Over the past several months there has been a plethora of articles and studies that have discussed the supposed crisis in male relationships. Websites such as Salon, Men’s Health, The Good Men’s Project, Psychology Today and featured articles have reported on the lack of real personal camaraderie and intimacy among American men.
Among all groups in America, White heterosexual males have the fewest number of friends. In addition, the relationships that they have with other men are often much more platonic and guarded than those of other groups.
The theories as to why so many men have a deficit of friends vary. However, there does seem to be one commonality. American men are in state of crisis when it comes to male companionship. That being said, there are a number of reasons as to why this situation exists. We live in society where men are taught to be strong, rugged and brawny. While these expectations have been punctured to a certain extent, they are still prevalent enough to give many men pause in engaging in behavior that may be seen as deviating from what is seen as “appropriate behavior.”
Historically, society has promoted the message “real men” do not express their emotions. They do not complain of being in pain or discuss their fears, insecurities, apprehensions, etc. And they most certainly are not supposed to display any sort of emotions either in public or private. It has been an unwritten rule that men are to be as impervious as possible. Failure to uphold or maintain any of these qualities disqualifies you from being seen as a “legitimate” male.
Another factor is that men are supposed to be competitive. Whether at work, romance or play. In the world of masculinity, life is supposed to be ongoing competition. Men are expected to be saviors. You are expected to be competitive and as good, if not superior, to your fellow male counterparts. You are expected to immerse yourself in an environment that is ripe with passion, intensity and grit. Being number one is what counts. Men are supposed to be the ultimate alpha males.
Some of this behavior is due to the pressure that men put on one another, but some of it is due to the attitudes of women. Men are in competition with each other for women. Despite the fact that some women argue that they prefer the kind, thoughtful, sensitive, caring male (and some women truly do), the fact is that many women prefer men who embrace the strong, Herculean male image. While women say they want the Alan Alda males, many desire the Don Draper/MadMen type of man.
Several months ago, I was having this discussion with an acquaintance at a local coffeehouse. The person in question is a divorced father of two who used to live in the deep south. After his divorce he left the region. We discussed his experience of being married to a woman whose family was a part of the WASP southern aristocratic class. He comes from a middle class White family as well. He went into fascinating detail of how competitive and cutthroat this particular society was. Apparently, it was a very difficult circle for anyone to break into.
What were most intriguing were the intense competition, brashness and callous behavior that occurred among the men. Braggadocio was commonplace. Conversations of sexual prowess, financial success and athletic superiority were the name of the game. Financially undermining one another, sleeping with other men’s wives, downgrading your fellow male was the order of the day. Such an environment disgusted him. What was more disheartening (according to him) was the fact that there are a number of women in this social circle who subtly encouraged and enabled such brutish attitudes among men.
To be sure, not all men buy into these rigidly prescribed and arguably unhealthy roles. There are a number of men who are secure enough and have no problem opening up and sharing their emotions with other men. They realize that doing so does not make them less masculine or emasculated. In fact, in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe and Africa, men are very intimate with one another. Heterosexual men kissing one another on the cheek, hugging and, in some cases, holding hands is common and no one blinks an eye.
When it comes to sexuality, America is still a very young nation compared to the rest of the world and we are evolving on a number of issues. Evolving perceptions of masculinity (and femininity) and sexuality in general is one such issue. Hopefully, as our society moves further into the 21st century, more men will make the decision to “man up” so-to-speak and come to the realization that bromance is not a sign of vulnerability or weakness, but rather a strong endorsement of manhood.