Virginia Woolf famously noted how unusual it was to find accounts in literature of women being friends–not rivals, sisters, mother and daughter, etc., and not in their relationship to men, but friends with one another. Paging through a new novel by Mary Carmichael,
‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.
So much of women’s lives had been obscured, and so much lost to literature, as we would have lost Julius Caesar and Hamlet and Prince Hal if writers had not seen the friendships between men as a worthy subject. (She goes into much more detail, and if you haven’t read “A Room of One’s Own,” do! It’s indispensable.)
Something just as troubling, or more, seems to be true in our time and place, not in literature but in real life, and it’s signaled by the trending term “bromance.” “Bromance” refers to a non-sexual, close relationship between unrelated men, as in “the thriving bromance between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen,” who’ve clearly enjoyed spending lots of off-stage time together during their tour as co-stars in a couple of plays. “Brother,” “bro,” “romance”: get it?
In our culture, we don’t need a special name to describe the relationship between two women who love each other, love to spend time together, and are not romantically involved together nor seeking to be. We already have a term: friendship. What disturbs me about the embrace of the “bromance” term is the shunning of the obvious, available word.
Is there something so extraordinary about a close, loving, non-romantic relationship between men that we need a cute, arch term for it? Do men in our culture not feel comfortable calling each other friends? Is it difficult in real life, as it once was in literature for Chloe to like Olivia, for Patrick to like Ian?
Men, what’s your experience?