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.
Men today have all sorts of ways to talk -- whether through email, Facebook, text messaging, or yelling at each other through an Xbox headset while playing Call of Duty. Nowadays, men tend to be engaged in an ongoing dialogue with their friends throughout the day, every day.
What's interesting is that the genre of the bromance comedy -- which both celebrates and gently mocks close male friendships -- has opened up a new kind of communication for men.
"Nowadays, guys can call each other up and say, 'I love you, man,'" Greif says. It's partly a joke, Greif says, but it's also a way of expressing something real.
Bro Talk: How Men Can Connect
Close, lasting male friendships don't spring up on their own. They need to be nurtured just like any friendship. Greif has some advice for guys who are looking for closer friends in their lives.
- Take charge. "Don't wait for things to happen," says Greif. "You have to organize things yourself." Don't wait by the phone. You should be the one to organize a game-watching party at your house.
- Do things you enjoy. What if you like golfing but don't have a golf partner? Go golfing anyway. "Doing things you enjoy on your own is a great way to meet other guys with similar interests," says Greif.
- Don't reveal too much too soon. Guys tend to be turned off by big personal revelations early on in a friendship, Greif says. "Men tend to be wary of high-maintenance relationships with other guys," says Greif. It's often better to reveal aspects of your personal life more gradually.
While "bromances" are still a punch line at the moment, it's important not to underestimate the value and importance of male friendships.
"Close male friendships can have a big effect on a man," says Greif. "They really can offer men a happier and fuller life."