Friendly relationships between related or unrelated males.
The developmental rationale underpinning friendship is well-substantiated in the literature. The process of developing and maintaining friendly bonds with kith is crucial for human children to develop Theory of Mind, interpersonal reasoning, and their faculties for moral judgment. Friendships also serve as a form of social training ground; one in which our earliest instances of developing empathy, forming coalitions, and resolving conflicts begins to take root.
Male-male friendship – what has often colloquially come to be referred to as male bonding or “bromance” (Tiger 2017) – possesses unique dimensions from both an evolutionary and a developmental perspective. From early childhood, male-male friendships are characteristically defined by a greater frequency of rough-and-tumble play, rehearsed belligerence, participation in games governed by systems thinking and strictly codified rules, and the establishment of clearly-defined hierarchies and role positioning. This is in stark opposition to typical female-female friendships during childhood, which tend toward egalitarianism, inclusiveness, and games based more on participation and fair play than rules and rewards (Bjorklund and Pellegrini 2000).
Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, male-male friendship often reflects many of its early developmental antecedents. Male friendships – consistent with male psychology generally – tend to be more “things-oriented” than “people-oriented”; driven more by mutual interests and activities than by the deeply affectionate personal bonding that is more characteristic of female-female friendships (Robinson et al. 2017). That said, there is a unique affective dimension to male-male friendships that compliments the more utilitarian and systemic qualities that are generally more apparent in such friendships. Indeed, one study noted that an overwhelming majority of males preferred to share deeply emotional insights and highly personal matters with their male friends than with their female romantic partners. The authors observed that, for most of the men surveyed in their study, “bromantic relationships were more satisfying in their emotional intimacy, compared to their heterosexual romances” (Benenson et al. 2014).
It seems likely that the capacity for developing and maintaining friendships along same-sex lines generally, and in male-male friendships specifically, had significant adaptive value for the evolution of our species. In ancestral times, males were responsible for the greater preponderance of game hunting; sorties which may have lasted days or weeks depending on the local climate and season, as well as the predatory or grazing patterns of the fauna being pursued (Hildebrandt and McGuire 2002). Such hunting activity would have unquestionably been highly labor-intensive and physically draining, and would also have required significant intra-party co-ordination, division of labor, and collective buy-in as to the relative distribution of the eventual spoils. Time spent away from camp, and thus romantic partners and children, would have likely exacted an additional mental and emotional toll on the participants (Lewis et al. 2011).
Male-male friendship, thus, likely has deep evolutionary roots in humans. The ability to form close bonds with one’s same-sex peers would have allowed males to participate in hunting activity in a harmonious, collectively cohesive manner in spite of the substantial emotional pressure that accompanied such an emotionally taxing and threat-laden pursuit. It would likely have provided an additional layer of mental reassurance through interpersonal concord, clearly explicated roles and responsibilities, and a unified focus on the particularities of the task at hand. The cognitive and behavioral features of male-male friendship in antiquity likely parallel those found in the “bromantic” relationships of their modern analogues.
- Robinson, S., White, A., & Anderson, E. (2017). Privileging the bromance: A critical appraisal of romantic and bromantic relationships. Men and Masculinities, 1097184X17730386. 4, 1–22Google Scholar