Favouring bromances over romances, the rise of platonic love between men

Deep male friendships as a lifestyle choice

Deep male friendships as a lifestyle choice

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Much has been written about the most successful ways to seize lifelong romance. We even cling to the cliches: marry your best friend (the best relationships supposedly providing complete emotional and physical intimacy). But marriage, long-term coupling, and the quest for love itself may be waning as a priority. At least for men who already have a BFF.

A new study from the University of Winchester in the UK shows that men place higher value on their close male friendships than than they do their romantic relationships in almost every measure of intimacy. More specifically, "the increasingly intimate, emotive, and trusting nature of bromances [yes, actually] offers young men a new social space for emotional disclosure, outside of traditional heterosexual relationships." It's a brave new, bro-y world.  

The study, aptly called Privileging the Bromance: A Critical Appraisal of Romantic and Bromantic Relationships, had 30 heterosexual male undergrads asked by researchers to "compare their experiences of bromances to that of their [...] romances". If you're not in the know, the term bromance (used liberally in the study) is meant to playfully describe a platonic bond between two men that is emotionally deep and affectionate, going beyond normal levels of friendship but not crossing into romantic love or intimacy.

The bromances explored in the study were shaped and defined by a deep, abiding sense of love, trust, vulnerability, blatant shows of emotion, and the sharing of secrets or close personal matters they'd never share elsewhere. Men having deep friendships is not novel but men who find themselves without friends, a common occurrence unique to males, can suffer debilitating mental health setbacks. So, buddy system, always.

Non-sexual hugging, cuddling and kissing were all mentioned as staples of these friendships. In fact, all but one of the 30 men interviewed readily and casually admitted to cuddling up with his bro. Physical intimacy was commonplace. One subject said, "I think most guys in bromances cuddle…It's not a sexual thing, either. It shows you care." Dr Bella DePaulo, who has spent a career researching and writing about the lesser explored virtues of single life, thinks the trend signals a departure from a once well-entrenched homophobic bro culture. She states that one heterosexual man even "posted a photo of the cuddling on Facebook".

I'll add an "Amen" here, and offer that the other night I watched a movie with my best friend - we lay together on the floor amongst pillows. His kids took the sofa. I made the observation that our fathers would've NEVER had their buddies over to loll about the carpet and watch a movie together. Times are a' changin' for straight men. Amen again.

Even more interesting was that the few single lads in the study weren't all that concerned with seeking out romance with a woman. They were entirely fulfilled. In fact, the bromances were all recounted as "emotionally rivalling the benefits of a heterosexual romance." With only one glaring exception: sex.  

Sexual intimacy was the one thing the men shared and prioritized with their girlfriends.

Honest and open dialogue was described more favourably in bromances across the board. So there was no worry of saying the wrong thing and starting an argument. But with female relationships, that honesty, or rather a careful dishonesty (admitted by some of the men) underscored sex as a commodity. Say the wrong thing and sex is off the table. One subject said tellingly, "sex is expected and it interferes with the emotional stuff…bromances are stronger because there is no sexual pollution."

Because of that "sexual pollution", bromances were also described as more stable, emotionally.  The authors were clear that "the participants overwhelmingly stated that arguments with girlfriends were more intense, trivial, and long-lasting in comparison to their bromances." To be fair, the study authors were careful to state that a good amount of sexism crept into the manner in which a lot of the young men described their romantic relationships. In describing a pet peeve, one subject recounted that his girlfriend "will store up something you did wrong two years ago and recall it, with the exact date and time." A decided chicks be like but bros be like vibe seemed to colour the various accounts.

Still, markers for "elevated emotional stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, social fulfilment, and better conflict resolution" all rated higher in bromances than romances. Those markers may point to a trend.

Men prioritizing their platonic relationships could be morphing into something of a lifestyle choice. Many single men are opting for what Dr. DePaulo calls a "friendship model" for their domestic needs. Four straight men approaching 40, who'd lived together for 18 years, were written up in the New York Times for their unorthodox but financially savvy dwelling situation. More and more, communal, platonic living is becoming a viable (and favourable) long term choice. The reason, says Dr Judith Stacey, a sociologist at NYU, is that "the vagaries of sexual attraction don't disrupt your security and stability". Sex, ostensibly, could never sully a bromance.  

Mind you, there's always the hope that you'll fall into lasting romantic love with someone you're both attracted to and call a close personal friend. Still, any men waiting for cupid's arrow, could do worse than cuddle up to a bud and share an intimacy that women have long enjoyed without judgement in the interim. It's all very... bromantic.