We don’t know who to believe any more. Mere months ago, the scientific community was singing the praises of bromance, saying it makes the world a better place.
Now researchers are reporting that men prefer their bromances to romantic relationships, and to the most dramatic media outlets, that means women should be worried.
According to a small new study published in Men and Masculinities, young men get more emotional satisfaction from male friendships than they do from their girlfriends. Participants confessed to experiencing elevated emotional stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, greater social fulfillment, and better conflict resolution in their bromances compared to their romantic relationships.
The study looked at 30 heterosexual male college sophomores who were either currently in relationships or had been at some point. When interviewed by the research team, each participant reported having at least one bromantic buddy with whom they shared almost all aspects of their life and engaged in “no-boundaries” behaviours – including sharing secrets, expressing love, and for 29 out of the 30 men, even cuddling in bed.
“Tim knows I love listening to Taylor Swift and Beyonce, but I keep that quiet [around my girlfriend] because she would judge me,” said one participant. “I feel like I have to be more manly around her.”
“We are basically like a couple… we get called, like, husband and wife all the time,” said another.
A third referred to his bro as “like a guy girlfriend.”
“The main differences between romances and bromances were the lack of judgment and boundaries in discussion” or expressing emotion, said study co-author Adam White to Live Science. “These men felt they could tell their deepest, darkest and most sensitive secrets to their bromances, as they did not feel like they would be judged, ridiculed or thought of differently.”
With their girlfriends, on the other hand, they felt pressure to maintain a certain standard of traditional manliness, causing them to tighten the reins on their emotions and disclosures.
An optimist could see this pals-before-gals approach as a progressive development in society’s coneception of masculinity and relations between men.
The researchers are not those optimists. They caution that such progress could come with a cost, as too much investment in a bromance may not leave sufficient time and energy for romantic connections.
“Where bromances fulfill many of the romantic elements of traditional heterosexual relationships – emotional disclosure, intimacy, and dependency – the social need for early romantic attachment at least is being challenged by young men’s behaviors and attitudes today,” Stefan Robinson, Ph.D., another study co-author, told Men’s Health.
Men in the study sometimes referred to their girlfriends using sexist or disdainful language, and demonstrated an “us and them” mentality that implied allegiance to their bros over their female partners. Only two of the 30 participants said they would rather discuss personal matters with a girlfriend instead of a close guy friend, and when asked about the differences between bromances and romances, the majority of respondents could think of only one thing: sex.
So bromances may be a liberating, progressive expression of enlightened masculinity and an opportunity for men to practice the intimate communication style necessary for a strong heterosexual relationhip. Or it may reinforce the idea that women are sexual fulfillers for men and little else, and that relationships with them are complicated, difficult, and rarely worth the trouble.
It’s important to note that this study is small and therefore highly limited, but that’s never stopped the internet from sounding off, so let’s hear your take on the debate in the comments.