While the term bromance wasn't coined until the 1960s, intense male friendships have been common throughout history. The phenomenon waned among American men in the post-World War II era, presumably due to fears of being perceived as gay, along with the norm that emotions are something you discuss with your wife—if you talk about them at all.
New research suggests things are very different for college men coming of age in this new century. It finds they are more comfortable opening up to their male friends than to their female lovers.
"The increasingly intimate, emotive, and trusting nature of bromances offers young men a new social space for emotional disclosure," a University of Winchester research team led by Adam White writes in the journal Men and Masculinities.
While that sounds emotionally healthy, detailed interviews with 30 male college students suggest this newfound man-to-man intimacy may have "significant and worrying results" for women.
Over a three-month period in 2014, the researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 heterosexual male students at a British university, who were recruited "across the sports department." Each described himself as currently being in, or having been in, at least one same-sex bromance, and one opposite-sex romance.
The researchers report that the men were "virtually unanimous" in saying they "found it easier to open up and express their feelings" to their close male friends, as opposed to the women they were dating. "On balance, they argued that bromantic relationships were more satisfying in their emotional intimacy, compared to their heterosexual romances."
They described these same-sex relationships as "judgment-free," and said they "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 (terms of) personal disclosure."
In contrast, the young men often said "they could not talk fully about their interests, anxieties, health, and sexual desires" with the women they dated. "With a romance," they complained, "one was constantly posturing and self-monitoring," acting "the part of the adoring boyfriend" to achieve a desired outcome (i.e. sex).
The researchers report the men expressed quite a few sexist sentiments, albeit these were often presented "in a humorous and banterous way." Some said they were reluctant to open up to women because they "held onto grudges longer than men, and were more unpredictable in their emotional responses."
In addition, they "often generalized personal experiences to women as a collective, under an 'us and them' binary which associated all women with any negative experiences the men had." Having bypassed the chance to have honest, meaningful conversations with women, many seem to view them through a stereotyped lens.
So bromances may give men practice at the sort of intimate communication style necessary for a strong marriage. But they may also reinforce the notion that long-term relationships with women are difficult, complicated, and not worth the trouble.
Perhaps if Sherlock Holmes didn't have such a satisfying bromance with Dr. Watson, he wouldn't have been a lifelong bachelor.