Being able to share problems and anxieties in bromances could make romantic relationships increasingly unnecessary for straight men, a study has claimed.
Bromances are a safe and non-judgemental space for young men to talk about their concerns and express affection for each other. Some young men have reported that bromances are more emotionally fulfilling than their relationships with women, according to a study of 30 straight male university students who currently or had once had girlfriends.
The study, published in the journal Men and Masculinities, reported that men felt more at ease with their bromantic partners than their girlfriends. It was also easier to resolve conflicts between male friends than in romantic relationships, the students reported.
The rise of the bromance has been possible because of the gradual breaking down of the traditional masculinity of the 20th century, when the ideal man was strong, silent and stoic. This emotional isolation has contributed to high rates of male suicides, as men risked being seen as weak for opening up about emotional problems.
The bromance is a cultural phenomenon that has given young men the opportunity to open up without feeling they are being 'less of a man'. Bromances can be seen everywhere, from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles.
Authors of the recent study, Adam White, Stefan Robinson and Eric Anderson at the University of Winchester, argue that this could reduce straight men's need for a fulfilling romantic relationship.
"These bromantic relationships are significantly freer, more flexible and less judgemental [than romantic relationships]. These young men felt like they were able to disclose things in bromances without being policed or regulated and so on," White told IBTimes UK. "Bromances really have that openness, that lack of judgement and that lack of fear of repercussions."
However, most men in the study didn't see a conflict between their bromantic and romantic relationships. Many reported their girlfriends being very relaxed about them kissing, cuddling and being emotionally close to their male friends. But the time pressure of having to choose between spending time with a male friend or a girlfriend might lead to a conflict where women lose out, White said.
"Now men are gaining this emotional relationship from their friends, there's a question about the need for romantic relationships," he said.
But is it really a question of still more war between the sexes – the bromance vs the romance? Perhaps only if men had a very small pot of emotional energy to share between their male friends and girlfriends.
Women typically don't face the same problems as men when it comes to same-sex friendships. There is a long history of close, rewarding friendships among women that are not a threat to their femininity. In all this time, women have still found the emotional space to have romantic partners too.
So for women, it doesn't have to be a choice between girl friends and a boyfriend. Why wouldn't men be equally capable of maintaining multiple meaningful relationships? White said he had not addressed that possibility in the study.
Whether or not straight men face a real choice between a bromance and a romance, the rise of accepting male friendships has certainly been a massive boost to men's mental health, said Lynne Segal, professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck, University of London, who was not involved in the study.
"Many more men can admit to problems and psychological issues than in the past," Segal said. "I think that is clear. I would tie that in with men beginning to value their friendships and feeling less threatened by expressing affection to each other."
There are many things that make long-term relationships fragile and difficult, Segal said, but bromances aren't likely to be one of them.
"Life in general is much more changeable and flexible. We're forced to not see ourselves as having a job for life. Increasingly people are struggling to buy a home or even find a place to rent for more than a year or so. These and all sorts of other sources of insecurity undermine the possibility for romantic long-term relationships. But I would doubt bromances are a part of that," Segal said.
In fact, they could be quite the opposite.
"Bromances are a positive thing," she said. "You could say that they are a part of a way to tackle that insecurity that's in the lives of both men and women nowadays. We all need to cling to whatever friendships and sense of belonging that we have."