The last decade has seen a proliferation of the bromance comedy. Movies like I Love You, Man, Superbad, The Hangover Trilogy along with television shows like the Jersey Shore have helped to build the foundation of what has become a culturally pervasive phenomenon: bromance. What is bromance? John Elder, writing over at “The Age,” has defined bromance as “a non-sexual love affair between two males.”
Elder goes on to argue that in a culture where divorce and singleness are normative, the value of close friendships between adult males is growing. Certainly, friendship between men is something to be pursued and treasured, and there is strong biblical warrant for close friendships between adult males, consider the friendship of David and Jonathan or the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. However, while bromance might appear (at first glance) to merely be a different word for what great men who have gone before us called “friendship,” I am concerned that bromance is a terribly poor substitute for friendship.
I will rely heavily on CS Lewis’ chapter on “Friendship” in his seminal work The Four Loves, to consider the following questions: What is friendship? Why is it important? How is friendship different from bromance?
What is friendship?
CS Lewis has said, “Friendship has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.” By this Lewis indicates that friendship is not necessary for the propagation of a species, nor is it conducive to the modern notion that people are merely a means to an end; namely, greater self-fulfillment or self-promotion. Friendship is a selfless love.
When we take a look at the biblical perspective on friendship we find out that “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, (Prov. 18:24)” “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another, (Prov. 27:17)” and that Christians are called to lay down their lives for the sake of their friends (Jn. 15:12-17).
We hear that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” (1 Sam. 18:1-5) Jonathan would go on to extend himself far above the call of comfort to serve his friend David. In the face of the raging anger of a tyrannical king, who happens to also be Jonathan’s father, he fights against the wrongful persecution of David and helps his friend escape.
Outside of the witness of scripture, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, devotes two books in his Nicomachean Ethics to developing and arguing for the importance of friendship. He concludes by saying, “the presence of friends, then, seems desirable in all circumstances.”
Surely, anyone who has traveled with the Hobbits from the Shire to the city of Rivendell, down into the mines of Moria, and up to the crest of Mt. Doom can forget the striking beauty of the friendship that Frodo and Samwise share. We leave the Lord of the Rings knowing that there are some who are worth following to Rivendell, there are others who are worth following down into Moria, and there are but a few who are worth following all the way into the midst of the fires of Mt. Doom.
You should pursue friendships with those worth following to Mt. Doom and back.
While bromance falls short of the true virtue of friendship, we should not despise culture for its craving for community. Humans are communal creatures. We have been created in the image of the God who is communal in His Trinitarian being. Rather than bemoaning or mocking our culture’s lack of true friendship, we should demonstrate the superiority of friendship to its contemporary shadow.
Why is friendship important?
The introvert might be cringing right now. In their mind, friendship carries a social dimension. When they hear the word “friend,” they either feel the weight of relationships that have failed in the past or they hear the familiar call of the unbearably awkward dinner party.
May I encourage you, no matter your personality, as Aristotle would, to pursue friendship. Pursue friendship, even if you’re perfectly happy alone. Aristotle asks the question, “why does the happy man need friends?” His answer: If all good things are assigned to the happy man, is it not strange to keep him from the greatest of external goods? If the happy man is also the one who pursues the good, won’t he need someone that he can show good?
Friendship pulls out aspects of you that would otherwise remain hidden. Lewis argues, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own show all his facets.” True friends will be able to help develop you into who God created you to be. My wife will agree. When I am around one particular group of friends she sees courage, chivalry, and humility sparkle. When I am around another group of brothers, she can hear the poetry leap from my heart. All of our friends help us to see that there is a depth to our personhood that is still undiscovered.
Friendship allows us to be both the garden and the gardener. When we allow people into our lives and engage in the virtue of friendship, we hen allow others to cultivate our lives–pulling weeds and planting seeds–as we also work to till the soil of their hearts
How is friendship different than bromance?
If bromance is a “non-sexual love affair between adult males,” than it carries with it all of the same pitfalls and weaknesses of an affair.Bromance is fickle and fleeting, based on the passing whims and preferences of its participants. Like any affair, bromance is more about the benefit received than the benefit bestowed. When friendship says, “I will carry your pack so that you may rest,” bromance says, “My bag is heavier than yourswouldn’t it be fair to even the weight?”
Bromance celebrates passivity and foolishness. Every major media treatment of bromance has accentuated the fact that bromance was birthed in the waters of prolonged adolescence. Bromance celebrates the Peter Pan mantra, “I don’t want to grow up.” A friend sharpens you, challenges your passivity, pointing and points you towards the finish line. Bromance encourages you to say, “Forget the race, let’s order pizza.”
Comparing friendship and bromance is a bit like comparing Bach to Bieber, like evaluating Filet-o-Fish after tasting King Crab, or like drinking Folgers after indulging in some single-origin espresso. It’s simply not fair. Bromance is but a shadow, it is the love of convenience and affirmation. Friendship has substance it is the love of adventure and sacrifice.
With whom are you traveling? On the road of life, are you surrounded by “bros” who will leave you stranded when you fall into the hands of an enemy? Or, are you locked into friendship with those committed to seeing you finish the journey well?
Kyle Worley is Connection Minister at the Village Church in Dallas, TX. He is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed and blogs regularly at The Strife. He holds a double B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy from Dallas Baptist University. He is currently completing a M.A. in Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is pursuing a M.A. in Religion at Redeemer Seminary. You can find Kyle on Twitter @kyleworley.