Can straight men have deep, intimate, and emotionally-dependent friendships with other men? Yes, they can. Does it have to be romantic? Nope.

I am writing this piece because something I saw on the internet triggered me. Cue audience laughter. Yes, that’s where we find fodder for conversations these days, anyway. The internet. That rotting anus of human existence. So, on this fateful day, an actress I am quite fond of, shared a may-may (ha-ha) of Tintin and Captain Haddock passionately kissing each other, Adobe Illustrated in Herge’s renowned style. I have a queer habit, that, I think, the jaded journalist in me is quite proud of. Whenever I find something online, I try to find the source outlet. 

So, with may-mays (okay, it’s getting annoying), I enthusiastically try to reach the creator. I found the handle, and checked into the comments section. Everybody was about-time-ing, so-necessary-ing, had-to-be-told-ing, I-love-me-a-hairyhaddock-ing. The usual. 

So, two straight adult men cannot be emotionally invested in each other? Because, love, for straight men, has to always be either familial, or romantic? 

This is also the same reason why I don’t enjoy Batman and Robin being fetishised. Let’s unpack this. In India, it is a very common thing for guys to have a gang of buddies. The gang changes, as boys turn into men, go from schools to colleges to work, but having a bunch of ‘bros’ is often a common phenomenon for most of us. But then, when they get into a serious romantic relationship with a woman, “bandi mil gayi hai, ab bhai ko kyun yaad karega?” is also a common narrative, right? Why do many heterosexual male friendships disintegrate after marriage? Is it because they are constantly transferring emotional dependency from one equation to another — say, parents to siblings or cousins, to friends — till they finally are in a romantic relationship, and the woman can shoulder it all? When adult men lose touch with their closest friends, for marriage, work, and children, is it because they don’t need their friends anymore? Because, can we really not make time if we want to?

Let’s explore two tiny facets of Indian male friendships. The tightest of male friends, almost everywhere in the country, refer to each other as “Bhai”. “Tu bhai hai mera”. “Tu dost nahi, bhai hai.” The word “Bhai” has a deeper, stronger, blood-related connotation than “Bro”. In this country, a “Bhai” means family, means someone who will never betray you, always have your back, always be there for you. So, these are not expected from friends? Only if a friend has attained “Bhai” status, he is important and relevant? Does that also mean that the friendship, or brotherhood, has more, or rather, assured, longevity? Can we only trust a friend after they have been elevated to family? And if so, is that not dishearteningly disrespectful? Why can our closest of friends not be as important as family?

Now, to be honest, I understand placing parents at the top of the Pyramid Of Important People, but does a person become valuable only after they are blood? The other side of straight male friendship really makes me laugh. I often see straight men faux flirting with their best mates. It is an Indian thing, because I have not necessarily noticed this in the West or in our other Eastern compatriots. It’s often crass, involves a lot of sex humour, and one of the two assumes a more submissive role, which, in turn, means behaving like the “woman” in the joke. I don’t think this needs a homo-erotic reading. It has to do more with the fact that when men experience an intimate and emotional connection with another man, it has to manifest into something more than a friendship — either Bhaichara, or some fun ribbing with fake romantic overtones. This could be rooted in the fact that there still is a collective paranoia about being seen as a homosexual. Straight men can’t even compliment another man’s physique online without hurriedly adding “No Homo”. Why can men not appreciate other men? Why can men not feel love for another man that could be intense, but doesn’t have to be romantic? Why are women so much more comfortable with physical non-sexual intimacy with their friends, but men are horrified by it? Two girlfriends will easily make out with each other on a dare, while for men, the mere thought of it is a horrifying, emasculating experience. Is it because a kiss on the mouth is a sexual motif, always laden with sexual intent? Which, quite honestly, it is. But, how is it that women can desexualise the kiss, while men can’t? Why is physical and emotional intimacy so uniquely hardwired in the Indian straight male consciousness as strictly romantic? Maybe the detached namaste could do with a warmer Italian kiss-on-bothcheeks. So many questions. 

Also, for these observations, I would like to use “many” and “most”, and not “all”, for don’t-troll-me-on Instagram reasons. But just asking questions isn’t enough. What troubles me is how straight Indian men view intimacy. Is there a power struggle we are subconsciously feeding into? Stay with me here. So, when I feel intense love and affection for another man, I immediately move him from dost to bhai. “Bhai” is a safe, desexualised zone. Because, a straight man cannot feel love and affection for another man, who is not family, because love is a sexual emotion? And if it is so, then that love, exclusively sexual, can be only shared with a woman? Which is why, when a straight man, even as a joke, is engaging in any form of physical intimacy with another man, he feels less than a man, is horrified, and is constantly wondering which of the two is the…woman? 

Question One: Do straight men still believe that women are lesser than them, and that is why they don’t want to be seen behaving like women? And if so, then does that prove that straight sex is, after all, a power sport? 

Question Two: Then, is misogyny at the root of men not being able to be emotionally expressive? 

Question Three: If straight men equate love that is not directed to a family member as sexual in form, what does that say about male-female friendships? Or, is that why Bollywood successfully peddles “ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte” (Maine Pyar Kiya,1989)? Maybe Barjatya had it right all along. 

But then again, didn’t Karan Johar teach us that “pyar dosti hai”? That, love, is at the end of day, rooted in deep, intimate, and affectionate friendship? I like to think that we feel non-familial love in similar manifestations for our best friends and romantic partners, and that love and sex are not two sides of the same coin. They are two different coins, and it’s amazing to have both the coins together, of course, but each coin is absolutely and soul-satisfyingly worthwhile by themselves too.

And women aren’t lesser than men. Idiots.