When did you last tell a mate you loved them?

When did you last tell a mate that you love them?

This is excluding that time you got that free bottle of scotch at work and went out for a night on the town and ended up in a cab together singing ‘Horses’ by Darryl Braithwaite along with your driver at 3am. It’s very easy to grab him by the shoulders then and say, ‘Mate, I love you. You’re the best.’

Neither of you will remember it in the morning. Which, technically speaking, means it doesn’t count.

Admittedly, it’s not an easy thing to do – with anyone – at the best of times, and there are families where kids won't say it to their parents, let alone brothers to each other. But I think it’s really important.

Next week, I’m losing two of my best friends in the space of four days.

One is moving interstate for work, and the other is following his girlfriend and his career overseas. It’s not certain when either of them will return, or if they will at all. And yes, I’ll still have them on Facebook, email and Skype, but I already have one of my oldest friends living in L.A. on those things and we still only talk every few months. It just isn’t the same.

I’ve been trying to stuff in as much quality time as I can with the UK-bound friend of mine before he nicks off, and we’re both coming to that slow realisation that there’s a serious, long-term ‘bromance’ (for want of a better word, and by God I hope there is one) happening there and it’s going to be really hard when we’re not around each other. As someone whose close friends are primarily female, my guy mates are precious metals in a mine that is emptying rapidly.

It’s perhaps true of our gender more than women that it takes us a lot longer to take on a new person, and the ones we keep typically come from years, even decades of shared experience. I think I’ve made maybe four proper, new male friends in the last five years.  Each of these two who are leaving I’ve known at least ten. He acknowledged as much when we drove back from a coffee and he said, “This is sad, isn’t it? Good mates are really hard to find.”

That may be as close as we’re ever going to get to admitting how we feel about each other, without verging into that wonderfully awkward territory where something may be construed as a homosexual come-on or just plain weird, despite the same thing rarely having these connotations for women. But if recent statistics around youth suicide and depression are to be taken to heart, the one thing young men need more of are friends telling them that they love them.

Many of us don’t live in stable, nuclear families anymore; we may not have large numbers of siblings, cousins and other supportive people around. Our friends, particularly our best mates, could really be it.

As enlightened as that sounds, it sure doesn’t mean I’m going to find it any easier to tell my mates how much I care for them in the broad light of day before they leave. It may well have to wait until after they’ve left, in standard interconnected-worldwide practice. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to. I hope so. Mates deserve to know how special they are.

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