A fine bromance: The joys of male bonding

Hugs are replacing handshakes, and platonic man love is all over the screen – in Hollywood and on British television – as men get in touch with their feelings for one another. Emily Dugan reports

Expressions of friendship between men have long been limited to a firm handshake; a congratulatory punch in the shoulder and, perhaps after a few beers, a friendly headlock. Verbal endearments were kept to variations on "cheers, mate" and the occasional "fair play". But now all that has changed thanks to something called Bromance.

The word – formed from "brother" and "romance" – defines a new type of friendship between men. It has come to describe a social revolution that has been gathering momentum since the term was first used between skating buddies in the 1990s. Firmly heterosexual men, who might once have winced at the thought of intimate time with another man, are embracing the joys of male bonding.

Hollywood's take on platonic man love will arrive in cinemas this week. I Love You, Man follows Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd, on his quest to find a best man for his wedding. After a series of "man-dates" he kindles a friendship so intense that it makes his fiancée jealous. The film follows last month's UK release of the MTV reality television series Bromance, which follows Hollywood rich kid Brody Jenner in his search for new chums.

While the love-that-does-not-speak-its-name has been the staple of films from The Odd Couple in 1968 to the latest part of the Fast and Furious franchise, Bromance takes it into new territory. Under the new rules it's OK to hug, to share your innermost feelings, and even – shock, horror – tell your friend you love them.

A wave of bromantics is dominating the world of film and television. In the UK we have the comedians James Corden and Mathew Horne as well as the joined-at-the-hip television presenters Ant and Dec. In America, high-profile friendships such as the one between George Clooney and Brad Pitt are making headlines.

According to Dr Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York, the phenomenon extends beyond celebrity friendships and is rooted in changes in the way we live our lives.

Dr Kimmel, the author of Guyland, a study of young male friendships, explains the revolution that has happened in the way men relate to each other. He says that by delaying big life choices such as marriage, men have changed the nature of their friendships. "In the world of 'guyland' portrayed by movies like I Love You, Man and Knocked Up, the motto 'bros before hos' rules: it values male friendship as the most important thing," says Dr Kimmel. "There is a demographic revolution because guys feel no pressure to get married or have children. It's a refusal to grow up in some ways; a way to avoid adult responsibility."

This need for time alone with a special male friend can also be explained by the cultural change that has put men and women on an equal footing, Dr Kimmel believes. "Bromances or men's friendships can't be analysed at the moment without monitoring the influx of women into every arena of life. It used to be that you'd be in an all-male world, but now that women have – according to some men – 'invaded' that world, so bromance is formed as a defence."

Christine Northam, a counsellor with Relate, the British relationship charity, says she has noticed a distinct shift in the intensity of male friendships described by her clients in recent years. "The young men I see now are more in tune with their emotions and do talk to their male mates," she explains. "Men's friendships feature larger in their lives these days. I think it's in part because more men are going to university and forming strong bonds. But it's also because girls are more independent now and marriage is happening much later."

Dr Arthur Cassidy, a psychologist specialising in adult friendships, says that this embracing of male friendship is not to be confused with homosexuality. "It's very distinct from what we would call a gay relationship. We're finding there's a distinct trend where guys who are not gay seek out relationships with other men."

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Perhaps the original bromance, Butch and Sundance (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) would jump off cliffs, rob banks and romance girls but they always rode off into the sunset together.

Mills and Boon factor: 2

Macho factor: 4

Phwoar factor: 2

When I'm 64: 4

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

There are few love affairs that compare to this one. The two actors are childhood friends, who made their first mark on Hollywood after writing and starring in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. Now they holiday together, party together and are planning to star in another film together.

Mills and Boon factor: 4

Macho factor: 1

Phwoar factor: 3

When I'm 64: 4

George Clooney and Brad Pitt

Once described as George Clooney's "longest-lasting affair", the relationship between the two actors has always been close. But brotherly love may be under strain now that they are up for the same role in the remake of My Fair Lady.

Mills and Boon factor: 3

Macho factor: 1

Phwoar factor: 4

When I'm 64: 2

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson

Lord Mandelson would never have been the "comeback king" were it not for Blair. Tony stuck by Mandy through a string of scandals, even at the risk of damaging his own reputation. So close was their friendship that when Mandelson was offered the job of Business Secretary by Gordon Brown, he called his old chum to check it was OK.

Mills and Boon factor: 3

Macho factor: 1

When I'm 64: 4

Chandler and Joey

The male stars of the American sitcom Friends typify the bromance phenomenon. Played by Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc, the fictional flatmates spend almost every waking moment together. When Chandler moves out to live with his fiancée, Monica, Joey is left heartbroken.

Mills and Boon factor: 3

Macho factor: 2

Phwoar factor: 2

When I'm 64: 4

James Corden and Mathew Horne

The Bafta-winning comedy actors are rarely seen apart. They first worked together in Gavin and Stacey, the sitcom co-written by Corden. Professionally, they are inseparable, working on their sketch show and mock-horror film Lesbian Vampire Killers.

Mills and Boon factor: 3

When I'm 64: 4


Mills and Boon factor: unconditional soul mates or just friends?

Macho factor: unconditional soul mates or just friends?

Phwoar factor: a beautiful friendship, or a gaggle of gargoyles?

When I'm 64: factor a fleeting bromance, or are they in it for life

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