulty is joy. Accept that love is difficult and move towards it instead of away, even if you are uncomfortable. Love is not some pure thing handed down by the Heavens or the Universe, a mystical destiny between two people that guarantees their perfect ongoing mutual intertwinement. I know it feels like that at first, when you first meet, because there is a lot of adrenaline and people mistake that adrenaline for true and permanent love, but I call that passion. Love contains passion but also, LOVE IS HARD. Love is a SKILL. If things are tough, don’t just bail or, even worse, stay and become angry/resentful — instead, recognise that love is a thing two people build in collaboration with one another. Try to talk about this with the other person.
– Alex

Nurturance is never having your child feel shame or embarrassed about anything.
Nurturance is really listening with you heart.
Nurturance is imagining how it feels to be born.
Nurturance is singing away a child’s sudden fear or pain.
Nurturing is expressing without words that you see the other for who they really are this moment.
Nurturing is turning the most mundane event into a celebration with a young child.
Nurturance is knowing that our children see who we really are and always being the best because they are looking.
Nurturance is never doing for a child what they can do for themselves.
Nurturance is not praising a child because you and they know what it means to be naturally competent.
Nurturance is taking compete responsibility for your child’s health, well being and education.
Nurturance is making up stories instead of being Disneyfried.
Nurturance is knowing when it is OK to say ‘yes dear.’
Nurturance is being quiet, fully present, fearless and completely empathetic as your wife or lover gives birth at home.      –Michael,

Nurturance is recognizing everyone who came before you and who nurtured you. It means, as a dude, not striving to be recognized for being a nurturer, because you didn’t invent nurturing. I want to share these things with other people, but not because I do them. Instead, I think of nurturing as something that we can only do together.

I don’t want to be recognized for contributing to this post: I want Nora to be recognized for facilitating the conversation. In the same way, when I say no to work or events on evenings or weekends because I’m committed to parenting my daughters and to supporting my partner, I don’t want special recognition for doing so, because women are doing that same work every day without recognition.When I have to leave work for a parenting emergency, I don’t want recognition for being a “modern” dude, because my female colleagues are thought of as “unreliable” or “less committed” if they do exactly the same thing.

I don’t want recognition for making my daughters thousands of lunches for school, because thousands of parents have come before me and quietly done the same thing.I don’t want recognition for being there, just about every night since my children were born, to read them bedtime stories, because my parents were there for me and taught me to do the same thing: they should get the credit.

To be asked what nurturance is from a dude’s perspective brings to mind the episode of Portlandia where a bunch of men decide that they will set out to “fix” feminism. They already look forward to the article that will be written about them to give them credit for their awesome progressiveness. As satire, it’s pure gold.

Nurturance is not flashy; it is not showy. It is slow, daily work that we do together because we are committed to each other. For exactly that reason, I’ve asked that these ideas not be credited to me, because they are the product of everyone who has ever nurtured me and helped me to be the best — though flawed — human person I can be.     –anon

Nurturance is offering the possibility of social distraction to a female friend suffering from depression, saying “I’m there if you need me,” and carefully listening to her needs. Don’t press her, and try to find something she feels comfortable with. When she’s depressed there’s much happening in her mind that she would like to stop. Some people with depression just don’t want to be alone physically. Include and invite her to do easy things so that she is not alone with her thoughts.

On the other hand, you cannot offer her super-cool social activities with many friends because of the pressure to perform correctly, or the possibility to be too tired to endure it, to have to leave before everyone does etc. Also, if you offer something super cool and she doesn’t feel up for it, she will feel sad to have to miss it. So what I offered was not anything more specific than my presence. She mentioned that she didn’t feel up to making food and washing up, so I said “whatever we do first, then I can cook you something.”

It’s rather common to have a small privative gym in the basements of flat-houses here in Sweden so we agreed that we would train and then eat. Nothing more complex than that. I think what worked the best for her was to be 1-1 so that she could get attention and also talk without too many social constraints (the more people around you, the more likely you are to be cautious with your words). That offered her opportunities to talk about anything or talk about how she felt about her depression, without having to discuss it alone in her mind or with too many people judging around.  She said that it was a relief to be able to talk freely.

Nurturance is saying “I Love You” to your guy friends, even and especially if you’re not used to saying these words. Check out this radio show of conversations saying “I love you” with male friends. The responses are hilarious, uncomfortable, and heart-warming:      -Darren Major, Ottawa, ON

Nurturance done well is unlimited matter. Nothing is taken from you when you give help to someone else, although the vocabulary may be misleading. Some people seem to think that they will lose something if they help but there is no such equation. On the contrary, nurturance is something that grows. The more you take care of others, the more they will take care of you. Of course you don’t always get back directly and you should not be expecting to, but on the whole you get back much more than you would if you hadn’t helped.   –anon

Nurturance is a fabric of thousands of microsecond physiological attunements between living beings. It is a sort of cloth of relationship, a weave of microsecond body responses that create a cloth of connection and trust you wear together to keep you both warm.

If I move towards T for a hug he opens his arms before I have even reached him. If I make eye contact with K, a male friend, in room full of people we send a ‘hey you have a friend here’ glance to each other, so the room of strangers feels less strange.

If my niece furrows her brow as she puts a favourite vegetable into her mouth I look at her face and begin guessing. Rather than assume she is being difficult, or force her to eat it, I imagine myself in her shoes, and maybe the broccoli was a little old, maybe there’s some fresh I could cook instead. Which she then eats happily, problem solved. If the relaxed infant I’m helping take care of gets a tiny bit fussy lying on me at 1 am, I turn her or burp her or offer her food before she has a chance to cry.

Emotional needs are for comfort, eye contact, laughter, loving expressions, shared play, joy together, mirroring, inclusion, loyalty, unconditional love. Physical needs are for food, rest, warmth, physical contact. When we are infants and young babies, others are meant to be attuned literally 100% of the time to our physical and emotional needs. As we reach adulthood the interdependence balance adjusts till a healthy balance is about 75% our own attunement to ourselves and 25% others meeting our needs. But the kinds of attunement are the same, whether our own internally or between people who trust one another: at the level of microsecond adjustments and responses to tiny facial expressions, emotions, and posture.

This is what bonds people, and you can see it as a weaving around the people in a connected family. The kids know it is just there, they rely on it without ever questioning it. And the parents, (where there are several) seem to just have these connected backs. They are attuned to one another in every moment whether they are interacting obviously or not.

Even when not looking at each other, one of you at the stove, the other facing towards the kids, your awareness goes behind you and connects you. It can take years of really being there for one another to create this together, but you begin on day one. It is marvellous to see a layered history of being really safe together, between people who become special in all the world to one another by doing this together. I see this a lot with attachment parenting families. The kids’ needs are met 90% of the time so they have a wholeness to them and a trust in the world that is really unusual.   – anon

Nurturance is the guidance that comes from being in deep and soulful contact with whatever is arising in ones consciousness without judgment and relating to others and the world from that place of extraordinary potentiality. – anon

How does Nurturance Culture look, feel, smell, sound, taste to you? Send your one-line answers, video, audio, comics, art, poems, responses, to with subject line “Nurturance Is” to possibly appear in a future post!

All references to gender in this post are intended in a trans-inclusive way. I want to recognize that human beings’ lived experience of gender is much more complex than an either/or set of boxes can capture. When I speak of ‘men’ and ‘masculinity’ I am referring to masculine-identified people, including, as appropriate, aspects of the self for those who only partially identify in this way. Open to feedback and always happy to further nuance this analysis, feel free to get in touch. 🙂

I’m also working on a speculative fiction project. Check out Cipher here.

Puung image used with permission by the artist. See more here:

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