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Privileging the Bromance: A Critical Appraisal of Romantic and Bromantic Relationships

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Abstract

In this research, utilizing data from thirty semistructured interviews, we examine how heterosexual undergraduate men compare their experiences of bromances to that of their romantic relationships (romances). We find that the increasingly intimate, emotive, and trusting nature of bromances offers young men a new social space for emotional disclosure, outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. Participants state that the lack of boundaries and judgment in a bromance is expressed as emotionally rivalling the benefits of a heterosexual romance. Our participants mostly determined that a bromance offered them elevated emotional stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, social fulfilment, and better conflict resolution, compared to the emotional lives they shared with girlfriends. Thus, this research provides an empirically grounded conceptual framework for understanding men’s view of close homosocial relationships in comparison to their romantic relationship in the twenty-first century.
Article
Privileging the Bromance:
A Critical Appraisal of
Romantic and Bromantic
Relationships
Stefan Robinson
1
, Adam White
1
, and Eric Anderson
1
Abstract
In this research, utilizing data from thirty semistructured interviews, we examine
how heterosexual undergraduate men compare their experiences of bromances to
that of their romantic relationships (romances). We find that the increasingly inti-
mate, emotive, and trusting nature of bromances offers young men a new social
space for emotional disclosure, outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.
Participants state that the lack of boundaries and judgment in a bromance is
expressed as emotionally rivalling the benefits of a heterosexual romance. Our
participants mostly determined that a bromance offered them elevated emotional
stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, social fulfilment, and better conflict reso-
lution, compared to the emotional lives they shared with girlfriends. Thus, this
research provides an empirically grounded conceptual framework for understanding
men’s view of close homosocial relationships in comparison to their romantic
relationship in the twenty-first century.
Keywords
bromance, friendship, homosocial, homohysteria, inclusive masculinity
1
Department of Sport and Exercise, University of Winchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Corresponding Author:
Adam White, School of Sport and Physical Activity, University of Bedfordshire, Bedford, MK41 9EA.
Email: Adam.White1@beds.ac.uk
Men and Masculinities
1-22
ªThe Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1097184X17730386
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The concept of twentieth-century friendship between both heterosexual (Ibson 2002)
and homosexual (Nardi 1999) men is well examined in the social sciences. While
friendship is primarily experienced by individuals as a complex psychological phe-
nomenon (Poplawski 1989), its dimensions, behavioral requisites, and prohibitions
are nonetheless socially defined and regulated. However, during much of the twen-
tieth century, investigations of friendship between men have focused on what is
missing, by contrast to what exists in women’s friendships, namely, emotional and
physical intimacy (Lewis 1978; Pleck 1975).
Recent research (Robinson, Anderson, and White 2017) established a framework
for defining and characterizing the popular “bromance” term by analyzing hetero-
sexual undergraduate men’s perspectives on the subject. That study showed that
young men openly pronounce love for their bromances and engage in highly inti-
mate behaviors, both emotionally and physically, which have until recently been
socially prohibited in same-sex male friendships. In this article, we examine whether
close male friendships have the capacity to rival the intimacy and affection tradi-
tionally reserved for romantic, heterosexual relationships. We know relatively little
about how romantic and peer relations are similar or different, and this research sets
out to examine the similarities and differences between bromances and heterosexual
romances, with a specific focus on the nature of intimacy and self-disclosure.
The Influence of Homohysteria on Homosociality
The level of physical and emotional intimacy expressed between heterosexual young
men is dependent on a number of sociohistorical variables (Lipman-Blumen 1976;
Sedgwick 1985). For example, homosocial intimacy flourished before the modern
era (Deitcher 2001). Exemplifying this, late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-
century men not only posed for photography in physically intimate ways, but they
wrote endearing letters to one another and even slept in the same beds (Ibson 2002).
Tripp (2005) highlights that, for four years, President Abraham Lincoln shared a bed
with his intimate male partner, Joshua Speed, and that President George Washington
wrote endearing letters to other men.
However, this intimacy that Tripp (2005) describes began to be policed when the
awareness of homosexuality grew in the twentieth century, particularly in the 1970s
and peaking in the 1980s. In this epoch, straight men began to fear being homo-
sexualized for displaying physical or emotional intimacy. Consequently, this inter-
fered with the development of close male friendships (Morin and Garfinkle 1978).
Instead of the nineteenth-century homosociality, late twentieth-century hypermascu-
line discourse arose in response to the mass cultural awareness of homosexuality
among Western populations. This was facilitated by the spread of the HIV/AIDS
virus, which brought such cultural visibility that it solidified the notion that homo-
sexuals existed in great numbers (Halkitis 2000)—something made even more sali-
ent by large numbers of gay men dying from AIDS-related illnesses. Accordingly,
The General Social Survey and the British Social Attitudes Survey show that cultural
2Men and Masculinities XX(X)
homophobia reached unprecedented heights in the mid-1980s to early 1990s (Loftus
2001; Clements and Field 2014).
Sociological research from this era highlights that men began to emotionally
distance themselves from other men (Komarovsky 1974; Pleck 1975). Lewis
(1978) wrote that men ...have not known what it means to love and care for a
friend without the shadow of some guilt and fear of peer ridicule” (p. 108). Jourard
(1971) showed that self-disclosure—a vital component of emotional intimacy—was
lacking between males. Instead, young men knew that they had a friendship with
another male when they engaged in activities together like playing sports, drinking,
fixing things, or gambling (Seiden and Bart 1975). The difference between the early
and later stages of the twentieth century was growing recognition in the latter half
that homosexuality exists as a static sexual orientation among a significant portion of
the population and corresponding antipathy toward it. Accordingly, Anderson
(2009) theorizes that it was the fear of being thought gay that ended the physical
and emotional intimacy that heterosexual men once shared, suggesting, alongside
Ibson (2002) and Kellner (1991), that by the 1980s, heterosexual men were severely
regulated in their behaviors.
Anderson’s (2009) inclusive masculinity theory and his concept of homohysteria
explain this shift in the physical and emotional dispositions of men before the first
half of the twentieth century and the decades of the latter half. McCormack and
Anderson (2014) more recently define homohysteria as the fear of being socially
perceived as homosexual—something made possible because heterosexuality can-
not be definitively proven among straight men in a culture that is both aware and
fearful of homosexuality. Subsequently, men are culturally compelled to perform
certain overtly heterosexual behaviors and avoid engaging in those that would
feminize them. Thus, one way of looking at homohysteria is to suggest that whereas
homophobia limits the lives of homosexual men, homohysteria limits the lives of
heterosexual men, too (Anderson and McCormack 2016).
The fear of male homosexualization, and its associated femininity, circulated not
only within institutions of education (Connell 1989; Mac an Ghaill 1994) but also
among other influential institutions including sport (Anderson 2005; Connell 1995),
government (Ahmed 2013; Boyle 2008), and the military (Dunivin 1994). During
this time, the requirement for men to refrain from emotional vulnerability had
filtered into almost all aspects of men’s personal lives (Field 1999).
Conversely, matters have been vastly different for women. While Worthen
(2014) shows that homohysteria also applies to women, they have been less policed
by the structures of homophobia. Hence, women have been able to display a far
wider range of emotional behaviors than men (Kring and Gordon 1998; Sprecher and
Sedikides 1993; Williams 1985). For example, unlike men who maintained friend-
ship through shared activities, women have maintained friendships through sharing
emotions and disclosing secrets (Caldwell and Peplau 1982). This is not to say
that certain hypermasculine behaviors did not associate women with lesbianism
(Griffin 1998; Worthen 2014), but that women were given more leeway for
Robinson et al. 3
emotional expression than men. This freedom of expression is more closely associ-
ated with young women, as research has shown a decline in the closeness between
women who are married (Babchuk and Anderson 1989). Indeed, powerful patriar-
chal forces have sought to limit the closeness of adult female friendships, as they
pose a threat to the strength of male alliances and patriarchal rule (Sedgwick 2015).
Accordingly, men have historically denied women seats in cultural institutions (such
as sport, the military, academia, religion, and business) and have relegated them to
the domestic sphere where they have not had the opportunity to form large friendship
networks and lobby for equal treatment (Kahlenber, Thompson, and Wrangham
2008; Flood 2008).
Expressing Love in the 1980s
Writing in the decade of homohysteria, Cancian (1987) said that we have “a fem-
inine conception of love. We identify love with emotional expression and talking
about our feelings” (p. 69). Accordingly, Anglo-American male youth of this time
would refrain from even using the word love (Williams 1985); they were structured
into exceptionally narrow masculine identities that rejected emotionality (Kellner
1991). Instead, they aspired to the muscular, heterosexual, hostile, and patriotic
action heroes who filled Hollywood (Pope et al. 2000). Love and intimacy for men
had no place in this era as it projected a feminine (read homosexual) image. Swear-
ing, abuse, readiness to fight (Dunning, Murphy, and Williams 2014), and unemo-
tionality (Cancian 1987) were compulsory male characteristics; boys and men did
not have the liberty to express fear, weakness, uncertainty, or affection for other men
(Plummer 1999).
Pleck (1975) similarly finds men of this era to be restricted in their expression,
describing in detail the social confines of male intimacy and emotionality. He found
that men were expected to exhibit greater control in their emotional behavior than
women, being far removed from their feelings. He goes on to say, “at the same time,
men appear to become angry or violent more easily than women and are often
rewarded for doing so ...[having] greater fears about homosexuality than do
women” (p. 156). Men were to avoid emotional intimacy with other men, finding
and expecting legitimate intimacy and companionship only within the confines of
heterosexual relationships with women. There was a great impersonality in male
friendships, and women’s social exemption to be expressive meant that men were
dependent on emotional support almost exclusively from women, while equally
possessing disdain for their emotionality.
In this era, the cultural fear of homosexuality, and consequent emphasis on
masculine stoicism, led men to depend entirely on women for the little emotional
disclosure they were socially permitted. Komarovsky (1974), for example, discov-
ered that undergraduate men were more likely to use women as a confidant, as
opposed to men. This is problematized by the fact that the antipathy toward homo-
sexuality, and love of stoicism, was propagated years before men enter university.
4Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Restrictive masculinity found its routes in the lives of even very young boys. Exem-
plifying this, Pollack (1999) showed that fathers of this era would withhold their love
and affection from their children, and before boys even reached their teenage years,
they could be subjected to abusive and shaming torments from peers and teachers for
performing feminine behaviors such as skipping and poetry readings for not being
“real boys” (Pollack 1999). The literature consistently documents a cultural zeitgeist
of homophobia, hypermasculinity, and emotional abstention among men from the
1970s (Olstad 1975) through the 1990s (Pollack 1999), leaving a generation of men
with a life of nonintimate male-to-male connections (Collins and Sroufe 1999;
Tognoli 1980).
Inclusive Masculinity Theory
Contrasting twentieth-century literature on adolescent males, in the twenty-first
century, young men have a greater social entitlement to express themselves through
a diverse spectrum of behaviors and emotions that would have previously socially
coded them as gay (Anderson 2014). This occurs without judgment from others
(McCormack 2012; Weeks 2007). We use inclusive masculinity theory (Anderson
2009; Anderson and McCormack 2016) to explain this shift in young men’s practice
of masculinity.
Inclusive masculinity theory is based on the social inclusion of those traditionally
marginalized by an orthodox form of masculinity. Inclusive masculinity theorists
argue that a substantial shift—a softening—has occurred among male youth and that
this can be observed with prominence in institutions such as education (McCormack
2011), sport (Adams 2011; Magrath, Anderson, and Roberts 2015; Murray et al.
2016; White and Robinson 2016), and social media (Morris and Anderson 2015;
Scoats 2017). Young men in these forums align themselves away from orthodox
tropes of masculinity and are less concerned about whether others perceive them to
be gay or straight; masculine or feminine (White and Hobson 2017). Embracing and
performing inclusive behaviors have meant that male youth have little fear of homo-
sexualization for the performance of femininity or homosocial behavior (Savin-
Williams 2005). Simply put, the decline in cultural homohysteria has relinquished
heterosexual men’s burden to police their gendered behaviors.
Building on the growing body of work of decreasing homohysteria and the
changing nature of adolescent masculinities in the twenty-first century (e.g., McCor-
mack 2012), young men today are now able to have highly intimate homosocial
relationships alongside casual friends. Like men of the 1980s, they make friends
through sports, drinking, and video games, but unlike men of the 1980s, however,
they also shop, dine, vacation, and sleep together (Anderson 2014). They also
maintain the opportunity to form deep emotional relationships, based on emotional
disclosure with one another (Murray and White 2017). Whereas Bank and Hansford
(2000) previously found that male friendships struggle due to emotional restraint,
masculine hierarchies, and homophobia, many scholars now suggest that the
Robinson et al. 5
millennial generation has promoted a culture that is much more inclusive and cohe-
sive (Adams 2011; McCormack 2012; Thurnell-Reid 2012). Significantly, recent
research has found that both late adolescent men (Robinson, Anderson, and White
2017) and men in their thirties (Magrath and Scoats forthcoming) believe that the
pressures of heterosexual marriage and house buying limit their capacity to maintain
such close friendships. Indeed, they recognize the temporal context of university life
and that it grants significant social freedoms that will perish as they enter adulthood.
Therefore, age in the context of our research is highly pertinent.
Instead of aspiring to the likes of Rambo, both qualitative and quantitative
research show that adolescent males today much prefer the feminized charms and
homosocial tactility of the members of the boy band One Direction, or popular
YouTube vloggers (Morris and Anderson 2015), or the intellect, financial success
and charity of Bill Gates (JWT 2013). Young men are also increasingly pursuing
interests in the arts, music, and fashion industries (Edwards 2006; McCormack
2012), which illustrates the diversification of male norms. What recent generations
of men would have considered a highly feminized notion of masculinity, today’s
adolescents and young men have greatly expanded upon the gendered and sexual
behaviors that are not only permissible but expected of their friends (Adams 2011;
McCormack 2012).
In middle to late adolescence, when many young men are at university, there
is an increased opportunity and desire among young men to form peer attach-
ment bonds, whereby deep interdependent relationships are developed premised
on self-disclosure and intimacy (Collins and Sroufe 1999). This can occur with
either romantic partners or same-sex friends (Kobak et al. 2007). This yearning
for intimate bonding arises as young men search for independence from their
parents and seek new avenues for advice and companionship (Collins and
Repinski 1994). While most of these friendships will not be enduring, some
will become highly intimate friendships with a small minority of friends pro-
viding a “safe haven” for full emotional disclosure (Kobak et al. 2007) that is
knowntothemasabromance.
The Bromance
Inclusive behaviors have been widely identified in popular television programs and
films, where the majority of scholarly attention on bromances has been focused
(Boyle and Berridge 2014). While “buddy movies” have existed since the late
1980s (Fuchs 1993), the relationships between the two leading male characters have
become more sentient and compassionate than ever before in mainstream cinema.
Gill and Hansen-Miller (2011) describe a new type of film called the “Lad Flick” or
“Lad Movie,” explaining that these films are a hybrid of the buddy movie and
“romantic comedy” genre that depict intimate male friendships. Blockbuster films
such as 21 Jump Street (2012), Due Date (2010), and The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005)
have drawn attention to men’s capacity to constitute complex and dynamic
6Men and Masculinities XX(X)
relationships grounded in male closeness, trust, and homosociality, at least in
movies. Indeed, recent research revealed that young men use these types of films
as a reference point when defining the bromance and how it operates (Robinson,
Anderson, and White 2017). The narratives and relationships played out on screen
generally reflect the way we understand our own lives. Thompson (2015) notes that
there is disagreement among scholars regarding both the benefit of having such a
phenomenon as the bromance and its definition, nonetheless concluding that televi-
sion and film are “highlighting a subtext of male emotion within bromance[s] that
warrants further exploration” (p. 3).
The bromance term was popularized among the mainstream media around 2005,
when there was a sharp rise in the amount of on-screen bromances (Boyle and
Berridge 2014; DeAngelis 2014; Gill and Hansen-Miller 2011). Of the minimal
academic work conducted around the concept, it is exclusively movie and celebrity
culture focused. The term was adopted in an attempt to account for the increasingly
intimate and emotional affection being displayed between heterosexual men on the
silver screen and in celebrity culture (DeAngelis 2014). Accordingly, the vast major-
ity of scholarly attention paid to the bromance revolves around media analysis; work
that highlights the changing nature of male friendships in movies and television
(DeAngelis 2014).
We recently documented how heterosexual men at a UK university engage with
the bromance (Robinson, Anderson, and White 2017). Through interviewing parti-
cipants about their involvement in bromances, and how their experiences influenced
their understanding of the term, data showed that bromances are achieved through
certain social freedoms concerning shared interest, emotional intimacy, and non-
sexual physical intimacy. Bromances achieved an important level of cultural reso-
nance and meaning to the men, with those involved describing themselves as holding
a brotherly or girlfriend-type status with their bromance.
Important for the social creation of same-sex intimacy among heterosexual men,
the participants also shared a unanimous definition and understanding of what a
bromance is. It was expressed to be an intimate same-sex male friendship based on
unrivalled trust and self-disclosure that superseded other friendships. The men pub-
licly expressed “love” for their bromance(s), describing intimate examples of emo-
tionality and physical intimacy that they had shared in such friendships.
The decisive component that characterized these friendships was demonstrated
through the emphasis placed on a “lack of boundaries” and seemingly “nothing
being off limits.” In line with these findings, Hammare´n and Johansson (2014)
suggest that bromances are same-sex male relations that “emphasize love, exclusive
friendship, and intimacy ...[and] are not premised on competition [or hierarchies]”
(p. 6).
The cultural adoption of the bromance term represents an increased recognition
that young men are permitted to have more diverse and homosocial masculine
identities. Their behavior shows that contrasting to the 1970s (Olstad 1975),
1980s (Askew and Ross 1988), and 1990s (Kimmel 1995, 2004; Pollack 1999)
Robinson et al. 7
research, young heterosexual men are now able to confide in each other and develop
and maintain deep emotional friendships based on intimacy and the expression of
once taboo emotional sentimentality.
Method
Participants
Over a three-month period, between August 2014 and November 2014, thirty semi-
structured interviews into the romantic and bromantic lives of undergraduate males
were conducted. The interviews were conducted by a middle age professor on the
university campus, at times to suit the participants. To be part of the research,
participants needed to identify as heterosexual and be in the second year of their
university studies. The limitation to second-year students was to enable the exam-
ination of men who had sufficient time to develop friendships with their university
peers—having had 18 months to befriend and develop intimate bonds with other
men and live in the same house as close male friends.
We recruited all thirty students from various across the university sports
department through advertising in lectures and word of mouth, with all of the
participants presenting themselves to the researchers. We recruited eighteen of the
students from one particular class for this study because of the ease of access, with
the remaining twelve in the same degree program volunteering to be interviewed
through snowball sampling. We stopped interviewing at thirty because we had
reached data saturation. The same participants were used for Robinson, Anderson,
and White’s (2017) research on conceptualizing the bromance; all having identi-
fied that they have been, or are currently, involved in a bromance and a romantic
relationship.
To assure that the men we interviewed were not strategically presenting positive
or overly exaggerated support for gay men and male homosexuality (a prerequisite
for inclusive masculinities), eighteen months prior we distributed Herek’s (1988)
Attitudes Towards Gays and Lesbians scale to these students. The survey was admi-
nistered anonymously upon the students’ first day of arrival at the university. Results
showed wide support for male homosexuality which meant that all men espoused
progay attitudes on arrival at university.
Although men were not selected for race, the virtually exclusive white student
body of this British university limited our analysis. The sample was white, with
only one exception. The sample was also populated by participants from middle-
class backgrounds. We do not therefore conduct a race or class analysis with this
research, limiting our findings to white, middle-class, heterosexual, undergradu-
ate men from one university. We identify the demographic of importance to this
research as that of age and gender and use this sample to develop and discuss
the ways young men perceive the value of their bromances compared to that of
their romances.
8Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Procedures
Participants were asked to discuss their experiences of bromances and the homo-
social aspects of their same-sex friendships, before being asked how those inti-
macies compare to those shared with their romantic partners/girlfriends. The line
of questioning intended to tease out what boundaries (or lack of) bromances and
romances operate under. Particular focus was given to limits of self-disclosure and
emotional intimacy.
After transcribing the interviews, the participants’ narratives were coded for
themes relating to their views about bromances, same-sex friendships, and
romances. Coding was generated from themes documented in research notes after
each interview and coverified with each researcher. For that reason, the process
permitted a level of mutual consistency, principally generating more valid data
(Denscombe 2002). Twenty percent of the codes were then subjected to interrater
reliability with an outside academic not named on this article.
The ethical procedures of the British Sociological Association have been fol-
lowed. This includes participants’ right to view transcripts, the right to withdraw
from the study, making anonymous the participants’ names, and the name of their
university. Participants were provided with an information sheet with the investiga-
tors’ contact information, aims of the study, consent forms, and indication that there
was no penalty for not participating. To promote disclosure and confidence in the
research process, the participants were reassured intermittently that their data were
entirely anonymized.
Results
Each of the thirty men interviewed for this research described themselves as having
at least one bromance and at least one romance, in either the past or present. When
describing what he understood a bromance to be, Bruce compared his bromance to a
romance, “We are basically like a couple ...we get called like husband and wife all
the time” and Martin agreed, “It’s like having a girlfriend, but then not a girlfriend.”
Hamish went as far to say “It’s your best friend. You are closer to him than anyone.
Theyarelikeaguygirlfriend.”Itwasclear from the participants that similar
behaviors and feelings existed in both bromantic and romantic relationships, which
complicate the differentiation of the two.
As the central theme of enquiry, all participants were directly asked to explain
what the difference is between a bromance and romance. Most described this as a
difficult question. Chris articulated what many suggested:
That’s a very hard question to answer. I feel like I’ve got to say that there is a
difference. But I really don’t know. I can’t really identify a clear difference. There
is a different feeling, but nothing I can particularly describe. Oh!A romance is with a
girl and a bromance is with a guy [he laughs].
Robinson et al. 9
Participants suggested that the primary difference between a bromance and a
romance ultimately hinged on their desire for sex with their romance and not their
bromance. Aaron tried to model how the two were different, suggesting that there
are three factors to consider, “sexual, emotional and personality. A bromance
needs the last two and a girl needs two including sexual.” Bob just said, “Sex,
really. That’s all.” Aaron said, “When you have a bromance with a friend, it’s
motivated by your interest in that person, love and friendship, and not because you
want sex.” Indeed, sexual desire is often perceived as the traditional missing link
between a friendship and a romantic relationship. Beyond the need for sex, we
found that for this cohort of men, bromances performed a very similar and often
superior function to romances.
Disclosure, Emotionality, and Physical Intimacy
The vast majority of participants suggested that they have a preference for disclosing
personal matters and exclusive secrets sharing with their bromance(s), more so than
their romances. They were clear that a bromance offers a deep sense of unburdened
disclosure and emotionality based on trust and love, in which vulnerabilities can be
revealed. Of the men interviewed, twenty-eight of the thirty said that they would
prefer to discuss personal matters with a bromance than a romance. They felt able to
express and emote in their bromances, and divulge their most personal issues,
without ridicule.
Brad said, “There are absolutely things I tell my bromances and not the girlfriend.
She expects so much from the relationship and will have a go if I say something out
of line, and with Matt we just tell each other everything.” Harvey shared a similar
sentiment, “There are no boundaries between us [he and his bromance] and what we
can say. I couldn’t tell her [girlfriend] as much as him cause she might not like me
after.” When asked to elaborate, Harvey explained, “Well, for example, Tim knows I
love listening to Taylor Swift and Beyonce, but I keep that quiet because she would
judge me. I feel like I have to be more manly around her.”
Bob used a health-related example to clarify his favorability of disclosing to a
bromance. “If I found a lump on my testical, I’d talk to [bromance] rather than my
girlfriend.” The notion of a health concern was named by five other men as well.
Hamish spoke about when he was in hospital. “Charlie was there for me all the time
when I was recovering. But, when my girlfriend came, I kind of wanted her to leave
so that I could have a laugh with Charlie instead of being all serious like she is.”
George gave a different kind of example. He spoke of his desire to for his girlfriend
to finger him (penetrate his anus during sex). However, he thought his girlfriend
would think he was gay, and thus ruining the relationship, he had only told his
bromance about his sexual desires.
Martin said, “because you can be more truthful about stuff, and because he wont
judge me, it’s easier to talk to him and I don’t have to hold back.” Robbie spoke in more
general terms, “They [romances] can’t do the laddish banter we do. You can piss around
10 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
and go dirty in your conversations with bro’s, but you don’t tell girlfriends about that
stuff. With guys I know where I stand.” Hamish similarly said that, “Bromances are
more honestand have more banter cause you say things to the guys you wouldn’t’ want
to say to the girl.” Beck believed that this increased disclosure to other men is because,
“A girlfriend will judge you and a bromance will never judge you.”
Ollie gave an example of where he didn’t want his girlfriend to see him emote.
“When I was upset about my granddad, I wouldn’t let the girlfriend over cause I
didn’t want her to see me upset. Stewart kept me company, and I think it pissed her
off.” He elaborated, “Stewart stayed in my bed till the morning.” It is this type of
behavior that led the men in this study to widely proclaim love for their bromance(s).
Ollie was not the only man to be physically intimate with his bromance.
Of the thirty men interviewed, twenty-nine said that they had experienced cud-
dling with a same-sex friend, and many expressed that it occurred frequently with
their bromances. Aaron said that with his bromance, “We hug when we meet, and we
sleep in the same bed when we have sleepovers. Everyone knows it, and nobody is
bothered by it because they do it as well.” Alan shows that there is no shame in this
behavior, “There’s a great photo of me and Tom on Facebook cuddling” he said.
Patrick said, “I think most guys in bromances cuddle, it’s a usual in my main
friendship group. It’s not a sexual thing, either. It shows you care.”
Consistent with other research on British undergraduate men (Anderson, Adams, and
Rivers 2012), kissing was also widely spoken about as a sign of affection for a bromance.
Robbie said, “You see guys kissing and cuddling each other loads. It’s never an issue to
anyone.” Tony said, “I kiss him [bromance] all the time,” and Max said that in his
bromance, “I hug him and kiss him and tell him I love him.” Beck said, “Guys nowadays,
in my generation, there is so much kissing between guys because it’s showing affection.”
Significantly, for men with girlfriends, their bromantic cuddling is known by their
girlfriend’s and, ostensibly, approved. Joe said, for example, that his girlfriend knows
that he has a strong bromance and that he cuddles with him. When asked if his
girlfriend is “okay with that,” he replied, “My girlfriend is fine with it.” Similarly,
Tony told us that he has a “fair few bromances” and has also been in a relationship
with his girlfriend for seven years. Yet he is still, “quite comfortable touching other
people [males]” and that his girlfriend is “not bothered by it.” So whereas one might
think that heterosexual men with girlfriends might not desire or seek same-sex inti-
macy, this is not the case. The physical interactions that these men engage in with
other men are unanimously expressed to be devoid of sexual desire. However, it
remains that they desire to be physically intimate, albeit nonsexually, with their
bromances; a behavior traditionally reserved exclusively for romantic relationships.
Hiding from Judgment
There was a clear acknowledgment among the participants that bromances had a
heightened capacity for emotional disclosure, beyond that which they felt free to
express to romances. Many participants suggested that they limit their emotionality
Robinson et al. 11
and disclosure to their girlfriends because they feel compelled to self-monitor,
perform, and “act differently” to regulate their girlfriend’s perception of them. They
explained that there was more judgment passed between romances (back and forth)
than bromances, and more emotional instability, meaning that it was sometimes
easier to refrain from certain disclosures for the sake of conflict limitation and/or
receiving negative judgment. Conversely, bromances were expressed to be rather
boundless, in terms what can be said without judgment.
Specifically, participants said that they did not want to get in trouble for saying or
doing the “wrong thing.” As Harvey explained, “You want to project a better self [to
your romance] and maintain the standard you had at the beginning of the
relationship.” Beck explained the other side to this, “With a guy, you don’t’ have
to impress them. You are just so relaxed around each other. Sometimes it feels like
I’m always on eggshells with her [girlfriend].”
The fear of persecution for displaying desires for other women in front of their
romances was also described as problematic for these men. Many would not talk
about or even look at other girls in front of their romances. This is because they
believed that they would cause relationship trouble for doing so. Hamish said, “You
defiantly have to be more careful. My god, if you talk about another girl, you get
your head ripped off” and David agreed. “The first rule is you don’t speak about
other girls!It just causes trouble.” Toby said:
I feel comfortable talking to my girlfriend about most things. Although, if I look at
girls, or mention other girls, she’s always suspicious of me. I’ve said stuff in front of
her before and I got in trouble. So, now I know to keep quiet. The guys say I’m under
the thumb and they’re probably right.
Accordingly, the desire to project a “better self” to romances has caused these men to
modify their behavior through attempting to uphold what they consider to be a false
image of themselves. Harvey said, “The words I’d use with a friend are different. I
found myself talking in a correct manner to my girlfriend.” Liam said that with his
bromances, he is free to “say more things that won’t result in an argument.” George
adds to this, suggesting, “with a girl you kind of have to think a lot more before you
say things, because of the way they will react.” Max gave an example, “I don’t feel
like I can say no to anything she asks. If she wants me to come over and I’m too tired,
or busy, I still drop everything and go to avoid arguing.” Mark said:
I don’t talk to my girlfriend about the drugs I use, even weed, cause she will definitely
have a go .... I lie about things to keep her happy, and I nod along with all her plans for
our future. I only speak to [bromance] and [bromance] about the fact I want to travel for
a year and maybe even move abroad.”
One participant felt that he needed to artificially maintain a masculine identity; Jay said,
“I have to try and keep up thisfigure of masculinity [around his romance], whereas a guy
12 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
friend isn’t going to care.” Under the homosysteric culture of the 1980s and 1990s, men
would find themselves strictly monitoring their behavior around other men; however,
within this cohort, this self-checking among male friends has diminished.
On the other hand, bromances were described to be more fluid and relaxed. Regi
said, “If I dont talk to [bromance] for a while, they are cool. But girls would freak
out .... In my bromance nothing is off limits.” David agreed, “I hold nothing back in
my bromance. There are no boundaries like there is with my girlfriend.” Jason added,
“With the guy ...you are always on the same wavelength. I don’t think girls can relate
to me in the same way guys can.” Adam said, “With my last girlfriend I would always
have to prioritize her over my friends, or it would always end up with me getting an ear
full; or no sex [he laughs].” Zani (1993) finds that conflicts in romances are often
caused because of jealousy over the amount of time one spends with their same-sex
friends, although this does not surmount to the jealousy one is likely to feel if a partner
is spending time with someone from the opposite sex (Roth and Parker 2001).
Adam highlights a point made by several others; that sex (or a lack of) can be used
as a pawn to reward boyfriends for being loyal and appreciative of their girlfriends;
often at the expense of male bonding. Nathan said, “I know if I choose to go out with
the guys instead of her, she won’t have sex with me for like a week.” When speaking
about the difference between a bromance and a romance, Henry said, “The only
thing with a girl is that it brings sex into it—if you are nice to them for the whole day
that is.” Other men similarly suggested that to achieve sex with a romance, it often
came at a cost. Regi said, “They [girlfriends] always feel like they should take
priority, they expect so much from the relationship, and we give them priority
because of sex. It’s because we can’t control our sex drive.”
Other participants could relate to this, recognizing that it was problematic: that their
desire for sex was not a good thing for the emotional side of their romantic emotional
relationship. Some felt that the emotional intimacy they shared with women was
artificially enhanced in order to achieve sex and maintain the romance. Harvey said,
“In romances, people don’t like to truly show their feelings. Other than that, the only
difference between romances and bromances is the sexual desire.” Sam said, “With
women, the sexual stuff is great, but the romantic stuff might not be as honest because
you will say whatever for sex.” Joe went as far to call this sexual pollution, explaining,
“Sex is expected and it interferes with the emotional stuff ...bromances are stronger
because there is no sexual pollution.” Beck agreed, “Being able to be truthful with a
bromance can be superior to a romance, but you don’t get the sexual pleasure.” For
these men, sex clearly holds power in a heterosexual relationship, leading many to
suggest that it can complicate the emotional side of the relationship.
Conflict Resolution
Arguments and conflict resolution were discussed concerning both bromances and
romances. When questioned, the participants overwhelmingly stated that arguments with
girlfriends were more intense, trivial, and long-lasting in comparison to their bromances.
Robinson et al. 13
When speaking about arguments with his girlfriend, Harvey said, “She will store up
something you did wrong two years ago and recall it, with the exact date and time.”
This example was given in similar terms by other participants too. Toby agreed,
“With men, its over. But women are very good at remembering things.” Adam said,
“I’d say guys are a less emotional about arguments. So if you say something offen-
sive, they wouldn’t take it as strong as a female.” Hamish said that this makes
personal conflict easier to overcome with a bromance. He explained that if he has
a problem with a bromance, he handles it by saying, “Stop being a prick.” He adds:
You can’t say that to a girlfriend. It will cause all sorts of trouble .... Sometimes we
[bromance] clash and quite often he says ‘ah fair enough, I shouldn’t have done that.’
Then that’s it. It’s over. We just move on.
Hamish suggested that men overcome conflict easier because “We are more honest with
each other and perhaps more forgiving.” Adam said, “Women have culturally been
taught to take things more literally and get upset, whereas guys can laugh out their
frustrations. So it’s easier with guys.” Gavin said, “There isn’t anything that can go
wrong in a bromance. Unless you’re specifically a massive tool.” Theo argued with his
bromance recently, however, it resolved quickly. “We can’t hold an argument. We just let
it go, We talk about it,” he said. Liam summarized a variety of these findings in saying:
There are just things that you can tell guys that you can’t tell a girlfriend: things that if
you told to a girlfriend it would start an argument. So you don’t tell her. You tell him
[the bromance], instead. This allows you to talk about it, to get it out and process it; and
it keeps the peace with the girlfriend.
It is for these reasons that this research unmasks perhaps uncomfortable and socially
frowned-upon ideas about heterosexual relationships. It questions the quality of
relationships for young straight men and women and advocates that, perhaps, het-
erosexual men widely benefit from long-term intimate (albeit not sexual) relation-
ships with other men. When asked if a long-term heterosexual same-sex relationship
was possible, Adam offered, “Yeah, it seems like a logical idea in fact.” Harvey felt
these relationships would have more success, concluding, “Lovers are temporary, a
bromance can last a lifetime.”
Discussion
By engaging with a critical appraisal of bromances, alongside traditional heterosex-
ual romances, we illustrate how these thirty millennial men conceptualize and
express the value of their close male friendships. The most significant finding in
this study concerns the virtually unanimous narrative that these men found it easier
to open up and express their feelings to their bromances, more so than their
romances. This was suggested for two reasons. First, the most consistent finding
concerned the lack of emotional boundaries and limits in bromances. Bromances
14 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
were described—even if overly idealized—as being judgment free and having a lack
of boundaries which allows them to push to margins of traditional masculinity
through more physical and emotional behaviors. Conversely, many of the men did
identify boundaries in their romances. Often, they could not talk fully about their
interests, anxieties, health, and sexual desires, even when emerging adults often
idealize romantic partners and exaggerate their supportiveness (Murray, Holmes,
and Griffin 1996).
Second, men we interviewed expressed that, with a romance, one was constantly
posturing and self-monitoring, not only to achieve desired heterosexual sex but to
prevent relationship destruction. The men would restrict what they would say and
instead act the part of the adoring boyfriend. The men reasoned that they did this
because, in their view, women held onto grudges longer than men and were more
unpredictable in their emotional responses, often recalling and reusing historical
instances of conflict in later arguments. Indeed, some scholars reason that gendered
stereotypes about emotionality inherently affect our display of emotion (Shields
1991), with women continuing to report, from a self-gauge perspective, that they
have more frequent and intense emotional experiences and are more sensitive to
their feelings (Sprecher and Sedikides 1993; Kring and Gordon 1998). On the con-
trary, the participants found it much easier to resolve disputes and arguments with
their bromances because they found them to be more forgiving. Consequently, they
were less guarded in their personal disclosure and identity management with their
bromances, despite their romances following a more traditional trajectory.
Many felt that the sexual dimension of a heterosexual relationship was implicitly
linked to, and interfered with, having an efficacious and emotionally stable relation-
ship. Baumeister and Twenge (2002) explain the dissonance highlighted by the
men’s comments regarding the exchange of adoration for sex in a heterosexual
relationships. They reason that under the Female Control Theory, women are able
to regulate men’s behavior and increase their affection for women through restrict-
ing access to sex. Consequently, men may engage in intense and prolonged instances
of female adoration, or “being nice” as one participant puts it. The participant’s
preoccupation and essentialist approach to sex does not recognize the male capacity
to withhold sex from their romantic partners to gain affection, however. Unlike
romantic relationships, bromances operate as “nonprofitable” friendships that are
based on mutual compatibility (Hammare´n and Johansson 2014), not on the pursuit
of self-gratification. For the men in this study, the absence of sexual desire in a
bromance has placated the prospect of conflict.
There was a conclusive determination from the men we interviewed. On balance,
they argued that bromantic relationships were more satisfying in their emotional
intimacy, compared to their heterosexual romances. They saw social liberty in a
bromance that exceeds the disclosure and openness achievable in their romantic
relationships. This was articulated to be because of the effort required to maintain
a romance, compared to the ease upon which two males can relate in a bromance.
This is perhaps why men without girlfriends did not seem altogether longing for one.
Robinson et al. 15
We contend that the male preference for emotionality between other men, rather
than women, has come about due to a significant cultural shift in the structure of
masculinity. In the time that has passed since the 1980s, where a cultural zeitgeist
of hegemonic masculinity existed, young men have rapidly come to esteem a more
advanced and complex level of emotionality in their same-sex friendships. Men
would have previously denounced the presence of intimacy in their friendships
(Walker 1994), but they now embrace and speak of it openly. Where men had once
reserved secret sharing and exclusive disclosure for women only (Komarovsky
1974), it was clear from our research that these millennial men have now trans-
cended the emotional regulation experienced in the homohysteric era before them,
to become highly tactile, inclusive, and caring toward other men.
There are however significant and worrying results here for women. These men
perceived women to be the primary regulators of their behavior, and this caused
distain for them as a whole in some instances. The men often generalized personal
experiences to women as a collective, under an “us and them” binary which asso-
ciated all women with any negative experiences the men had. The narratives used by
the participants undoubtedly reflect the allegiances that they feel toward their own
sex, and the nature of their disclosures suggests that some have a limited respect for
their past and present girlfriends. Much in the same way that woman are portrayed in
contemporary cinema as objects for male gratification (Gill and Hansen-Miller
2011), several of the participants spoke of women they knew in a generally negative
way. There was a tendency, as in Hollywood, to deliver sexist perspectives in a
humorous and banterous way to deter accusations of sexism, and this is problematic.
Mehta and Strough (2009) propose that the strengthening of homosocial bonds
contributes toward the devaluing of cross-sex socialization, and it may be that the
rise of the bromances may not altogether be liberating and socially positive for
women. We believe that the binary approach to questioning (i.e., bromances vs.
romances), and the fact that the interviewer was of the same sex as participants, may
have subtly influenced the nature of the language used to describe women.
Men in this research highlight that the physical and emotional dimensions of
bromances resemble the traditional expectations of romantic companionship,
namely, the declarations of love, kissing, cuddling, and exclusive emotional confi-
dence. We show, that while one of the fundamental differences between bromances
and romantic relationships is sex, these are less rigid due to the progressively
inclusive attitudes around same-sex touch. We find that the organization of bro-
mances and romantic relationships is not dissimilar from one another. Under the
rubric of inclusive masculinity, young men at this university are embracing their
innate desire to search for companionship (Collins and Repinski 1994; Zorn and
Gregory 2005), particularly with men, free from social stigma.
These findings are consistent with Anderson’s notion of inclusive masculinity
(2009) and resonate with other recent findings on young men (Hammare´n and
Johansson 2014; Zorn and Gregory 2005). It seems that, for the millennial men in
this and other studies, they do not hold back on embracing their capacity for
16 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
emotional versatility; rather, they are free to develop dynamic relationships with
other men, offering them “valuable, tangible and socio-emotional support” (Zorn
and Gregory 2005, 211).
There are interesting potential implications for domesticity too. These hetero-
sexual millennial men cherish their close male friends so much, so that they may
even provide a challenge to the orthodoxy of traditional heterosexual relationships.
Given that young men are now experiencing a delayed onset of adulthood and an
extended period of adolescence (Arnett 2004), men may choose to cohabit as a
functional relationship in the modern era. Just as many of the men in this research
share exclusive same-sex houses while at university, they may continue with their
bromances and domesticity well beyond university years. Howard (2012) has
already found some older men doing this, and Magrath and Scoats (forthcoming)
find that men in their thirties have regrets about not maintaining their bromances into
later life, with marriage being a key barrier to this. This, again, is another indication
that bromances may not altogether benefit cross-sex relations. In other words,
because heterosexual sex is now achievable without the need for romantic commit-
ment (Bogle 2008), and because bromances are privileged for these men, the bro-
mance could increasingly become recognized as a genuine lifestyle relationship,
whereby two heterosexual men can live together and experience all the benefits of
a traditional heterosexual relationship.
Author’s Note
Adam White is now affiliated to the School of Sport and Physical Activity, Univer-
sity of Bedfordshire, Bedford, United Kingdom.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.
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Author Biographies
Stefan Robinson is an inclusive masculinities scholar who’s work focuses on the relationship
between homophobia and the operation male friendships. His published and forthcoming
works deliver a critical assessment of the concept of the bromance, and how its rise con-
tributes to the strengthening of close bonds between men. Stefan’s wider research interests
include evaluating the value of risk in sport and men’s openness about mental health
conditions.
Adam White is a lecturer in Sport and Physical Education at the University of Bedfordshire.
Adam has published on masculinities and sexualities in Sport, Education and Youth Culture
more broadly.
Eric Anderson is a professor of Sport, masculinities and Sexualities at the University of
Winchester. He is a leading authority on masculinities and the impact of declining homo-
phobia on male behaviour.
22 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
... Part of this emerging body of inclusive masculinity research is also focused on the relatively new term 'bromance', which describes a close relationship between two, usually heterosexual, men (DeAngelis, 2014), focusing on emotional and physical attributes (Robinson et al., 2018(Robinson et al., , 2019. The bromance serves as valuable evidence as to how heterosexuality has expanded in recent years (Anderson, 2018). ...
... Not only did the participants say that they would not mind having a male homosexual friend, but, similar to findings among British males of this age cohort, the majority of them suggested that they would not mind being in a bromance with a gay male (Robinson et al., 2018(Robinson et al., , 2019. The qualifying criterion was commonality, which included gender typicality. ...
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In this, the first investigation of inclusive masculinities among 18- to 19-year-old Czech students, the authors interviewed 19 participants from a rural part of the country. The purpose of this research was to identify attitudes of young, rural, Czech men toward homosexuality and examine for perceived generational difference compared to men who emerged under communism. Results showed evidence of inclusive masculinities for these rural youth based in three principal categories: (1) positive attitudes toward homosexuality; (2) openness to a bromance with a gay male (dependent on gender typicality); and (3) perceived generational differences in gay acceptance compared to their parents’ generation. Overall, results therefore show that young men in this rural part of Czechia are enacting more inclusive forms of masculinity than possible under communist rule.
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... Same-sex friendships, Nagel et al. (2015) argue, could put men in a situation of discomfort where their social interactions with other men are viewed as sexual or intimate. Therefore, men may be seen socializing with other men in ways that display typical masculine traits and this involves perpetuations of homophobic attitudes (Mahalik et al., 2003;Nagel et al., 2015;Robinson et al., 2019). ...
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Drawing on hundreds of interviews with 15-22 year old straight and gay male athletes in both the United States and the United Kingdom, this book explores how jocks have redefined heterosexuality, and no longer fear being thought gay for behaviors that constrained men of the previous generation.