Men, this is what we need to learn about bromance (and how it could make us healthier).
Is anything better than a beautiful bromance?
You know, bros being bros with each other?
Love or hate the bro + romance portmanteau (and many people do have strong and valid feelings about its usage, not to mention the ways it’s used as queerbaiting instead of actual LGBTQ representation), you’ve got to admit that close male friendships do sometimes seem as though they’re reserved exclusively for male friends in TV shows and movies.
And don’t get me wrong — bromances are fun to watch, but…
…as much as we love to see pairs of dude friends in our TV shows and movies, they may be becoming an endangered species here in the real world.
Though men desire friendship and affection, studies have shown that a lot of us are struggling to form lasting friendships with one another.
This struggle may be the result of one of the worst (and most pervasive) stereotypes: That men want to be alone.
“There’s a stereotype of the lone male wolf,” says Liz Kirby, one of the authors of a new study about male bonding, referencing the idea that guys are just naturally more isolated than women and don’t need emotional support systems or aren’t as biologically predisposed to having feelings.
It’s the same stereotype that says that men don’t need help dealing with day-to-day stress, that a guy shouldn’t open up about his feelings, that he shouldn’t complain or cry, and that when something bad happens men just deal with it.
“There’s no reason that has to be the case,” Kirby told me. “This idea that only women are the ones who need these social bonds or who can draw on these social bonds is really just not true.”
Even science thinks bromances are awesome.
At least, so says the results of Kirby’s new study from University of California Berkeley that involved male rats, bro-bonding, and good ol’ brain chemicals.
The results of the study show that after male rats experienced mild stress, their levels of oxytocin (a hormone in the body which helps bond with others) went up. What’s more, they found that male rats, when allowed to hang out with their male rat friends after those mildly stressful days, would get another hit of oxytocin as well.
“Bonding causes oxytocin and oxytocin causes bonding. It’s a vicious love cycle,” Kirby says. In essence, the study showed that male bonding time can be both a male body’s natural response to stress and also one of the best treatments for it.
And guys, this isn’t just metaphorically good for our hearts.
Studies show that deep male friendships may be good for our biological hearts too. Friendships can reduce stress, make us more resilient to future stresses, decrease our chances of getting depressed or anxious, and help keep us healthy. One study found that having a friend is as important to a person’s health as quitting smoking.
“We do better, we live longer, we are healthier when we have friends,” said Kirby.
The idea that deep friendships are good for you isn’t exclusive to men, of course — all this stuff about hormones and friendships and health applies to lady-lady friendships, lady-dude friendships…
…or any types of friendship, really, but male-male bonds often get kind of ignored in these discussions.
This isn’t just a feel-good message either — Kirby’s research could one day help defeat one of today’s greatest specters: post traumatic stress disorder.
Remember oxytocin, the friendship hormone? Kirby’s researchers found something interesting about that. When stress is bad enough — like car-accident, PTSD-levels of bad — oxytocin levels don’t go up the same way as when we experience mild, bad-day-at-the-office stress.
Instead, those traumatic experiences lower oxytocin in the body, and no oxytocin means no bonding instinct.
This might help explain why people sometimes retreat away from their support networks after experiencing a traumatic event or why they don’t act a certain expected way. It could even help scientists figure out better ways to help anyone suffering from trauma.
This is what Kirby wants to study next — to see if her team can figure out a way to help refuel a person’s oxytocin levels. If they can do that, she says, “we might be able to help people with PTSD come back out of their shell.”
So, yes, men: Bromances have incredible power.
We should embrace friendships, not shy away from them. Spend some time with friends. Share your feelings. Ask for help. It’s OK; it’s even good for you!
Bromances can turn stress into friendship, help head off future stress, and can actually help us live longer.
Most hearteningly of all, they might be able to kill off that stupid lone-wolf stereotype that society tells us we need to fulfill — the part that can make you feel the most alone when you’re struggling.
So, bros. Remember this the next time you have a bad day at the office.
Don’t be this guy:
Be these guys:
You and everyone around you will be better off for it.