Note: Spoilers for Heartstopper Season 2 ahead.

I love you.

Those are the words that most everyone who’s queer in Nigeria would agree is the most abused statement in the community.

Not “I was born this way.”

Not “I’m out and proud.”

Not even “Are you top or bottom?”(Okay, wait, maybe this one is debatable).

But yeah, “I love you” are three words uttered almost as frequently as the gays breathe out carbon dioxide. And it never really struck me how much meaning those words seem to have lost in the gay community, until I watched the second season of Heartstopper.

Released in August 3, this sophomore season carried on with the charming love story between its leads Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor), also including the romantic storytelling of their friends – the lesbian couple, Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell); and the navigation of best friends Tau (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney) from friendship to romance. Following the first season’s fairytale ending, the show continued to tackle the complexities of adolescence, refusing to shy away from queer trauma, from the dilemma of coming out and the conflicts of deciding who it’s safe to tell that you’re gay, to the struggles that come with either forgiving both the bigots who inflict hurts on you or finding your healing without giving them that closure, should they ask for forgiveness. There is a deeply touching scene where the show avoids giving a redemption arc to its most toxic character, instead giving one of the protagonists a moment of strength.

And in all the themes that were explored this season, the one about the weight that comes with the vulnerability of telling someone “I love you” really stayed with me.

First is Tara who tells her girlfriend, Darcy, that she loves her. Tara blurts the words out, and in the ensuing awkwardness, she tries to minimize the moment by saying she doesn’t really mean it and she isn’t expecting Darcy to say it back. However, as time goes on, Tara begins to realize that she really does mean it and she really wants Darcy to say it back. But Darcy, who is something of a joker, continues to short-circuit every opening that Tara gives her to say those words back. It isn’t until the last episode that Darcy lifts the blockage that has been holding her back from expressing her feelings to Tara.

“I’m not out to my parents. I don’t think I ever will be,” Darcy confesses to Tara. “I hide who I am when I’m at home. I’m not confident. Sometimes, my mom makes me hate myself. And then, you said ‘I love you’, but what if that person doesn’t even exist?”

“So, you’re scared to say it back because you didn’t really believe that I could love you?” Tara surmises.

“You’ve only ever seen half of my life,” Darcy says.

“And now, I’ve seen the other half,” Tara counters. “And I still love you.”

The girls are able to sidestep that obstruction to get to the point where they both repeatedly say “I love you” to each other and mean every word of it.

Something similar happens with Nick and Charlie. In the same final episode, which is titled ‘Perfect’, as the two unlock a new emotional understanding of Charlie’s past traumas, Nick starts to earnestly say, “I love your hair. I love your eyes. I love…”

He chokes to a stop, as though suddenly realizing what he’s about to say, how meaningful it is, and how it stands to change the dynamics of his relationship with Charlie.

He doesn’t get a chance to finish (or not finish) what he’d started to say, because his mother comes home right then and calls out for him.

Charlie himself realizes what Nick had been about to say. As he leaves Nick’s house that night, he smilingly brings out his phone. It is typical of him to encourage Nick to take steps into emotional quagmires that he feels Nick is struggling with. So he goes over to their chat window and starts typing.

I love you.

His thumb hovers over the SEND button, and the scene ends.

So yeah, the thing with saying “I love you” in Heartstopper, watching how complicated a commitment it is to make for these characters had me thinking about how frequently the Nigerian gays seem to say it, and how unhindered by our baggage we are whenever we say it to the person on the receiving end.

“I love you,” says one guy to the other guy he’s been chatting with on Tinder for a week.

“I love you,” says the guy who has just finished his fist date with the guy he got acquainted with three days ago.

“I love you,” says the lovers who’ve just had great sex on their very first hookup from Grindr.

“But you know I love you,” says the married gay man trying to get into the pants of the guy he’s been chatting with on Facebook.

“I love him so much,” gushes the guy to his friends about this other guy he’s been in an online relationship with.

“I love you,” says the guy residing in Nigeria to his online boyfriend living in America.

“I love you,” says the guys who are separated by the long distance of Lagos to Port Harcourt.

“Do you love me?” says the Bottom in the heat of passionate sex. “Yes, baby, I love you,” declares the Top as he’s pounding away.

“I love you” in moments of lust.

“I love you” during the ache of separation.

“I love you” with the desperation of longing.

We never hold back.

We never hesitate.

It’s almost as if every emotion we feel for someone that’s remotely desirous or needing must be interpreted verbally as love.

It’s a culture that I’d gotten so used to, that about one year into dating my last boyfriend, when I finally told him I loved him, I was taken aback when he hesitated to say it back. It was such novelty. I was too intrigued to even be upset. This was a guy I’d been living with and sharing my life with for a year, and when I told him I loved him, he looked panicked, like he was frantically searching for what to respond with and “I love you too” wasn’t in the list.

We of course went on to have a conversation, one which revealed how he hated being vulnerable in that way, and since I was the first person he was in a serious relationship with, he didn’t have practice knowing how to be that vulnerable. It was such an eye-opening conversation for me; a one-year-old relationship and I was still learning new things about the man I was in love with. He told me that he didn’t think it would hold much meaning to him if he said it to me for the first time as a response; that he’d much rather say it of his own volition.

I understood. I didn’t pressure him. And when he was ready several days later and said the words to me out of the blue, it was such a beautiful moment for me.

That situation made an impression on me. And because we were together for a long while before we unfortunately broke up, I remember thinking for the longest time that perhaps, things had changed in the Nigerian gay dating scene. Perhaps people were learning to give those three words the reserve they deserved. Perhaps we were becoming intentional with how we verbalized our feelings of desire.

Then about six months after I became single again and I’d gone on a first date with a guy I matched with on Tinder, I was on my way home when he texted me: “I really love you and I think you’re the one for me.”

I was laughing before I finished reading, as I realized then that those words – I love you – are still what they’ve always been to us: the only available language we have to express everything we feel – whether to be with someone or simply to fuck.

Written by Pink Panther

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  1. Tariq
    August 25, 13:12 Reply

    This here was a beautiful read ❤️

    Totally; the real talk and quite resonating.

  2. Precious Oraz
    August 25, 15:58 Reply

    I. Totally. Agree!!!!!!!

    The casual way we throw around those 3 words in this community in Nigeria needs to be studied

    Wait, what am I even saying?
    It doesn’t need to be studied.

    It’s just another extension of how we live our lives in this country: shallow, vapid, reactionary rather than thoughtfully, always in the moment, always blurting out the first — and usually most unintelligent — thing that comes to our minds.

    The way I drop the “I like you” zinger in response to the plethora of “I love yous” that I get is a thing of wawu.

    Man: I love you.

    Me: I like you.

    Wetin you wan do? Cry? Because you nor go beat me. You nor fit beat me.

  3. Morgan
    August 25, 22:44 Reply

    Lol. This made me laugh

    I recently started talking with this guy I met online and less than a week he told me he loves me, someone I haven’t seen before, he had to be joking sha. I spoke to him about it and he was saying what I don’t know.

    However, things can be funny too. I met this guy in 2020. We chatted for a while and he finally got me to come to his church in ikeja since I was reluctant to go to his house with was farther. I didn’t know he was the choir director, I knew he was in the choir sha. The Sunday I went to his church after watching him sing, we chatted briefly outside till I left. Omo, I can’t even explain how I started feeling after. This guy was on my mind every minute. It was weird and scary at the same time. Like, I was always thinking about him. I didn’t even understand what was going on. Words can’t even explain how much I thought of him. Was it love at first sight? I don’t even know. I haven’t felt that way about anyone before him or after him. And I can tell you it wasn’t lust too. I wasn’t even thinking of getting sexual with him. He was just on my mind all the time.

    • Pink Panther
      August 26, 00:03 Reply

      Such intense feelings can exist, and not necessarily be love.

  4. Victor
    August 25, 23:25 Reply

    Oh, God, the anxiety that grips me when some says those three words to me. If it’s during a phone call, I’d end the call and if it’s through text ( which is mostly preferable to me), I’d pause for a long while to see if I like the person enough to explain to them I understand how they feel but I don’t think that feeling can be termed love and neither do I love them atm, but perhaps, with time, that could be possible. Or just tell them “thank you” and move on.

    • trystham
      August 30, 07:50 Reply

      I am not anxious. I’m disdainful. I roll my eyes and tell them ‘you don’t’. Big old age and you can’t tell the difference between hormonal rages and pure common sense

      • Angel
        September 27, 09:37 Reply

        Yeah, I feel those three words are often trivialized. I’ve never been told that, but there have been certain times I felt the urge to say it to someone who kissed me(another day’s story🤭). Did I really mean it, I don’t think so, now I look back at it.

        I really enjoyed reading this work. Kudos pink panther.🩷

        Ps: a T-sister here 🩵
        Any others here? 😩

  5. Francis
    August 26, 20:17 Reply

    The only times I’ve ever uttered those three words were under duress and boy did I feel dirty/basic/fake saying it. Never again biko.

    You say it and you’re on your own unless I truly feel the same way………I don’t even think I can actually say those words on my own. 🤔I might truly feel them but they sound weird as fuck rolling off my tongue unless I’m singing it sha 😂😂

  6. Mikey
    August 27, 00:23 Reply

    I guess I’ve had my shares of I love you’s from Nigerian gay men, at the beginning of my relationship my boyfriend usually ask me how many people told you “I love you” today
    It was so common that though he was in love with me, he couldn’t tell me those words

  7. trystham
    August 30, 07:43 Reply

    Like other endearments, I LOATHE being told ‘I love you’. Gay ppl don’t know the meaning word and evidently lack boundaries. The minute that drops from your mouth to me, especially if we’ve just met or whilst we fucking, you become an unserious fella and will be treated as such. I will withdraw and very likely ghost you if I don’t like you. If I am unfortunate to like you, you will classified as ‘toxic person’ in one corner of my head.

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