The New Bromanticism

grey The New Bromanticism

Just over half of British and American men are cur­rently in or have had a ‘bromance’ in the past accord­ing to a sur­vey, not by Dr Kinsey, but by Badoo (‘the world’s largest social net­work for meet­ing new people’).

The Badoo press release – issued on Valentine’s Day last week – claims that the sur­vey of 2000 men ‘reveals the extent to which British men have embraced the “bromance” phe­nomenon’. We’ll get to that bit later.

What’s imme­di­ately and grat­i­fy­ingly clear is that the Badoo sur­vey doesn’t insist, as many would and have done, very loudly, that a bromance is a close friend­ship between two STRAIGHT men – no gay­ers or gay­ness allowed, thank you very much.

Instead, Badoo defines bromance as ‘a close pla­tonic rela­tion­ship with someone of the same sex’. And we all know about that Plato guy and those Greeks.…

Badoo’s British respond­ents lis­ted these fam­ous male friend­ships in their ‘top ten’:

1. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

3. Ant and Dec

4. Buzz and Woody (Toy Story)

5. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley

6. George Clooney and Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)

7. Gavin and Smithy (Gavin and Stacey)

8. Joey and Chandler (Friends)

9. Frodo and Sam (Lord of the Rings)

10. Simon and Will (The Inbetweeners)

Some of these male friend­ships are more pla­tonic than oth­ers. You don’t have to be a slash fic­tion writer to see some­thing slightly erotic in, for example, Frodo and Sam’s smoul­der­ing on-screen rela­tion­ship – or Newman and Redford’s. I have to say I was pleased but a little sur­prised that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made it into second place (that movie was released 43 years ago) — I sup­pose there must have been a lot of respond­ents as middle-aged as me.

It’s a cry­ing shame that Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin didn’t make the list – but then the era that they reigned supreme as the world’s favour­ite ‘pla­tonic’ male lov­ers was well over half a cen­tury ago. And they were prob­ably too expli­cit for today’s tastes.

It’s also a shame also that the great, pas­sion­ate early twen­ti­eth cen­tury psy­cho­logy male double act of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung was ignored. But I sup­pose that the recently-released A Dangerous Method didn’t pull in quite as many punters as Sherlock Holmes 2. And besides, it has a unhappy end­ing: Freud and Jung have a very messy divorce.

But Freud and Jung per­son­ify in an oddly neur­otic fash­ion the way no ‘bromance’ is ever quite ‘pure’ of libid­inal impulses: Freud fam­ously fain­ted more than once in the pres­ence of his anoin­ted suc­cessor the young Jung, blam­ing it on some ‘unre­solved homo­sexual attach­ment’ – the cigar afi­cion­ado con­sidered homo­erotic attrac­tion the basis of all male bond­ing. And although the split occurred because Jung rejec­ted Freud’s all-embracing libido-theory, emphas­ising instead ‘spir­itu­al­ity’, it was Jung who had the major nervous break­down after they parted.

It was the non-Freudian Michel Foucault who, as I recall, attrib­uted the emer­gence of ‘the homo­sexual’ to the decline in the insti­tu­tion of male friend­ship. Foucault was immensely inter­ested in friendship:

As far back as I remem­ber, to want guys was to want rela­tions with guys. That has always been import­ant for me. Not neces­sar­ily in the form of a couple but as a mat­ter of exist­ence: how is it pos­sible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals, their room, their leis­ure, their grief, their know­ledge, their con­fid­ences? What is it to be “naked” among men, out­side of insti­tu­tional rela­tions, fam­ily, pro­fes­sion, and oblig­at­ory camaraderie?’

(Michel Foucault, ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’)

For Foucault, exper­i­mental friend­ship and ‘new rela­tions’ was what male homo­sexu­al­ity was for. Or at least the bit of it that he was inter­ested in that wasn’t about leather and whips.

The arrival of com­pan­ion­ate mar­riage in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury left increas­ingly little room for close male friend­ships – friend­ships which, along with greater phys­ical affec­tion such as kiss­ing and hold­ing hands, occas­sional pas­sion­ate declar­a­tions of love, and also the cus­tom of chums shar­ing bed (see Abe Lincoln), had meant that the dif­fer­ence between a sexual rela­tion­ship and a non sexual one was largely invis­ible to the world. Close male friend­ships cover the pre-gay past with a blanket of discretion.

Perhaps the pop­ular­ity of ‘bromance’ even just as a buzzword rep­res­ents a resur­gence of interest in close male friend­ship, as the med­ical, legal and social force of ‘the homo­sexual’ and for that mat­ter ‘the het­ero­sexual’ declines. A quarter of the Badoo respond­ents admit to hav­ing ‘the most fun they have with any­one’ with their bromance part­ner, and ‘just like Holmes and Watson’ over one in ten are ‘often mis­taken to be more than friends’, while 10% of them claim to get stick from their part­ner for it.

Marriage is also now in steep decline, of course. Fewer and fewer people are get­ting hitched and if and when they do it’s usu­ally much later than their par­ents or grand­par­ents. (According to Badoo, 28% of single British men are cur­rently in a bromance, with this fig­ure drop­ping to 10% for mar­rieds and 15% for co-habiters.)

Before the Second World War, when work­ing class men ten­ded to get mar­ried in their late twen­ties and early thirties, the now-defunct insti­tu­tion of ‘trade’ glor­i­ously filled the gap between adoles­cence and domest­icity. And des­pite the name, the traffic between ‘nor­mal’ work­ing class lads and queer gen­tle­men was not always com­mer­cial or hedon­istic – sur­pris­ingly often it developed into a long term and emo­tion­ally close friendship.

After being ini­tially rather scep­tical, I’ve begun to re-evaluate my atti­tude towards ‘bromance’. Over time it seems that the ‘romance’ part of ‘bromance’ is becom­ing less irrit­at­ingly ironic – and the ‘bro’ part less annoy­ingly fratty. And also less insist­ently hetty. In this Badoo sur­vey at least, ‘bromance’ cuts right across ‘sexuality’.

Like that other annoy­ing word ‘met­ro­sexual’, ‘bromance’ seems to be poten­tially act­ing as a solvent of gay/straight bound­ar­ies, giv­ing men whatever their sexu­al­ity per­mis­sion to express stuff that they oth­er­wise might not. Facilitating and encour­aging close, emo­tional friend­ships between two straight men. Or between gay and straight men. Or straight and bi men. Or maybe even between – one day, in the far dis­tant Utopian future – gay men.

The recently launched ‘Bromance’ app, a location-based net­work ‘that helps you organ­ize activ­it­ies with friends and nearby people with shared interests’ was mocked by many (includ­ing me until I found out more about it). The people behind the app, like Badoo, don’t insist on the het­ero­sexu­al­ity of their ‘bros’ – and go one step fur­ther in sug­gest­ing that ‘bros’ don’t have to be male, either.

Many com­menters on gay blogs seemed to think the Bromance app would be only used by ‘closeted gay men’ seek­ing sex on the ‘down­low’ – while the Brobible agreed, ‘aggress­ively oppos­ing’ this ‘men seek­ing men’ app for pol­lut­ing the het­ero­sexual pur­ity of their bro-ness.

I’ve no idea whether it will be pop­u­lar or not, but the gay­ist and bro-ist scorn which greeted the Bromance app seems to be pre­cisely down to the way it might facil­it­ate new kinds of pla­tonic friend­ships. And new kinds of sexual rela­tion­ships. Under a blanket of smart-phone dis­cre­tion. And we won’t know which is which.

Despite all the name-calling, it’s pre­cisely the inab­il­ity to define what’s going on or the people tak­ing part that is the ‘prob­lem’. I sus­pect Foucault would have been one of the first to down­load the Bromance app, in his  fer­vid search for ‘exper­i­mental friend­ships’. I get the feel­ing Michel was quite a lonely guy. (Or ‘FUCKING LOSER’ as the Brobible would put it.)

The new tech­no­logy of inform­a­tion and com­mu­nic­a­tion and the new social net­works it has spawned seem to be enabling new kinds of rela­tions and exper­i­ment­a­tion away from judging eyes – and exploit­ing it, of course. At the same time as per­haps mak­ing us all lone­lier.

A Badoo spokes­per­son explained why they com­mis­sioned their survey:

Everyone always talks about rela­tion­ships and dat­ing – but actu­ally a bromance buddy is also really import­ant to men. For the 44% of British men that have never had a bromance – offers them the chance to meet someone that’s like minded – whether that’s for bromance or romance.’

It’s not clear where Badoo found their respond­ents from, and I’m not sure their find­ings are ter­ribly sci­entific. I’m not even sure what Badoo is, to be hon­est. But some­thing is def­in­itely afoot with male friendship.

Another sur­vey pub­lished this week should cer­tainly be taken very ser­i­ously indeed for what it says about the yearn­ing of British men for close, intim­ate friend­ship. According to Travelodge, half of the men they asked admit­ted they still have a teddy bear from their child­hood. A quarter admit­ted to sleep­ing with their teddy bear when ‘on busi­ness trips’. While 15% con­fessed they ‘treat their teddy as their best friend’ and ‘share their intim­ate secrets with their bear’.

Does bearmance stand in for bromance with British men? Or t’other way round?

 Tip: Lee Kynaston & Topak

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