Close male friendships are under the microscope like never before, and according to new research they’re closer than ever.
Are you in a bromance? If you don’t know what that means, it’s a caring, sharing, let-it-all-out relationship – with another man.
These close male bonds are entirely non-sexual and really just male equivalents of the close female friendships many women seem to have.
According to a new study, they’re on the rise. Research for social networking site Badoo has found that over half of British men are currently in a close platonic relationship with another man, or have been in the past.
So what do men get from such close bonds with other men, and why do we seem to need it so much now? MSN Him investigates.
Male and female friendships
Male friendships aren’t meant to be like that, of course. The joke has it that when women get together with friends they talk about themselves, their relationships and their lives, and when men get together with friends they talk about football.
It’s a cliché, but it contains a nugget of truth. Research published in the Personal Relationships journal a few years ago found that men’s friendships tend to be less intimate than women’s. Women talked more about themselves and shared more personal information, while men tended to distance themselves from matters of the heart and kept shows of emotion to a minimum.
And there’s more. In his recent book, Lonely At The Top: The High Costs Of Men’s Success, psychologist Thomas Joiner draws upon scientific research to show that manly pursuits of power, status and money bring rewards but at the cost of intimate friendships.
Bromance in the media
If men don’t traditionally have such emotionally close friendships, where on Earth has the phenomenon of bromance sprung from?
Partly, of course, it’s a media construction. There’s the aforementioned Holmes and Watson (pictured above). Then there’s Butch and Sundance, Joey and Chandler from Friends, Gavin and Smithy from Gavin and Stacey, and the inseparable Ant and Dec.
The quest for a male ‘bestie’ (best friend) and male bonding has become a Hollywood staple. The film I Love You, Man follows Paul Rudd on his quest to find a best man. Sideways was a male bonding movie with a side order of wine and women.
We could go on, but suffice to say there’s a lot of it about. And though Hollywood may have pushed it up the agenda, filmmakers do tend to identify a social phenomenon and then make films about it rather than inventing one from scratch.
So the question remains: why are men cultivating more intimate friendships now?
According to Dr Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland, a study of modern male friendship, it might partly be down to the fact that men are getting married and having kids later in life. By putting off big responsibilities, we’ve more time to develop close male friendships.
That’s backed up by the Badoo research, which found that 28% of single men are currently ensconced in an intimate, platonic same-sex friendship, but just 10% of married men are.
And then there’s the possibility that men need an intimate confidante more than ever in an increasingly uncertain, insecure world.
So the rise of these intimate friendships could be a good thing. It could be that men are latching onto something that women inherently know: having someone to confide in of the same gender, and who looks at the world in the same way you do, may help shelter your mental wellbeing from the swirling storms of recession, insecurity and relationship problems.
And apparently, having a close best friend can also just be really good fun. The Badoo research found that a quarter of men admitted to having “the most fun they have with anyone” with a close friend of the same sex.
That’s not too surprising. It’s not always true, but it’s likely that most men enjoy the things men tend to like, whether that’s sports, rebuilding an engine or Belgian beer, more with a mate than with a partner.
And it could be that bromance is just a more intense version of what men have always had. Some experts think that, even before the term was invented, many men had more intimate friendships than perhaps anyone thought. Sociologist Scott Swain invented the term “closeness in doing”, which means that men bond over the things they do together, whether that’s going for a drink, watching sport or trekking through the hills, while women bond over just being together.
Men like doing these things, and they like doing them even more with a trusted, close friend. In other words, men do share – they just share differently to women. They share their passions and they bond, take solace and offer comfort and feel better about themselves in doing so.
Whether you think bromance is a new phenomenon or simply a media-driven extension of something that was always there, it’s surely true that close male friendships are not something to shy away from.
If more men are enjoying each other’s company and feeling able to unburden themselves of their fears and hopes at the same time, so much the better.
You might call it bromance, or you might just call it having a really good mate.