My best friend recently told me he “loved me”. He kissed me on the cheek in front of his wife and called me “a beautiful person”. I did not feel threatened, nor did I feel the need to laugh it off with a “you’re drunk, aren’t you?” It was natural. It felt right. My girlfriend was also there so it was meant as a genuine show of affection.
He was the first person I told about my near suicide. For many months he was the only person who knew – the second person was my ex-wife who’d suspected I had come close and was the person to drag me (almost literally) to the GP for a prescription of anti-depressants. My friend and I shared a big hug that day, one of many since. It took so much energy (and not to mention a couple of glasses of whisky) to pluck up the courage to tell him that. That was the first one so far the only time I ever saw him cry – and probably vice versa too.
Does any of that bother you? Are you now questioning my or his sexuality? If so, perhaps you should pause for a moment and consider whether you are contributing to some of the problems that men experience. In a recent article in The Conversation, it was proclaimed that Bromance is Blossoming. Yes, it is – but it’s always been there – we’ve just refused to see it or we have chosen to mock it rather than encourage it.
Men have felt it is something that should be kept behind closed doors and women have mocked it. Now, however, it seems finally, affection between men is normalising in the western world. This is no more apparent than when the shit rag that is The Daily Mail experienced a massive backlash when it called into question the sexuality of a pair of male swimmers following the 2016 Olympics.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say me and my friend have “higher levels of intimacy” as described in The Conversation’s article. We’ve never shared a bed and until that day mentioned above, we’d only ever shared a hug. But things are changing for the better. Perhaps, just perhaps, the ability to be open with them in a public space and not being expected to hide it from the world as something shameful will go some way to helping men with mental health problems. Everybody needs to know that somebody cares. Yes, even men. When I felt at rock bottom, I felt nobody did. Just having somebody to talk to, somebody to support me kept me going. Bromances need nurturing, not shaming, not ridiculing, not suppressing. We should applaud every genuine affectionate hug between men instead of shrieking “fag! homo!”
Call it “toxic masculinity” if you like, but please let’s acknowledge that women are just as guilty as other men of shaming this behaviour. This is not a one-way process. It’s not just men who are responsible for the “Real Man” bollocks or promote the idea that the stoic male is the only viably attractive one.
It’s easy to get caught up in the bubble of our western world. Bromance behaviour is healthy, alive and well in middle eastern cultures. I’ve visited two countries in the Middle East, both of which I saw men holding hands and showing other PDA that we in the west would normally only reserve for sexual partners. This was normal to them.
Bromance blossoms when we allow it to normalise and stop holding it up as something weird or unnecessary. Check your behaviour and your privilege and call it out whenever you see it. Only then can men have the friendships that we deserve and need without feeling the guilt that often goes with it.