Once upon a time, while my family was engaging in dinner conversation, the subject of the Pinoy being touchy-feely was brought up – at the time, the term “bromance” had yet to be coined. My dad would say that in the olden days (insert 1950s music here), he and his friends had no problem hugging each other, or walking around with their arms around each other’s shoulders. In fact, they were very much unaware of the current “don’t touch me too much” mentality, except, expectedly, for the kissing part. We ended the conversation and proceeded to other subjects for our after-dinner coffee with the conclusion that people these days were more self-aware and praning about how they would be viewed if they were too affectionate with their same-sex friends.
In another conversation (many years later, but still during dinner), my grandmother – God bless her soul – told us that back then, she was admired and given gifts by women. It wasn’t because they were all lesbians, according to her (though she did say she suspected some were), but because it was normal then to acknowledge each other in that way. We were, by the time the story ended, laughing, because of course, our Lola still had her charm about her.
So the question is: What is it about Filipino culture that makes bromance – and its female equivalent – so accepted? Even more important: why does it seem like it’s now becoming less prevalent? Or is that just a matter of perception?
What is bromance, really?
Bromance, in more specific terms, is a friendship where the two parties tend to be not only good friends, but also more demonstrative physically of their friendship and affection for each other. To observers, the overt physicality of their friendship can and will look like they are in a loving “couples” relationship, hence the combination of “brother” and “romance” into “bromance.”
In one sense, people see it as an actualization of homoeroticism or latent homosexuality between two people. In another, it can be seen as simply two friends who practically act like family. In any case, it’s usually the subject of much joking and chismis.
The best way, of course, to talk about all this was to ask some friends on what they thought about bromance. Not surprisingly, the earliest non-family conversation I had about this goes back to college (circa 1995). We had two friends who, at the time, were practically seen as inseparable, while at the same time were also touchy-feely with each other. One time, in between classes, the barkada talked about their situation, and one of them was open enough to say that it simply felt comfortable, and it was like being brothers, but not. When we pointed out that they acted like a couple, it didn’t elicit horror, insomuch as an admission from him that it was probably true in a sense. Of course, when we asked if there was some sort of homoeroticism involved, he practically burst out laughing – after all, they were “bros!”
So, is there an issue of homosexuality, or even homoeroticism, involved? To tell the truth, while many people may think that bromance involves some sort of gay thing, the fact is, it wouldn’t be bromance if there were overt gay overtones. Homoeroticism? Perhaps as a joke, or, if one of the guys is gay, then there is an element of the unrequited (we’ll get to that later). But as it is, bromance is specifically not gay – it’s the equivalent of being a domestic, loving couple, minus the sex, the overt displays of affection, and, of course, the sex.
Friendzones and unrequited love
Now, for some people, the question stands: what if one were gay (secretly or not)? I’d have to say that this is an important issue to tackle. I myself had a crush on a straight friend, and for many years, I mother-henned him as if he were my own boyfriend, as if we were a couple. However, what cemented the congenial friendzone I was put in was one time, when he told me, in no uncertain terms: “If I were gay, or you were a girl, then we would be a great couple, but as it is, we’re great friends together.”
Yes, I did feel crushed, but it also lifted my spirits, in a certain way. After that, our bromance was noticeably more relaxed, and without the tension of the unsaid. In fact, the day after (we had been drinking heavily, hence the confession), I woke up to him reading a book, sitting in a chair right next to the bed. He looked down, looked at me, and said, “Well, time to take a bath – we have to meet the others later!” After that, he sauntered to the bathroom door in only his boxer shorts. He looked back, and told me, “Want to join me? It’s faster.” And I did, but this time, we were just bros, so to speak. No issues, just two guys who needed to take a bath fast because one of them woke up late.
So, can bromance mean unrequited or unaddressed feelings? I would say: definitely. However, real bromance is about acknowledging the feelings to each other (if necessary), and just realizing that, hey, it’s all about being really cool friends to each other.
I’ve noticed that lately, while many of the younger ones tend to have bromantic relationships, there seems to be such an effort in saying that it’s all just friendship. The thing is, does this mean that the younger generation is more repressed, or does it mean that there is a greater stigma about being gay? Sadly, even though the element of homoeroticism still exists for bromance, it seems that bromance is being codified into a stricter, more heterosexual sense, which makes bromance these days little more than being best friends.
Personally, this feels like a real shame, as there are many benefits to having a bromantic relationship or two. For one, it allows you to be caring for a friend, beyond any social constraint for “how friends should act.” For another, it also allows you to explore your own comfort zones, and in so doing, question how much of your mannerisms are social strictures, and how much of it is really how you are. One could say that bromance can help guys – and girls, if it is a relationship between girls – be more in touch with what they really are, rather than what they are expected to be in terms of social and community roles.
In the end, when you do see bromance happening, join in the jokes, and have fun with them, rather than making fun of them. After all, you don’t know what you’re missing – unless you have a bromance of your own.