Bromance novels

Memento Mori: St Francis and Brother Leo contemplate death by El Greco

After writing about the potential benefits of bromance last week, this idea came into my mind — bromance novels! I’m sure someone else has already thought of this, of course. Here are some bromance novel ideas:

  • Odd couple bromance. This would be a common trope for bromances, I think. Two men with little in common are thrown into a situation together where they are forced to spend time with one another, and they become great friends.
  • Forbidden bromance. Members of rival gangs discover a mutual love for something unusual in their context (Dungeons & Dragons? Mariokart?), so they begin meeting in secret to indulge their appetite. True friendship flowers, and one of them ends up sacrificing himself for his friend to stop a gang war. ‘Greater love has no man than this…’
  • Amish bromance. A farmer and a millworker meet at a barn-raising in Pennsylvania. They get to chatting and find that more unites them than just eighteenth-century technology and a love of Jesus.
  • Lord-servant bromance. I’m thinking here of the stablehand and his master who become more than just friendly but true friends, and the master gets into social trouble for spending his leisure hours in the company of someone of such a low station. He also helps the stablehand woo a rich lady, thus intertwining the sort of plot you see on the racks of grocery-store romances with bromance.
  • Old widower bromance. A grumpy widower joins the post office and moves to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, during American prohibition. While there, he meets a happy, young Mountie, and their friendship takes off. He ends up helping the Mountie take down whisky-runners during a daring chase through Moose Jaw’s tunnel system.
  • Historical bromance. Two pilgrims setting from Paris for Compostela strike up a conversation. They have many adventures along the way, but the biggest adventure of all is finding true friendship on a journey towards true religion.

Sub-theme of historical bromance: Fictionalised historical bromance, including such figures as:

  • Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus.
  • Ambrose of Milan and his brother Satyrus
  • John Chrysostom and his friend Basil
  • John Cassian and Germanus
  • Are Francis of Assisi and Brother Leo bromantic?
  • What about Luther and Melanchthon?

Feel free to write any of the above. Not sure I have the time…

Bromance may save your marriage

So, in light of having recently led a study on Genesis 1-3 and what it means for men (hence my post Biblical manhood?) as well as my three-part series about St Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship (part 1, part 2, part 3), I thought I’d finally write a thing that’s been inchoate in my mind for a long time, drawing on them both:

Bromance may save your marriage

Genesis – What is a human?

For this to make sense, we need to think first on what it means to be human. From Gen. 1-3, we learn (amongst many other things):

  1. Humans are made in the image of God, male and female (1:26)
  2. It is not good for the man to be alone (2:18)
  3. Living by the sweat of your brow is part of the man’s curse (3:19)

God is Trinity. Among the many things it may mean for us to be made in the image of God, many people believe that being made for communion is part of that. God is Three Persons. Human communions imperfectly reflect the consubstantial Trinitarian life. Metropolitan John Zizioulas goes farther and says that all of creation, in fact, rests on communion as its foundation — see his mind-bending but beautiful book Being As Communion.

We are made for connection — this is part even of the message of 1:26, where we are made male and female together, thus reflecting the image of God as male and female, not as solitary individuals. (I got that idea from Father John Behr somewhere.)

Fallen relationships

The problem is, we live in a fallen world (hence Gen 3). In many cultures, men live out the curse of Genesis 3 by overidentifying with their work. In our culture, as an ongoing outworking of the ill-health wrought by the curse and human sinfulness, by the world, the flesh, and the devil, men tend to have superficial relationships with each other.

This is typified by “bro culture”, the fullest version of which I have never been ushered into, having an aversion to a. locker rooms and b. sports. Without a hint of caricature, drawing on Peggy Orenstein’s article in The Atlantic, The Miseducation of the American Boy, bro culture seems to be a superficial realm of existence, where men relate to each other in a series of games of oneupmanship, mocking those who show ‘sissy’ emotions, and speaking ill of women. And speaking of doing ill to women, in fact.

Many young men find that they can only open to other young women, not their bros.

I am sure the variations are legion.

Now, it is worth pausing to note a salutary aspect of late modern life, which is that many men consider their wives their best friend. This is a good thing. If you read works from even a century ago, it was clear that to many intelligent, educated men wives were interesting creatures worth loving, having around, procreating with, and so forth. But having an intellectual conversation about religion, politics, art, poetry, or anything else like that — well, that was what the club was for, right? Thankfully, not all men have always been like that, and it seems fewer are today.

Yet the problem that I see arising is that our male-to-male friendships, even if not the perversions of Orenstein’s study, are shallow. We talk sports or movies or video games or art or even politics and religion. But our deepest hearts, our fears, our loves, our true hates, our dreams in shimmering gossamer — these precious selves we hide away. Our emotions don’t come into play.

Except, perhaps, with the wife.

What ends up happening, I think, is that all of our emotional burden is laid on our wife’s shoulders. There are no male friends to help with it. She carries it all. And it is too much to bear.

Spiritual Bromance

Bromance, then, is a way forward. That is to say, find a man whom you can trust, with whom you have things in common. But instead of only talking about how excited you are that Star Trek: Picard begins to air this Thursday, or the Superbowl or whatever it is normal guys talk about, you also talk about your real life — your hopes, fears, and dreams. Your struggles.

This is like an accountability partner, but with more than just, ‘Did you do your devotions? Did you look at naughty pictures?’ It is also about the bigger walk with Jesus.

This is where Aelred comes in — you have to test the waters, to see if someone has the character to be trusted with your secrets, to be loyal to you when you do wrong, to grow upwards with you. And to simply be compatible. If our non-spiritual conversation doesn’t move because I like Star Trek and my bro likes boxing, perhaps we should just be friends and find true bromance elsewhere.

Now, I’d like to have some of this in my life.

Wouldn’t you?