A bromance is born: When Tony met Stephen

This week, the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that Tony Abbott is conducting a ‘bromance’ with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. It’s not the first time the Herald has used that term to describe their relationship, such is the depth of brotherly bonhomie between Australia’s PM and the leader from the land of the maple leaf. Evidently our PM has a depth of affection for his colleagues that he only usually reserves for his wife, his daughters, and dawn triathlons.

The unusual camaraderie between the two leaders extended to hangsies when Harper was here for the G20, and Abbott has gone so far as to praise Harper as “an exemplar of centre-right leadership”. Given the polls, and the recent phenomenon of even Andrew Bolt and Karl Stefanovic taking a swing at him, Tony Abbott must be relieved that somebody in public life besides Peta Credlin really seems to like him.

Bloomberg went even further in its depiction of the Abbott-Harper bond, depicting the two leaders inside a pink love-heart. This probably wouldn’t have thrilled our PM, who has previously admitted to feeling “threatened” by homosexuality. But it’s rather sweet to think of the two of them putting aside the customary formality of international diplomacy and developing a genuine friendship.

I wonder what they get up to when they’re together. Do they take turns watching rugby union and ice hockey? Do they watch tough guy movies with Jason Statham in them, and trade boasts about how they’re definitely going to shirtfront Vladimir Putin? Or perhaps they go for long bike rides together, during which Tony delights in lapping Stephen multiple times?

It can be hard for Prime Ministers to have buddies. The somewhat unexpected friendship between Kevin Rudd and Rhys Muldoon produced not only a children’s book with the distinctive title of Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle, but a poignant moment when Muldoon rushed to Rudd’s side on the evening when he lost the Labor leadership. In his hour of need, when Rudd seemed almost friendless as his colleagues abandoned him for Julia Gillard, his bro came through.

Bloomberg’s pink love-hearts notwithstanding, the idea of a ‘bromance’ is entirely platonic, of course. I suspect term arose used partly via pun value, but most of its humour arises from the awkward way in which men tend to make friends. As much as we talk about mateship as a defining Australian value, warm public affirmations of friendship are still rare among men.

Unlike many women I know, most Australian men would hesitate to share a double bed with a male platonic friend, for instance, and wouldn’t dream of holding down the street holding hands the way women sometimes do. Even when men hug one another, we have to call them ‘man-hugs’ and deliver them with a sense of irony because of our reluctance to express too much affection. And unlike Taylor Swift and Lorde, we don’t tell everybody about our BFFs.

Some might suspect that men’s inhibition about expressing the same kind of affection that we readily show to our kids, parents and partners springs from some fear of people suspecting that we’re gay. Perhaps there’s something in that – or indeed, perhaps there was once, and the reluctance to express our affection towards other men has remained even despite our increasing tolerance when it comes to sexuality.

We men weren’t always like this, of course. In primary school, I remember having an Official Best Friend. His name was Luis, and we’d play Battle of the Planets at little lunch, and sleep over at each other’s houses – playing Ghostbusters on his Commodore 64 was a particular favourite of mine.

Even in my (all-male) high school, guys had specific best friends, and everyone knew who they were. One of my close friends even maintained a league table, and kindly informed me when I went up and down his friendship list.

In adulthood, I’ve retained many of my old, male friends from school and uni – but it’s much harder to make new ones than it used to be. I meet some dude, often in a work context, and I think oh, it’d be cool to hang out with them, maybe grab a beer sometime. Maybe we do it once or twice, but it’s rare that we make the effort to stay in touch.

I suspect that’s because for some reason, it feels weird to be too enthusiastic about a new friendship. It’s as though once you hit your mid-twenties, you have to start being nonchalant about everybody. It seems a pity. I certainly don’t go around saying that people I’m fond of are “exemplars” of anything, which might well mean that when it comes to bromance, Tony Abbott is far less repressed than I am.

In recent weeks, another close male friendship besides our Prime Minister’s has been in the news, and for the most tragic of reasons. The cricketer Phillip Hughes’ friendship with Michael Clarke transcended even the usual close bonds that are forged on the sporting field. Clarke refers to Hughes as his “little brother”, and his eulogy for the fallen batsman last week was one of the most emotionally affecting things I’ve heard in a long time.

While I was listening, I had to pull over because of the tears in my eyes. And now that our cricket captain, that bastion of Aussie male masculinity, has displayed such extraordinary love for his comrade, alongside that extraordinary outpouring of affection from across the cricket world, perhaps other men will become more comfortable with displays of affection in our everyday lives too.

Men don’t generally tell other men that they love them, but we should, far more often. And if we examine the warmth and affection that our Prime Minister evidently bears for another, perhaps all of us men might find the inspiration to get back out there and embark on a few fresh, exciting new bromances of our own.

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