When your man asked if his best friend could join you for dinner, you didn’t really mind – you thought it might be fun for a change. At no point did you think you’d be the gooseberry, but here you are being largely ignored, as your man hangs on his buddy’s every word, agreeing with all his opinions and finding everything he does hilarious. His best friend is upstaging you simply by sticking two breadsticks in his upper lip and pretending to be a walrus.
Welcome to the bromance. Largely, social progressions are a good thing, and modern men are open, communicative and affectionate with the women they love. The problem is that now men are also increasingly open, communicative and yes, even affectionate, with their male friends. And when it comes to his best friend, well, it can end up being such a close relationship that you start to feel jilted.
I myself have been in a bromance. In fact, I’ve happily been in one for five years now. He came into my life when he moved into a house-share I was in, and after discovering shared interests in sitcoms, music and girls (this is important: bromances are platonic, and a shared interest in the opposite sex is essential), we realised we’d met a long-term partner. Over time we’ve become closer and can even say we love each other, albeit after many drinks. However, when I got a girlfriend two years ago, trouble started. My pal became jealous and sometimes complained about her. It’s been hard work pleasing both. My girlfriend even once said to me, ‘You clearly love him more than me.’ And I’m not the only one having these problems.
Bromances are everywhere. Ant and Dec, Horne and Corden, Pitt and Clooney… these guys touch and hug and aren’t afraid to let the world know what they think of each other. There are now even bromantic comedies – films usually starring Seth Rogen or Vince Vaughn, which are aimed at men and focus on male friendships (like the recent mega-hit, I Love You, Man).
But bromance can be a huge problem for women. Suddenly your man is not only getting his boozy, sporty needs taken care of by his best friend, he’s also getting many of his emotional needs looked after, too. So where does that leave you? Increasingly isolated from him, or feeling that you’re not longer a couple, but a trio.
‘Sometimes, it does feel like I’m going out with two people,’ admits Jennifer, a 32-year-old PR who’s been dating James and (it feels like) his best friend, Nick, for three years. ‘I often feel I have to compete against Nick for James’s time. They jog together, go to the cinema, go to the pub. Sometimes I think he’s more in love with Nick than with me.’ James, in contrast, doesn’t believe it’s a problem: ‘We’re just normal mates. It’s a completely different thing – he’s my best friend, Jen’s my girlfriend, it’s not like he’s competing with her.’ Nick, for his part, just sees it as changing times: ‘I’d definitely say we’re in a bromance! We’re closer than my dad was with his mates, but that’s a good thing. James has been there with me through tough times.’
Dr Colin Gill, a chartered psychologist, believes that bromances show how men are improving in their social skills. ‘Previously they haven’t been able to distinguish between platonic and sexual relationships,’ she says. ‘Sexual relationships took priority, so men have been careful not to have bromancey feelings misinterpreted. Now, though, men are more aware of social signals, and the open display of affection acceptable in today’s society means it’s not as risky to show deep affection for a friend.’
However, Dr Gill stresses that this isn’t a modern trend. ‘Historically, bromances are nothing new. In the 18th century, English men were known for being very emotional. And in Middle Eastern countries it’s very common for male friends to hold hands in public.’
The reality of this social evolution isn’t always much fun, though. Emily, 28, a policewoman from Yorkshire, is frustrated by her new husband Tom’s bromance with a friend called Scully. ‘After we got married, it was just Tom and me,’ she says. ‘But now Scully’s over here all the time. They’re like kids together. I’ve turned into a nag, and I hate being in that role.’ Tom sees his bromance as harmless, but admits, ‘It means I have an ally. He does back me up if Emily’s having a go.’
If your man’s in a bromance, you should try to avoid seeing it as a threat. Dr Gill says, ‘Women often have very close relationships with their girl friends, so they should see it in those terms. Most people only have a small number of close relationships and if he has that with one or two men, that’s normal, and nothing to worry about.’
Indeed, Dr Gill is adamant that a bromance could be the path to greater happiness, should your man’s bro have a girlfriend who you love too: ‘The golden scenario is that the bromance is matched by two women who love to hang out, and both men and both women get on well. If that happens, it’s a fantastic social set-up.’
However, if you do still feel the need to pour cold water on your man’s bromance, try to be sensitive about it. Spare a thought for David and Stuart, close pals who met at uni and were recently split up after David’s wife, Gemma, took a job in New York. David has just joined her there, and is a little heartbroken. ‘I do miss Stuart,’ he says. ‘He’ll visit, but it’s a shame my bromance is over!’ Gemma insists it’s not that dramatic – ‘They’re in touch all the time!’ – but confesses, ‘I do feel guilty for breaking them up.’
The fact of the matter is that in the end, your relationship with your man will always trump his relationship with his bro. Even if he spends his weekends rolling around in hay bales with his handsome pal in what, to you, looks a bit Brokeback Mountain, know that his most important relationship is always with the woman he loves.
How to tell if your man’s in a bromance
1. He starts dressing like his mate
One week, his friend turns up in Converse. The next, your man’s bought some. His mate’s in a leather jacket? Guess who buys a different-yet-similar one. Yes, your man thinks his mate is the coolest-looking guy ever.
2. He dresses down for a night out
Blokes dress up to get girls, and down to get mates. If he gets scruffier and scruffier for nights out, then stops shaving, he’s likely to have fallen for his mate: ironically, he wants to impress him by not looking too try-hard.
3. He laughs at everything his mate does and says
It’s the most inane gag you’ve ever heard, the most stupid face pulling, the most silly conversation topic, yet your boyfriend is laughing so hard he’s crying. They have found heaven on earth in each other’s idiocy.
How to intervene…
1. Find his best friend a girl
Yes, just get him a new, super-hot lady, and we guarantee you’ll barely see him for at least three months. Men are like selfish children – if they find something sweet, they run off with it to their bedrooms so they can have it all to themselves.
2. Start talking babies
His best friend will run a mile – he wants to play Xbox with your man, not help him change nappies. While a baby could be the making of your romance, it’s the beginning of the end for a bromance.
3. Wear hotpants
To remind your man where his attention should be, just wear your hottest, tightest outfits. He’ll follow you around like a devoted puppy, yip-yipping for your approval. It’s also a powerful and timely reminder of his heterosexuality.