The middle-aged single woman let out a sigh and wondered aloud if men her age are more interested in “bromances” with men than in traditional romances with women.
“It sure seems like it to me,” she said at my “Love Lessons” workshop in early February.
Since then I’ve been keeping a closer eye on men to see if that woman may be onto something about single, straight men and their bromances with each other.
A bromance is described as an emotionally close, non-sexual friendship between two or more men, typically involving a lot of leisure time together, a certain level of genuine affection, a mutually accepted sense of intimacy, and a continual stream of jokes to make light of those previous descriptors.
It’s similar to traditional “male bonding” that goes back eons, yet with a 21st century self-awareness of its existence.
Bromances have been popularized in recent years through celebrity friendships such as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Seth Rogan and James Franco, even Beavis and Butthead, and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from “Star Trek.” Not to mention all the superhero bromances in comic books over the decades.
One of my favorite on-screen bromances was on the TV show “Scrubs” between actors Donald Faison and Zach Braff. They openly reveled in their extremely close (too close?) relationship. I don’t know any guys in my life who are that proud of their bromance, but I know they’re aware of it.
I’ve never been involved in a serious bromance.
I think it’s partly because I choose to have few male friends, and none whom I spend a lot of time with on a regular basis. It’s been this way with me for the past 25 years or so. Don’t ask me why; that’s a whole other column.
Last month, I was invited to play weekly basketball games with a great group of guys, ages 35 to 60 or so. They’re hard-working professionals with loving families and a lust for playing hoops dating back to their childhoods, similar to me.
I used to play with them a few years ago, every Friday at noon at an indoor gym in South Haven. Each week was a sweaty two-hour workout laced with a few laughs and some career-minded chit-chat. But, five years ago, my Casual Friday’s radio show launched and I had to quit playing ball to host the show.
I recently returned to the court to play on a Saturday, also returning to most of the same guys and the same banter. It turns out that I missed the basketball more than the banter. This is when I again realized that I’m not a candidate for a bromance, or any kind of male bonding.
This observation says nothing about those guys, or other men in my orbit, and everything about me. Maybe I’ll change as I age. Probably not.
Men enjoy using just about any activity to bond with each other, from basketball and bowling to drinking and car mechanics, among dozens of other credible reasons. It’s not strictly about the activity they share, it’s about the time they spend with each other.
In between my basketball games, I asked some of the guys why they enjoy playing weekly hoops. I wasn’t making chit-chat. I was taking mental notes. This is my favorite pastime when it comes to spending time with men, not bonding over shared activities.
Most of the guys I’ve talked with told me the same thing about male bonding (though none of them ever verbalized the phrase “male bonding”).
“It’s just great being with the guys,” they told me.
We hear the same thing from professional athletes after they leave their chosen sport.
“I’ll miss the guys,” they typically say.
I’ve never missed the guys.
I’m in the minority, I know. When I admit this to other men, they think I’m either lying or in denial or I just haven’t spent time with guys as cool as them and their friends.
Are they experiencing a genuine bromance? I’m not sure. It must vary, I guess.
Did bromances take place with men in earlier generations? Possibly, but I don’t think my dad and his close buddies, Jack Hisey and Andy Heath, would ever confess to sharing a bromance back in the 1960s and ’70s.
These days, it’s a serious, legitimate occurrence masked by running jokes, hip banter and a bottomless infatuation with craft beer, which has become the social lubricant for more bromances than ever before.
I’m watching more men getting together to down a few craft beers while telling themselves they’re doing it for the craft beers. I think they’re drunk on denial.
Last fall, a study published in “Men and Masculinities,” a quarterly academic journal covering men’s studies, noted that men may be getting more emotional satisfaction from bromances than from romantic relationships with women.
“Participants described a bromance as being more emotionally intimate, physically demonstrative, and based upon unrivaled trust and cohesion compared to their other friendships,” wrote researchers from the University of Winchester in England.
One of the reasons we’re seeing so many open bromances is that they’re more socially acceptable in recent years. But they could be leading to strained or weaker bonds with married or dating couples, the study stated.
Other key factors for a true bromance are personality similarities, an emotional connection and shared activities, whether it’s playing video games, hanging out at a bar, or competing in sports. Again, just being together is key.
Still, circling back to that question asked by the woman at my “Love Lessons” workshop: Do bromances get in the way of having an honest, fulfilling, “all in” romantic relationship? I believe they do.