I have a confession: I’m having a “bromance.” You may know the term from the movie I Love You, Man; it describes a close, though non-sexual relationship between two men. Yes, my wife knows about and she supports it.
My bromance was certainly unexpected. In fact, he (I’ll call him Drew) is probably my first ever. That may come as a surprise given that the nature of my work and that fact that people who know me would characterize me as being a “sensitive” guy. Also, I’ve never been a “regular” guy. I don’t like beer, I gave up watching sports on TV years ago, and I find sexist jokes offensive and “guy talk” boring. Given all that, it’s probably not surprising that I haven’t had many guy friends at all, much less a bromance.
Then Drew came into my life. He moved in down the street with his wife and two children. I learned that he was a successful business guy and a pretty serious cyclist (which I am also considered to be). So we decided to go for a ride one day. And it was, well, bromance at first sight. From the first mile, we were just talking, but not just talking, communicating and connecting at a deep level. There was an openness about Drew that I rarely found in a guy and I found it easy to open up to him. And that connection has never flagged despite many miles in the saddle.
It’s been a year now and our bromance is still going strong. We even spent a Dads’ weekend skiing in the mountains this past winter where we bonded even more. Drew and I talked about all the things that women regularly talk about, but are viewed by most guys as too “emotional” to discuss: love (with our respective spouses, not each other), sex (frequency, not gory details), income and retirement savings (how big is yours?), plus baggage, doubts, concerns, and fears we have. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to know that other guys feel the same things that I do. But since guys don’t usually talk about these sorts of things, how could I have known.
Our wives have become friends and they have accused us of having a “man crush” and going on “man dates,” but we don’t care. We just enjoy being together.
It’s really not fair for guys. Women get to do this all the time and it’s no big deal. There’s no cute name for this kind of relationship among women. You know what they’re called? Friendships. And it’s fine for women to have TV shows such as Oprah, Ellen, and The View where women sit around and talk about their emotions, in public no less. But shows like that for men? Fuggedaboutit (said in a deep and manly voice)!
So close relationships between men have to have a special name, a portmanteau no less (just saying that French word makes me feel less macho). And being labeled a bromance actually prevents men from having these relationships because the very name feeds so many men’s (and our culture’s) homophobia.
Men have feelings too, you know. And it’s just plain tiring to suppress them all the time to stay in the box of what it means to be a man in the hyper-masculine culture in which we live. When guys express emotions, it’s a sign of weakness; just don’t go there, our culture says. We have to be tough and stoic and just plain hard as nails or we’re accused of being a sissy or a wimp or the like, all code words for, you guessed it, being gay.
But it doesn’t take courage to not express emotions. There’s nothing strong in doing what is safe and comfortable. There’s no risk in simply complying with societal norms. In fact, I think that is anything but courageous.
All men have doubts, worries, and fears, even the ones who appear to be so manly (perhaps especially them because they’re so afraid of being seen as anything but macho). What does take guts is to be vulnerable, to express all of the emotions that every man feels, but has been conditioned to keep inside otherwise, well, you know what you’ll be labeled. With risk comes vulnerability and with vulnerability comes fear of being rejected by peers and society. And therein lies the courage that comes from being what I would call a “real” man.
I used to think I was being manly when I was ski racing down mountains at 60 miles an hour, competing in karate tournaments, or doing Ironman triathlons. But, in retrospect, those were just posturing masculinity because I couldn’t really express my true masculinity. I can tell you that I have never felt more like a man than when I held my daughters as newborns or smother them in hugs and kisses or tell my wife to take the night off because she does so much for our family. It is in those moments that totally go against our traditional definitions of manhood that real manhood is experienced.
And I feel the same way when Drew and I are immersed in our bromance. I have to admit that it does feel a bit weird because I can’t totally deny the decades of conditioning I have received about what it means to be a man. But it is also incredibly fulfilling and validating because it is the closeness of this intimate (in the emotional sense) relationship that make me feel most true to myself, most connected with others, and most engaged in my life.
And the fact that I can be open and vulnerable with Drew in our bromance while ascending a long and steep mountain on my bike or descending a long and steep mountain on my skis, two very macho activities I should point out, is just icing on the cake.
Oh, one more thing. I don’t want you to think that I can’t also be a regular guy on a occasion. On several occasions, Drew and I have gone to see superhero movies together. Believe it or not, you can actually be sensitive and enjoy stuff being blown up at the same time.