How’s Your Bromance?

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 16, 2009

The bad news? Not every man on the planet is a sexually active homosexual. The good news? Today's generation of young heterosexual males are the not afraid to acknowledge that their relationships with other straight men have elements of intimacy uncomfortably similar the bond we form with sexual partners. Why, they've even got a cutesy pop culture buzzword for it that they wear as a badge of honor: Bromances. For the guys, it deflects intimations of homosexuality. For the gals, it reveals their potential suitor to be in touch with his emotions and confident in his identity.

From the MTV series "Bromance" to the upcoming film "I Love You, Man" (as well as last year's "Pineapple Express"), guys getting close to guys is gaining traction and acceptance - and that's a good thing for all of us.

Edge recently spoke with two a head shrinker and a deep thinker in order to provide we gays with insights regarding the murky world of straight male ennui. Viewed through the prism of Bromances, they say it's all about the universal desire for establishing a lasting, significant relationship with another person -- who just happens to be another man. That's a far cry from where we were just a generation ago.

Straight Men: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

The relatively new phenomenon of Bromances is testament to the new reality that "Younger guys are much more physically and emotionally expressive than were their fathers. There is a greater acceptance of being gay; not that these folks are, but men these days are less hung up about the fear of being seen as gay." says Geoffrey Greif, DSW, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. He's also author of the incredibly insightful, highly readable "Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships" (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Greif observes: "Most of these Bromances are ones where the sexuality issue has been dealt with long ago; guys who've been friends for many years. With a new friend, it's more different to have a high level of emotional expression, because you're not sure from sexuality point of view where they are coming from."

Citing this as a phenomenon relatively contained to those in their twenties (and those in their thirties still growing up), Greif says Bromances serve a need for that age group: "When you're in your teens and 20s, male friendships are important to you. As you get into your late 20s through 40, you become more focused on your work, partner and family. Slowly, by the time get to your 50s, your partnership is settled, you kids don't want to see you anymore, and you're probably settled in a job and not shooting up the ladder the way you used to.

Thus, you have more time for friends -- and that's when you benign to turn back to looking for guys to hang out with. "Technology has facilitated more free and frequent communication -- and with it, more opportunities to reveal feelings and share concerns."

Greif: "There are now so many ways to keep in touch w your friends that weren't' available for your dads. I can now send somebody an email, I can leave them a voice mail, whereas in the old days, you either phoned them when they were home or you wrote then a letter. What has changed across all these generations, everybody is wired in, the ability to stay in touch even in the most mundane occurrence."

Upper photo: Paul Rudd and Jason Segal in "I Love You, Man."

Lower photo: a scene from MTV's series "Bromance."

Romancing Your Bro

Greif's assessment of the Bromance dynamic comes to the big screen on March 20, with the opening of "I Love You, Man." The film has Paul Rudd playing Peter -- a straight guy who launches a desperate search for the perfect best man for his upcoming wedding. Into his life and onto his Bromance radar walks Sydney, played by Jason Segel.

Though the film skirts the issue of any sexual attraction between the two men, it has a healthy amount of gay content. Andy Samberg plays Rudd's younger gay brother -- a trainer at a gym -- who is so comfortable with his sexuality that he jokes about it at the dinner table with his parents (Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons). Rudd even asks his assistance in finding dates. One of the film's running gags involves one of those dates -- a straight-laced type who misconstrues Rudd's intentions and give him a sloppy kiss. Later when he sees Rudd and Segel together, he thinks they're a couple. But these moments don't make you wince (as say moments in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" may have). Instead they are handled with good-natured humor.

Segel, in a March 15, 2009 interview published in New York's Daily News, recalled his own real life Bromance and the emotional toll its end took on him: "My best friend from when I was twelve lived with me until six months ago. He moved to the boogie-down Bronx to go to med school at Albert Einstein." Taking his friend's departure like a man, Segel recalls saying "The day he left, I gave him just like a dude good-bye, I was like, All right man, I'll see ya, go get 'em, catch you next time I'm in NYC. Then I woke up at 2a.m. crying."

Photo: Jason Segel and Paul Rudd show buddy love, while Rudd's disapproving fiance Rashida Jones looks on in "I Love You, Man."

Daddy Issues

Are Bromances rooted in our need to find the connection we were denied by our fathers? Are most of life's relationship dynamics driven by underlying daddy issues? Yep, pretty much so, says certified sex addiction therapist Jeff Schultz ( He's a counselor who specializes in the treatment of compulsive sexual behaviors (sex and love addictions).

"If a straight guy was largely abandoned by his father, then he is likely to be "love addicted' to men in a non-sexual way (because of his sexual orientation). He will crave emotional intimacy from a man because he was so deprived of this as a child. That's abandonment." Schultz cites Bromances as having "probably be a little bit of male bonding and healthy intimacy cloaked in a bit of careful machismo to protect the straight guy's "manhood." Those who have trust issues with the abandoning parent of the same sex "crave close emotional intimacy and love shared with another man that really does not have anything to do with sex or sexual arousal."

It 's the rare thing, says Schultz, to encounter the person who doesn't have these issues. Those lucky ones who do tend to "have fewer issues with their mother and father. They can openly say I love you. It wouldn't be a hard thing to say, they'd be no internal difficulty or conflict where the risk of rejection is high." For those who didn't have that important bond with both parents, "There's a real longing for closeness, especially since that person is not seen as safe. The person who is conflicted had greater homophobia and fear of rejection."

That Gay Thing: Forever Lurking Just Below the Surface

Even among those seemingly comfortable with their Bromance, the very name itself implies at least some level of inherent fear - of being seen as, or being, gay. That's why Greif says the occasional gay joke between these straight Bromancers "cuts down on the fear of appearing too close to somebody else. It is still a fear, but nowhere near as great as it was for the older generation. You'll have guys joke with each other, saying I love u man, but I don't mean it in a gay way. They'll be able to creep up to the ability of saying I love you, but they're going to have to throw up the caveat that I mean it in there straitght way. They're' making a joke about the newfound ability to express love to another man, but they are still throwing in the caveat that they are straight."

But even well-adjusted and relatively secure straight men are not immune to the stings of rejection by a male friend. Greif says "I might meet somebody and call him up once to see if he wants to meet me at the bar to watch the basketball game, but if he turns me down, I won't call him again. I'm socialized to compete with men, not to pursue them. Pursuing a man raises the specter of being gay. I've been socialized to pursue women, not men."

For Schultz, heterosexual men who embrace closeness with other men ultimately benefit from the bond -- and usually rise above the lurking fear of being seen as gay. Healthy, happy and necessary, Bromances are "not about sex. It's about really being known by another person and being loved just as you are -- a precious human being -- without rejection." Now that's something even the gays can get behind!

Photo: Seth Rogen and James Franco in "Pineapple Express."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.