You have your drinking buddies, your workout buddy, your fellow dad friends—but do you have a best friend?
If you took a second to think about it, now may be the time to spark a bromance: Same-sex friendships among men are on the rise, according to a new study in Sex Roles. Good thing, too, since hanging with guys who get you can seriously improve your health and happiness.
In the study, researchers from the University of Winchester in the U.K. asked heterosexual male college athletes about their same-sex friendships. The researchers found that, compared to two decades ago, men are now more open to deep, emotionally heavy, and purely platonic relationships with other men.
What’s more, out of the 30 men surveyed, 100% said they had at least one “bromantic” friend. In fact, every one of the guys described a bromance in pretty much the same way: the closest form of a male friendship, free of judgment, in which each person was deeply invested in the emotional well-being of the other.
And we’re not talking about your college roommate who you get a beer with once in a blue moon here. “Apart from the sexual elements of a romantic relationship, bromances for these men are romantic in many ways: shared interests, emotional investment, shared social circles, self-sacrifice, infatuation, co-habitation, and love,” says lead study author Stefan Robinson, Ph.D.
A lot of these heterosexual guys say bromances offer a kind of support they don’t get from romantic relationships, and many even turn to physical demonstrations—hugging, cuddling, even kissing—to symbolize the closeness and confidence of their relationships, he adds.
Why are bro BFFs going so strong? Consider that we’re now coming out of the 1980s and 1990s, which were two of the most homophobic eras of the century, Robinson explains. “The more homophobic a society is, the more distant, stoic, and aggressive men become,” he adds. “For men’s friendships, this meant that self-disclosure and emotional openness—vital components for one’s emotional well-being—were completely lacking.” Robinson suggests that advancements in the LBGTQ movement and same-sex marriage have helped 21st century men redefine gender roles more, allowing men to be more platonically intimate without fear of judgment.
One note, however: The Winchester study was not only small, but also involved almost exclusively white men, all of whom were between 18 and 22 and involved in university sports. That’s important, because athletes are, almost universally, less fazed by physical or emotional intimacy, says Niobe Way, Ph.D., professor of applied psychology at New York University Steinhardt and author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection. Athletes have more physical contact on the field and in the locker room, and the team mentality conditions them to find same-sex friendships as not only normal but also incredibly helpful for performance, she explains.
So grab a beer with your buddy from the office kickball league or schedule a Saturday workout with your usual bench-press spotter and make more small talk—common interests breed bromances too, Robinson’s study suggests.
Furthermore, attitudes toward same-sex friendships are probably more progressive in the U.K. compared to the rest of the world, Robinson admits. While homophobia in the States has diminished somewhat over the past decade, it’s probably not quite as far along as some of us may think, Way adds.
That said, bromances are becoming more prevalent—namely in traditionally masculine circles, Way says. “Often, guys who openly have the closest friendships are those who have asserted their masculinity—athletes, members of the military—because you can challenge the norms of masculinity more comfortably if you already adhere to them,” she explains.
On the other hand, guys who feel their masculinity is being questioned constantly (either by actual people or by culture as a whole) tend to feel more insecure about it, and are less likely to express the desire for intimacy with other guys—even though they still have it, she says. Robinson says bromances occur less often among older cohorts of men, because Western culture has long taught that repressing emotions is “manly.”
And here’s the thing: Men of all ages need these close, intimate relationships, both experts agree. Research suggests that embracing “traditional masculinity” and emotional illiteracy—that is, not being able to articulate what you feel—are actually risk factors for suicide, Robinson adds. “Men who cannot open up about their emotions are more likely to suffer from depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts,” he adds. In fact, studies show that going through life without a best buddy can up your risk of death by the same amount as smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day—yikes!
“Men are just like women in their need for multiple kinds of relationships to provide happiness and different perspectives,” Way adds.