Shortly before leaving office, former President Obama surprised an emotional Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was the culmination of the cutest political bromance the public ever had the opportunity to watch from afar. In fact, Obama himself joked that the ceremony gave "the Internet one last chance to talk about our 'bromance.'"
Beyond a seemingly close relationship between two heterosexual men, though, what exactly is a bromance? In a new study published in Sex Roles today, researchers at the University of Winchester in the UK aimed to better understand the characteristics and implications of these male-on-male relationships.
Researchers recruited 30 undergraduate male students enrolled in a sport-degree program to participate in their study. The subjects, who identified as exclusively or mostly heterosexual, were asked a series of questions intended to help define "bromance," develop a better understanding of their same-sex relationships, and share what kind of behaviors characterize those relationships. Specifically, researchers were interested in personal accounts over general musings.
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According to the study's results, all 30 subjects said they had a bromantic friend (a person in a bromance) in the past or present—in fact, some of them had multiple bromantic friendships. In their interviews, they noted that a bromance is very different from a regular friendship. As one subject put it: "You have people that you are really close to, and get on with really well, but a bromance is closer. With a bromance you can talk about anything, with friends you can't." Some compared it to a romance ("We are basically like a couple…we get called like husband and wife all the time," said Bruce, one of the subjects) while others noted it was like having a brother.
The interviews also yielded a handful of common characteristics in a bromance. First of all, the subjects stressed, having shared interests, such as team sports, "is a necessary requisite." A member of the university rugby team noted that he felt many of his relationships with teammates were bromances: "I have lots of bromances…I've never seen more penises and bollocks in one space, it's very much more open."
The ability to be emotionally vulnerable with another man was also a sign of a bromance. "It is not just the ability to express love in a bromance that is valued," the study's authors write, "but also the reaction that one is likely to receive from that disclosure. Our participants were able to express vulnerability in their bromances and divulge their most personal issues, without social ridicule."
Part of my understanding of it [a bromance] is having a cuddle buddy
Another aspect expressed by participants was physical intimacy. "Part of my understanding of it [a bromance] is having a cuddle buddy," said Patrick, another subject. Kissing, bed-sharing, and being comfortable naked with one another were other physically intimate activities they discussed.
"The most salient feature these 30 men described about a bromance—even if overly idealized—was that they were free of judgment," the authors write, "which permits them to push the cultural margins of traditional masculinity toward more intimate and expressive behaviors than previously occurred between male friends."
As a result, lead author Stefan Robinson said in a statement, these relationships reveal that these men "share a progressive understanding that love can exist between two people without the need or requirement for sex with each other."
The study also notes that while bromances may "represent improved liberality in contemporary masculinity, they may not altogether benefit cross-sex relations." Furthermore, they "may in fact reduce men's appetite for interaction with women and intensify the exclusivity of male friendships."
But Adam White, a doctoral researcher at the University of Winchester and one of the authors on the study, says that it's possible with the decrease in homophobia and increase in bromances, incidences of misogyny and sexism may fall as well.
"Traditionally women have been able to engage in these highly emotional exchanges with other women," he tells Broadly. "It has traditionally been the straight-jacket of masculinity that has prevented men from engaging in these close and expressive same-sex relationships."
"Men, and particularly young men, often get bad press for a range of socio-negative behaviours, whether that is lad culture, issues of misogyny, excessive alcohol consumption, violence and so on," he continues. "At the same time, we know men have a high rate of suicide and emotional restrictiveness may be a risk factor that explains these high rates. Therefore, it's important to start to capture the stories and narratives of young men to better understand them; and the bromance—being a supportive and emotionally open form of close friendship—may be one way of reducing some of these issue that young men experience."
The important thing to realize, White says, is that gender is changing. "Masculinity is no longer this debilitating curse that forces men to act in a particularly toxic manner and, as such, guys today are having highly emotional, physically tactile and loving friendships with other men. This can only be a positive."