There is an unwritten “bro code” that governs a majority of male friendships. It has a few inviolable tenets, such as not dating or flirting with your friend’s crush, and always leaving one urinal as a buffer zone when peeing at a bar. Another one of those traditions is never saying the words “I love you” or anything to that effect. Male bonding is strengthened through sharing experiences, not feelings, so it’s unsurprising that men usually need some loosening up to honestly express their emotions, especially to one another.
A recently conducted nationwide survey by analytics firm YouGov and McDowell’s No. 1 Soda found that seven out of 10 Indian men in the age range of 25 to 45 years do not actually tell their best friends how they feel about them. The remaining three men are probably sitting in a bar somewhere, hugging each other and saying “I love you, yaar.” However, in a gathering with close friends, men are likely to be more open with each other. It’s not that Indian men are incapable of displaying affection for their friends, it’s just that they are conditioned to only do so in less inhibited states.
Why don’t men show emotion?
Pop culture has played its part in colouring this image of stoic masculinity. In TV shows and movies, the mark of a manly man is seen as how he doesn’t let his emotions show. Consider Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, a character that is less a real human and more a manic dream of macho moustachioed manhood. One of his memorable quotes is the one where he reminisces about his best friend, saying, “I once worked with a man for three years and never got to know his name. Best friend I ever had.” Even though the viewers get to see the many ways that Ron cares deeply for those close to him, the character will never admit to it for fear of being seen as soft.
Many movies that revolve around male bonding share the same trope. The characters admitting how much they mean to each other is always implied, and if it is ever spoken aloud, it usually is done so at the climax.
At the bachelor party in The Hangover, a film about that most quintessential male bonding experience, Alan’s character constantly harps on about the value of friendship, and is consequently portrayed as the socially inept one of the group. Even in Dil Chahta Hai, the archetypal Bollywood male bonding film, the three lead characters are more emotionally expressive toward their romantic interests than each other, even though their friendship is what gets them through the challenges they face in the film.
Male bonding is strengthened through sharing experiences, not feelings.
The social lubricant everyone needs
A study conducted by psychologist Robin Dunbar at the Oxford University found that for groups of male friends meeting regularly, up to twice a week, could have health benefits for their members. “Bonds can be formed through a range of activities from team sports to male banter — or simply having a pint with your pals on a Friday night,” said Dunbar.
So after seven months of a nationwide lockdown, with social spaces closed to public, most men will agree that Zoom calls are a poor replacement for a boys’ night. Thankfully, now that restaurants and clubs in the country are starting to reopen, it’s going to be possible to meet up again. And the much needed infusion of male bonding will be reintroduced to Indian men.
Whether it’s life imitating art or the other way round, what’s clear is that men don’t open up to each other. And when they do, it’s likely only to their closest friends. It’s like The Beatles sang, we get by with a little help from our friends.