The Rise of Bromances

My fascination with bromances stems from the emotional intimacy I witness between my friend Paul and his freshman year roommate Andre. They are extremely close and show great affection for each other. They hug each other, and openly declare their love for each other on social media frequently; however their relationship isn’t sexual or romantic. They are both heterosexual males who just have a really close friendship that many people keep calling a bromance. This exposure was my entrance into the world of bromances and how they have evolved as our ideas of masculinity and emotional intimacy have changed. Since meeting Andre and Paul, I notice bromances everywhere– from my favorite historical figures like Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, to my favorite movie duo, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Bromances are a growing cultural trend that will endure, as seen by the increase of bromances in the media, the growing acceptance of homosexual/homo-social relationships, and the rise in female equality. To explore the intersection of reasons behind the rise of bromances, in this paper I will look to the media, academic research, and non traditional sources.

Friendship is deeply rooted in the human psyche and is necessary for a fulfilling life, especially considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychology term which explains that people need to feel safe and secure in their lives in order to feel fulfilled, with different categories having more importance than others. Friendship falls under the category of love which is the third most important tier, falling only behind psychological and safety needs as things people need to have an enriching and prosperous life. This study at the University of Arizona shows that same-sex friendships garner feelings of happiness because friendships promote a sense of one’s own uniqueness. This sense of identity helps people feel more grounded, leading to a greater emotional maturity which helps to deepen friendships. Male friendships, especially bromances, are deeply entrenched and beneficial to males’ health. In a research study conducted at UC Berkeley, male rats were found to engage in more social behavior such as nestling and self-grooming with another male rat companion when faced with a stressful situation like immobilization or water deprivation, compared to when they are alone in a cage. When the rats were alone, they became much more aggressive and didn’t take care of themselves. Furthermore, the leading book on bromances is “Reading The Bromance: Homosocial Relationships In Film and Television” by Michael DeAngelis. He explores male friendships and states: “Ancient greeks considered bonding friendships between men … to be among the highest and most fulfilling forms of human interconnection.”  Bromances are good for men’s mental and physical well-being and are essential for an engaging life, which is why the rise of bromances will continue.

Bromances are identified by Urban Dictionary as: “Describing the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males.” This is a simplified version of bromances, for bromances in essence are deep and loving relationship between two males that may having romantic elements but are completely non-sexual. Bromance is a portmanteau of the words “bro” and “romance.” Dave Carnie is credited for creating the word “bromance” when he used it to describe the close relationships formed between skateboarders in the 1990’s in the skateboard centric magazine, Big Brother. The term bromance gained greater prominence in 2005 with the rise of bromances in movies, especially comedies. The word bromance itself is growing in popularity. The nuances of the relationship are explored by Youtuber Nigahiga in his popular video “Bromance” which has been viewed 33,465,136 times.  Nigahiga and his friends describe the relationship by saying: “ Bromance, there’s nothing really gay about it, not that there’s anything wrong with being gay… I love you in the most heterosexual way.” Then the singers describe the ways in which the friendship manifests itself, from being a wingman, to having each others’ back, to being around each other always. The motto is essentially “bros before hoes.” This is not the nicest or most politically correct sentiment, but it is part of bromance culture. Another video that helps the masses understand bromances is one by the Huffington Post entitled “Grab A Platonic Male Friend And Watch The 100 Best Movie ‘Bromances’ Of All Time”. The top movies are Step Brothers, I Love You Man, Sherlock Holmes, Ted, and Superbad. These are considered best buddy/best friend movies with extremely close main characters. These are the top movies because of the special relationship the male main characters have between each other. For example, the whole premise of “ I Love You Man” is that the main character Peter tries to find a best man for his wedding by going on bro-dates, and in doing so his relationship with his own fiancee is tested by the severity of closeness between him and the new best friend he finds. All the films listed have been box-office successes; especially Sherlock Holmes because of the star studded casts. However Sherlock Holmes, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is also a classic friendship story that intrigues audiences with the unusual dynamic between Sherlock and Watson. Sherlock Holmes, and Ted were so popular they got sequels, which also continued to do well at the box-office. All the top movies have come out within the last ten years, and their mass popularity shows that this male-centric friendship phenomenon is growing.

TV shows are also having more bromances to increase viewership. In fact, bromances are extremely important for ratings because they bring in female audiences. Female audiences are brought in because they love the appeal of two men in love without acting on it. This is known as queer baiting. This homo erotic tension is never acted upon, so it’s not a true romantic relationship, so it is classified as a bromance instead. This is heavily prevalent in many TV shows from the anime Free, to the CW show Supernatural, to the BBC show Sherlock. This can be explained by producers trying to appeal to the female interest. However, this queer baiting can be seen as homophobic, since they aren’t willing to put these characters in relationships and instead rely on people just hoping they get together even though the show will never put them together.

The queer baiting phenomenon is one side effect of the rise of women’s economic power. Women’s place in the workforce has been steadily climbing, thus slowly but surely closing the pay gap, as reported in a congressional testimony by Andrew Sherrill in 2009. He states that the study by the United States Government Accountability Office found “the difference between men’s and women’s average salaries—declined significantly in the federal workforce between 1988 and 2007. Specifically, the gap declined from 28 cents on the dollar in 1988 to 19 cents in 1998 and further to 11 cents in 2007.” He believes this is because of  the greater influx of women into the federal workforce. This rise of women in the workforce started around World War II when the United States needed women to enter the workforce since so many men were off fighting. In an Economist article “Women In The Workforce Female Power”  states “When brute strength mattered more than brains, men had an inherent advantage.  Now that brainpower has triumphed the two sexes are more evenly matched.” This happened with the shift from the manufacturing industry to the service industry. With more women working and earning money, manufacturers, and producers have to begin designing products to feed this growing consumer pool. Media producers looked at what women seem to like, and the trend is close male friendships; hence, the increase in close male duos in TV shows and movies.

To understand the complexities behind bromances, I did a random sampling of people in Unit Four (Foothill and Stern), which is one of the dormitories at UC Berkeley. I posed three questions exactly the same way: I asked, “What are three bromances you like in different sources like media, literature, etc?” “How do you define bromance?” Lastly I asked, “Do you believe bromances are on the rise, or not? And why?” Some interesting observations I noticed were that guys take a lot longer when trying to think of a bromance pair, and many participants equated it to usually only thinking of their own bromances and not ones around them. Women noted many more bromances, and much faster. They equated it to two things. One is they notice bromances because they aren’t use to guys having such close bonds and it’s easy to recognize deeper friendships around them. Secondly is because of the phenomenon of shipping (putting characters together as a pair because you think they make a good couple) two guys together because it makes it more fun to watch TV or a movie. One participant, Will, quoted Bromances as “A strong friendship between two men or boys that sometimes appears more physically or emotionally affectionate than a typical male friendship.” This thought was echoed by many other participants. No one I questioned told me they did not know the word bromance. The word’s popularity is common between both men and women.

The top bromance pairs identified in my research were Castiel and Dean of Supernatural, Harry and Ron of Harry Potter, and John Watson and Sherlock Holmes of the BBC Show Sherlock. These were mentioned by numerous participants, and were described as being the best male friendships with no actual sexual components, but that are sometimes heavily implied. These implied sexual undertones are because of a greater acceptance of homo-social relationships, and women’s growing economic prowess, and many interviewees thought so as well.  Many participants attributed the rise of bromances to the greater acceptance of homosexuals in media and in everyday lives instead of it being seen as taboo to witness or talk about. In  “Reading The Bromance: Homosocial Relationships In Film and Television” , readers are told “As network executives used-gay themed programming to target a “quality” demographic of upscale, urban-minded adults, gay characters became relatively common fixtures in the increasingly narrowcast media environments of many Americans.” This greater tolerance allowed for bromances to become normalized fixtures on television.

TV shows are a hotbed of male bromances and are the foundation of the rise of bromances everywhere. The TV shows most recognized with the best duos are Friends’ Joey and Chandler, Boy Meets World Shawn and Cory, Supernatural’s Castiel and Dean, Scrubs’ JD and Turk, Star Trek‘s Kirk and Spock, and Psych’s Shawn and Gus. However one of the most intriguing arguments put forward about the rise of bromances was by a subject we shall call Pam. Pam said “the rise of bromances could be caused by the difficulties of romantic relationships today and so many men find comfort within their male friendships as an emotional escape.”  In doing so, the relationships become stronger, seeing as dating today is very different from just a few decades ago.

Today’s dating scene is very different than it was in the 1950’s. Looking to Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Love,” there are many differences between dating now and in the past. He says marriages of the 1950’s era were marriages of convenience and proximity, where many people married those who lived near them. Females also married a person based on who could provide them the best financial stability, because women were expected to be the homemakers. Nowadays, Ansari says many people are marrying later, because they are searching for their perfect partner. He attributes this to people now looking for somebody who is the complete package. This package includes somebody who is well off financially, but also now meets our emotional needs as well, since women can be their own breadwinners now. This change has only intensified with the increase in technology. With the increase in dating competition, many men are bonding together, for they need someone to be there emotionally for them as they traverse the difficult world of dating. Men and women are marrying later and later as the census data proves. For example in 1950 the average marrying age for women was 21, whereas in 2015 it was 27. With men the average marrying age in 1950 was 22 and in 2015 it was 29. This is a big increase in such a relatively short time span. This leads to many people developing their friendships longer and longer, since that is a main component fueling their emotional needs since they are marrying a significant other much later.

Only recently have male friendships been explored by the media, because of a lack of acceptance of close male pairs. One research participant who we shall call Dave stated this was because “ Bromances are a way of classifying men who show emotion towards each other, whereas there is no female equivalent, because society does not give room for men to express emotion toward each other.” Men have always had to show their masculinity as a way to attract mates. It goes back to evolutionary psychologists like Kanazawa who believe that men’s competitiveness is innate and harks back to our ancestors who needed to showcase their masculinity in order to get a significant other who has the best reproductive potential for their offspring.  In a 2006 study it was revealed that Women prefer the smell of dominant males, more masculine male faces and men behaving more dominantly when at peak fertility”.  Men’s masculinity ties back to biology and women’s need for the best mate possible. Best mate potential for females now includes emotional maturity. This emotional maturity is seen as desirable as detailed by Ansari because they want the whole package f a masculine,emotionally supportive partner. Thus leading women to loving the bromances in media because they like that guys can be that emotional and affectionate instead of being a pure aggressor with no feelings.

The traditional male masculinity tropes are still in place like being strong, and willing to take charge in difficult situations but their is a new level to masculinity where being masculine includes being affectionate with others, and taking care of one’s appearance. For example with men’s grooming it’s considered more desirable to be well dressed, instead of rugged to some. Beard trimming, dressing dapper, and good hygiene are greatly admired by potential partners in modern society and this shows back in the media, with bromances which reflect back women’s desires in males.

The rise of bromances has been steadily increasing, and these relationships are easily identifiable because bromances are an extreme more grandiose version of platonic male relationships. Bromances are on the rise and will continue to be, because of the greater acceptance of the new male masculinity standards, the rise of the female consumer, and the comedic gold of buddy films. Just like Paul and Andre’s relationship has grown over the years, so will bromances meaning and importance in our lives. Bromances will be seen as the norm as more and more men reach emotional maturity and feel comfortable in expressing their love and affection for each other.





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