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Can you feel it? Bromance is in the air. Whether real (Brad Pitt + George Clooney) or fictional (the Hangover films), there's a lot of talk about intense -- though straight -- male friendships.

Does the notion of bromance -- a word usually said with a smirk -- reflect something genuine and new about how men communicate these days? Yes, say some experts.

"Male friendships now are different from the friendships our fathers had," says Geoffrey L. Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (2008.) "Men talk to each other in a different way."

What's changed? How do bros talk to one another? Here are some answers.

Bro Talk: How Male Friendships Are Different

Greif says that women can sometimes misunderstand male relationships because they're so different from their own.

"A man's friendships are just as real and important as a woman's," says Greif. "They're just constructed in different ways."

So what's different about male friendships?

  • They're more active. Men are more likely to get together to do something, Greif says. They go out to a bar to watch a game together. They meet at the YMCA after work to play basketball. They assemble on poker night. Women are more likely to get together for the express purpose of talking to each other, Greif says.
  • They travel in packs. Men tend to be less comfortable one on one, says Greif. "A guy is more likely to have a bunch of other guys over to the house to watch the game instead of just one."  
  • They're less expressive. "Women sometimes think that a man's friendships should be as verbally and emotionally expressive as their own," Greif says. "But men's relationships aren't usually built that way."

The History of Bromance

Greif stresses that there's nothing new about bromances, at least historically.

"Bromance is a new way of talking about a classic style of male friendship," he tells WebMD. Intense but heterosexual male friendships were quite common up into the 19th century, he says. Just think of the Three Musketeers.

That began to change in the late 1800s and 1900s. The ideal of masculinity shifted toward the macho loner, the weather-beaten cowboy.

"Men became afraid of expressing too much emotion," Greif says, "That began to seem too feminine."

That fear seems to be less of a concern now. Why? Greif thinks that as men and women have become more equal in society, the notion of rigid male and female characteristics has faded. The growing acceptance of gay relationships made a difference too, Greif says.

Bro Talk: Men Are Talking More

Men have a lot more ways to communicate now too, Greif says. Our fathers had stricter boundaries to their friendships -- they might only see each other at work or at the bar on Fridays.