New research has explored the experience of "bromance" in the 21st century, by interviewing a sample of undergraduate white, straight men from the sports department at a university in the United Kingdom.
Researchers from the Department of Sport and Exercise at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom set out to explore how a sample of young millennial men perceive and compare "romantic and bromantic relationships."
The corresponding author of the study is Adam J. White, who is a lecturer of Sport and Physical Education at the School of Sport Science and Physical Activity at the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K. Stefan Robinson is the first author of the paper.
Robinson and colleagues spoke to 30 young men using a semi-structured interview, and their findings have now been published in the journal Men and Masculinities.
Speaking to Medical News Today about the motivation for the study, White explained, "Society has been seeing a shift in the gendered behaviors of young men."
"They are increasingly accepting of gay friends, [...] and they are engaging in a range of physically tactile and emotionally intimate behaviors."
"So, what we wanted to understand was these [homosocial] relationships, how they formed, what were the necessary components, and how they work with romantic relationships."
Speaking to MNT about the methods that they used, White said, "The participants were asked how they would define a bromance, what is different between a bromance and a regular friendship, and what is the difference between a bromance and a romance."
'Bromances' vs. 'romances'
"Men in this research highlight that the physical and emotional dimensions of bromances resemble the traditional expectations of romantic companionship," write the authors, "namely, the declarations of love, kissing, cuddling, and exclusive emotional confidence."
Of the 30 men interviewed, 29 reported that they had cuddled with a same-sex friend, and many respondents said that it happened frequently.
"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," said one of the participants. "[In] my generation, there is so much kissing between guys because it's showing affection," notes another participant.
However, the interviews also revealed that the "bromances" rivaled their heterosexual romantic relationships. The men felt less judged by their same-sex friends when they expressed emotion and found it easier to resolve conflicts within their homosocial relationship than their romantic one.
Robinson and colleagues write:
"Our participants mostly determined that a bromance offered them elevated emotional stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, social fulfillment, and better conflict resolution, compared to the emotional lives they shared with girlfriends."
Homophobia declines, sexism persists
The authors explain that homosocial friendships are nothing new, adding that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, "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."
But in the 20th century — especially in the 1970s and 1980s — this same-sex intimacy declined due to an increase in hypermasculinity and "homohysteria."
Now, however, there seems to be a revival in emotionally expressive "bromantic" relationships, say the researchers, which is largely due to the decline in homophobia.
They think, however, that some of the implications of these findings are problematic for straight women. The men interviewed perceived their romantic female partners as the "primary regulators of their behavior," which led to negative, sexist attitudes toward them.
A binary "us vs. them" mindset seemed to prevail among the participants, who often used derogatory terms to describe women.
The authors speculate that another implication might concern traditional domestic arrangements. Starting from the premise that "young men are now experiencing a delayed onset of adulthood and an extended period of adolescence," living arrangements might soon reflect this.
"The bromance," write Robinson and his colleagues, "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."
Strengths and limitations of the study
The authors recognize some of the limitations of their study. The "binary approach to questioning (i.e., bromances vs. romances)," together with the fact that the interviewer was of the same gender as the interviewees, may have biased the respondents' answers.
Additionally, the "virtually exclusive white student body of this British university limited our analysis," the authors admit.
Twenty-nine of the participants were white, and no analysis was conducted to account for class or ethnic differences. This limited the findings, the authors concede, "to white, middle-class, heterosexual, undergraduate men from one university."
Nevertheless, White told MNT that the "research has been the first real examination of bromances among young men, rather than being of films or the media more broadly."
"So," he says, "rather than being a [Hollywood] portrayal of what [young men] think a bromance may be, we found out what a bromance actually was for [them]. While interesting, these findings are only representative of these young men, and further work needs to consider the impact of bromances on women."
In the future, White notes, further research should "consider bromances longitudinally, to see if they maintain beyond adolescence and emerging adulthood into adulthood and beyond."