Bromance: A Breakdown

The word “bromance” was coined in the ‘90s, but it wasn’t until the mid-aughts that it really found its place the in pop cultural scene. Read on for a chew on one of America’s most fascinating portmanteaus. 

In my quest to understand “bromance” I turned first to Wikipedia:

bromance is a close but non-sexual relationship between two (or more) men, a form of homosocial intimacy. Bromance is a portmanteau of the words bro or brother and romance.

Contrary to my suspicions, the word was not coined as a marketing ploy to sell movie tickets:

Editor Dave Carnie coined the term in the skateboard magazine Big Brother in the 1990s to refer specifically to the sort of relationships that develop between skaters who spent a great deal of time together.

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In 2008, Brody Jenner – of famous-for-being-famous celebrity fame – starred in his own reality show entitled – you guessed it —  Bromance, in which nine “bros” competed to become his new best friend.

In the first episode Jenner defines “bromance” as “a bond between you and your go-to guy…No games, no BS, somebody that just keeps it real with you.”

This is a solid definition of a good friendship. Take out “guy” and stick in “lady” and this sounds quite like the relationship I have with my best friend. (Incidentally, she gave me a beautiful pearl ring for my birthday a few years ago, which I wear every day. To my knowledge, no one has ever referred to our relationship as a sismance, vagmance, or any other kind of mance.)

So what is the bros’ first challenge? To find two “chicks” to bring to a lingerie party. As Jenner puts it: “The winner is obviously the guy with the hottest chicks.” The hyped-up heterosexuality seems to function as a counterbalance to the perceived gayness of seeking friendship with another man, a kind of reality television “no homo.”

The problem with Jenner’s show is obvious: relationships aren’t something to be won on a reality TV contest. Bromance is less concerned about forging actual friendships and more concerned with entertaining viewers, and the show utilizes the awkwardness of the underlying homosexual tension to do so. We laugh at the bros’ visible discomfort at their shirtless proximity to one another at each elimination scene, which takes place in a hot tub, natch.

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Nearly every definition of “bromance” I encountered implies or explicitly states that a “bromance” takes place between straight men, despite the “romance” element of its etymology.

The second time “bromance” was featured as the Urban Word of the Day was mid 2009, the year that brought us the quintessential bromantic comedy: I Love You, Man.

What seems to separate a “bromance” from a “buddy film”  is the underlying homosexual tension in the former, which is typically played for laughs. While I appreciate that films like I Love You, Man provide a platform for conversations about male friendships, I don’t know how to feel about all the “no homo” humor.

Is it progressive to listen to and laugh at songs like The Lonely Island’s “No Homo”? Or is that laughter contingent upon a certain level of homophobia? Does “no homo” humor contribute to the straight man’s cause at the expense of the gay man’s? Does it normalize or neutralize gay male sexuality?

In a 2010 post on Slate’s XX Factor entitled “The Upside of Bromance,” Lauren Bans writes:

To bastardize the feminist idiom, bromance is the radical notion that men are people. They have emotions and the desire for close relationships, even when it comes to their same-sex friendships… they self-consciously carve a place for openly compassionate male-male friendship.

I agree with Bans that representations of close and compassionate relationships between men are beneficial to society, and I agree that we need to encourage men to engage with one another on a more complex and meaningful level. Nevertheless, I just can’t bring myself to embrace the term “bromance.”

Why do men require a snappy pop cultural portmanteau with a tongue-in-cheek reference to homosexuality to qualify their friendship, when women just get to be friends?

Then again, I’m not a man. I ask those of you who self-identify as male: do you find this word/concept empowering or obnoxious? How does your sexuality inform your opinion of the word/concept?

One thought on “Bromance: A Breakdown

  1. Even in modern days, where everything seems to have name tag, some things still remain nameless, I believe it’s because our necessity to bail out of it by simply denying it’s existence.

    A relationship that involves feelings between two man, two friends, was or used to be one of those things, specially for young man who just begin to discover their sexuality.

    No one from the outside of that relationship could ever understand what’s going on, either they’re friends or gay, there was nothing in between.
    Even if feeling are a little one sided, we can’t sit and pretend the only thing between friendship and sex is a vast void… where’s the middle ground ? Remember we’re talking about real feelings, not just sexual attraction.
    Now we call it bromance, and acknowledge its existence…there are grayscales after all… the void is no longer a void.

    You might dislike the term, because it’s “pop”, because it emerged out of a culture you don’t understand, I dont either… you’re also entitled to think the word is “obnoxious”, but let’s not deny it, because the word is here, and finally we can use it to describe feeling that we couldn’t or shouldn’t talk about.

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