Did you cry with your buddy while watching Fergie say farewell at Old Trafford?
You’re not gay. You’re in a bromance.
As nostalgia for the shared moments of the Man United manager’s tough rule reduced men to tears. It was cool to be brothers in arms (arms around each other).
The word ‘bromance’ was coined by sk8er dudes in the 1990s to describe a non-gay relationship with strong bonds. Under its ‘rules’, it’s OK to share your feelings and go on man-dates to matches and the cinema. You can say you love each other.
Bromance is not just about bonding over football games and beer. One of the most celebrated ‘bromances’ in pop culture is back, in the new movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
One is hot-headed and good-looking, the other is calm and has hair like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. Oh, and has pointy ears. They’re both blokes. Kind of. One’s half-Vulcan. Spock’s and Kirk’s reappearance will renew interest in men’s emotions.
Peter Nardi, a sociologist at Pitzer College, says phrases such as ‘bromance’ make it easier for male friendships because they remove the perception of gayness.
Psychologist and historian, Dr Ciarán McMahon, says a ‘bromance’ may stem from a bloodier part of the male psyche.
“The phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ is, nowadays, understood as meaning that family bonds are stronger than friendship bonds,” he says.
“However, there is an older version of this proverb, which means something quite different — ‘the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’. In this sense, it means that blood spilled, in battle or as part of an agreement (blood brothers), produces a stronger bond than blood which is simply shared.
“Perhaps this is the real meaning of bromance — two men who have been through life’s battles together?”
The ’90s, with its Ecstasy culture and neo-hippyism, saw a revolution in male relationships. The TV series, Friends, played a role. Chandler and Joey’s friendship was the show’s linchpin. They went on man-dates and were forever hugging each other. They even parented a chick and a duck together.
As waves of young women rushed to emulate Rachel’s style, non-sporty males strove to be quick-talking and emotionally astute, like Chandler. Today, you can’t channel hop without seeing a bloke plucking his mate’s eyebrows or imparting love advice.
In Britain, prominent bromancers include comedians James Corden and Mathew Horne; Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; and Ant and Dec. Stateside, they have Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Kanye and Jay-Z, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, and Brad and George. Their friendship is said to be George’s longest-lasting ‘affair’.
Their bromance is sent up brilliantly in the Oceans movies, with each character finishing the other’s sentences and communicating in silence. One scene sums it up: Pitt walks into a hotel room to find Clooney watching Oprah. They both end up in tears.
Sociologist Dr Michael Kimmel — the author of Guyland, a study of young-male friendships — says bromance extends beyond celebrity and is due to changes in the way we live. He says that delaying big life decisions, such as marriage, has changed male friendships.
“In the world of guyland, portrayed by movies like I Love You, Man and Knocked Up, the motto ‘bros before hos’ rules: it values male friendship as the most important thing. There is a demographic revolution, because guys feel no pressure to get married or have children. It’s a refusal to grow up, in some ways, a way to avoid adult responsibility.”
Women are partly to blame for the male need to spend time with a special male friend.
“It used to be that you’d be in an all-male world, but now that women have — according to some men — ‘invaded’ that world, bromance is formed as a defence,” Dr Kimmel says.
The ‘bromance’ is not a new concept. Aristotle spoke about it in 330BC. “[A true friend] loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality.”
Male love was celebrated in modern popular culture long before shrinks analysed it. Remember Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple? Or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Batman and Robin, Hawkeye and Trapper John (Mash), Riggs and Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon), Han Solo and Chewbacca (Star Wars)? Holmes and Watson?
So, are Irishmen capable of having a bromance? Hector and Tommy Tiernan’s friendship has been called a bromance, but is it? It sounds more like a friendship built on a common accent (Navan). Other possible bromances are Pat Leahy and Dara O’Briain, Damian Dempsey and Jimmy Murphy, and Glen Hansard and Damien Rice.
Hardly, Brad and George level is it?
In 1980s Ireland, the closest we came to man-love was a celebratory smack on the arse after sporting successes (or was that just me?). Nowadays, it’s permissible for soccer players to dry-hump each other on the pitch after scoring.
Then, there’s the roasting sessions...
We watched our favourite TV shows, secretly longing to be part of a bromance, like Starsky and Hutch, or Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals. One where your partner would shed manly tears at your hospital bedside.
In 1980s Ireland, your best mate/bromancer might, at a push, take a wedgie for you. There were no deep, meaningful conversations. They were gay. (Man crushes on The Fonz were allowed, though.)
I had a number of bromances growing up, although I didn’t know they were bromances. There was Rich, who I learned to smoke with, and who was with me when I got my first kiss, at the Killiney Tearooms Disco (from a girl, not him).
We were inseparable.
After school, we would steal through neighbours’ gardens in search of apples we would never eat.
Later, we would try, depending on weather conditions, to talk via crackly CB radio. We shared the fear of being 14, on the cusp of manhood.
When we were 15, Rich moved to the midlands and I was heart-broken. We hooked up a few times in our early 20s, but the bromance never rekindled itself.
Rich took his own life 20 years ago. I think of him whenever I hear ‘Baggy Trousers’ — or static interference — on the radio. The memory of our bromance is still strong.
Men who have bromances are stronger in their sexuality than their more macho counterparts. They know they are hetero-sexual.
This is the basis for the bromance: the knowledge that you and your best friend will never stray into gay love.
The benefits of having a bromance outweigh the sniggering.
There are subjects a man won’t bring up with his best friend-girl. Male friends generally make better counsellors. Another benefit is that, if a man-date doesn’t go well, you don’t have to pay for your date’s taxi home.
The negative side of having a bromance is that we get called ‘wimps’. It’s one of life’s great inequalities. Women in close relationships are called… friends.
Psychologist, Dr Jim Taylor, in Psychology Today, says “when guys express emotions, it’s a sign of weakness. We have to be tough and stoic … or we’re accused of being a sissy or a wimp.
“But it doesn’t take courage to not express emotions. There’s nothing strong in doing what is safe and comfortable. There’s no risk in simply complying with societal norms. In fact, I think that is anything but courageous… And therein lies the courage that comes from being what I would call a ‘real’ man.”
Speaking of real men (as opposed to fictional characters), the actors who play the new Spock and Kirk — Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine — have become an off-screen bromance.
They’re boldly going where William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy have gone before.
The latter have a long bromance, which deepened after Shatner’s alcoholic wife drowned in the 1990s. Their friendship is deep, dignified, manly and never clingy.
And if you did cry with your mates when Fergie retired, don’t worry: you were just part of the ultimate bromance.
It’s called ‘men united’.
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