I jumped for joy after watching the bromance, I Love You, Man, on Netflix one lazy Saturday afternoon. Where I expected to see yet another cliche-ridden, predictable romantic comedy I found a heartfelt story that touches on a topic we don’t see very often in media: adult male friendship.
In the film, Peter, played by Paul Rudd, gets engaged with his girlfriend, Zooey, played by Rashida Jones. Shortly after, he realizes he doesn’t have a best man for the wedding, as a product of his weak male friendships. So, he sets out on a quest to find a best man the way Link seeks the Triforce in The Legend of Zelda.
It hit me the moment I asked myself that question. Who would be my best man in my wedding? I drew blanks. Like a nervous defendant on trial, I couldn’t give a straight answer. Yeah, I hang out with a lot of cool guys, but Best Man is a place reserved for my closest relationship with an individual. I realized that many of my male friendships didn’t stray far beyond the realm of “acquaintances.” I know who to go to if I want to talk about the latest basketball game, play rounds of Street Fighter, lift weights at the gym, or go out for a drink. But can’t go far beyond that. I find my lack of strong male friendships disturbing.
I’ve seen some girls become friends faster than a lion can snatch up a gazelle. You might miss it if you blink. Verily, I envy them. One minute they meet each other, the next someone gets invited home. Granted, I’ve seen this phenomenon occur between men at gay clubs. It’s just that what happens when they get to the house looks very different in those cases. My point is, societal expectations let women be more open with friendships. One might think a friendship born so quickly is destined to fail but many of these covalent bonds last for years, if not a lifetime. If only it worked that way for those of us with Y chromosomes.
Contrary to popular belief, men have feelings. It’s just society teaches us to bottle them up like a fiery genie. Take the workplace for instance. The men who present themselves as confident are usually the one we favor the most. They pretend everything is good with them all the time. One guy could be in the middle of a vicious divorce and about to lose his child but at work he acts like he’s on Pharrell’s video for the song “Happy.”
Not wearing your heart on your sleeve is admirable, but hiding our feelings from others limits our ability to connect with them. We’re not vulnerable. We’re just a face. A robot. We don’t really end up knowing each other. Activity becomes the thing that brings us together. We put friends in different compartments based on the activity. We have our gaming pals, sports guys, bar friends, poker buddies, all with a little overlap. Rarely do we meet with male friends just because we want to spend time with them. I find it ironic that everyone calls each other “bro”, when it’s often said in superficial friendships.
But I don’t want to generalize. All this is based on my personal experience and what I’ve observed from American culture. Maybe there’s some town in the U.S. that’s like the male version of the Amazons, where men bond with one another in brotherhood. if this is true, please let me know. Hopefully it’s within driving distance of New York City. Speaking of brotherhood, I missed the fraternity train in college because I didn’t want to be defined by a single group. Does that mean I’m out of luck for the rest of my life?
I recognize my male friendship desert is partly my own doing. I’ve moved cities so often you’d think I was running from the law. That kind of makes it hard to develop anything beyond acquaintance. I also tend to compartmentalize my male friendships like they’re clothes in my closet. How does one break that cycle? You can’t just walk up to a guy and say “Will you be my friend?” They’ll likely cross their index fingers into a T, shout “No homo,” and scurry far away from you. It has to happen naturally. So they tell me.
What I loved most about the film was the simple fact that it exists. Its release proves I’m not the only person in the world who thinks about this. There’s at least one influential person out there who thought the message was important enough to write a story about. Maybe he and I should become friends. Then he could offer tips on how to get into the screenwriting biz.
Ultimately, the film illustrates that the desire to connect to others in an asexual manner is not unique to women. That, in and of itself, is encouraging to me. And so, I won’t give up hope. It shouldn’t be hard to find another guy who enjoys reading, playing video games, watching and playing sports, etc. If only Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, were real. I think we’d get along just fine.