Can platonic love exist between two men? If so, how do they find it? Enter Bromance, a soon-to-be-released app for guys searching for friends—just two dudes hanging out. After downloading Bromance, users can upload their interests to their "brofile"—like double keggers, ultimate frisbee, or Ashton Kutcher—then connect with like-minded bros in their area.
If you ask Bromance founders Brayden Wilmoth and Jeffrey Canty who their app is for, they'll say it's a friend-finding device for active guys who want to shoot hoops when their buddies flake out or grab a beer with a bro in a new city. It's a patch for post-college guys to forge "close, comfortable friendships" by encouraging strangers "to go do stuff together."
If you ask the internet, Bromance is a thinly-veiled cruising app for gays in the closet—Grindr for guys on the down low.
Bromance won't debut until January, but a collective chuckle has already spread through both gay and bro online networks. Back in August, a handful of blogs picked up on the story that Bromance was in beta. Commentators held nothing back. "So, an app for closeted gay guys looking for hook-ups. Awesome," one commenter wrote on gay blog Queerty. "That sounds like a setup for a str8 guys for gay porn vid," another remarked on Towleroad. A post on Instinct asked, "As experts of the gay men, do you think that this app will be taken over by fellow gays who like to chase heteros?" According to one commenter, yes. "Us gays are gonna have a field day," he wrote.
The bro blogosphere was less enthused. "No. This is not all right," wrote Brobible.com's J. Camm in a post declaring that the site's editors "aggressively oppose" the new app. "[T]his Bromance app ... will go down in the annals of all things gay. Like in five years, it's eligible for the Homo Hall of Fame. It'll be inducted in the same class as John Travolta and Bruce Vilanche." In J. Camm's view, Canty was either secretly gay or a "socially awkward fuck."
The mainstream media has also rolled its eyes at Bromance—when a local Fox News channel ran a segment on the app, its hosts could barely contain their laughter. "Is this a joke?" one of them asked. "Maybe if I'm lonely I may try it someday."
The message is clear: Male friendship is gay. The app's founders say that this kind of anxious homophobia is just what makes an online app like Bromance so necessary. “I’m not going to be in the gym lifting weights and look over at the guy next to me and say ‘hey, what are you doing later?’” Canty said in one interview. “I’ll get my ass kicked or I’ll get a date, and I don’t want either of those.”
Canty and Wilmoth's bromance began like many other modern partnerships: on the Internet. A mutual acquaintance e-introduced them a few years ago after discerning that they had "complementary assets." Wilmoth, a computer programmer, lists an interest in beer pong, OmgHumor.com, and Kutcher on his Facebook profile; Canty, a graphic designer, is a fan of poker and gyms. "My weaknesses were his strengths and vice versa," Canty says, "so we became a pretty good team working on little projects together." Their friendship unfolded exclusively online.
When Canty picked up and moved to Chicago, he realized he would arrive with "absolutely no friends" in real life. Canty called Wilmouth last January to enlist his support, and Bromance was born. After months of plotting, Canty and Wilmoth met for the first time at Chicago's Tech Week this past July. There, they bro'd down. "We've had our fair share of getting drinks and going out and getting food since then," Canty says.
Now, Canty and Wilmoth have spun their own brottitudes into inspiration for the app. To encourage competition among Bromance users, bros can earn "cred" points at events. An early but now discontinued feature invited bros to give each other "fist pumps" (Canty now admits these were "pretty useless"). The sample user on the instructional video is—who else?—Brody Jenner, the star of a short-lived MTV reality show, also titled Bromance. (Team Bromance is still waiting for Jenner's celebrity endorsement.)
Bromance's aesthetic channels fratalicious, Apatow-style male bonding. But Canty and Wilmoth swear they welcome all kinds: Athletes, alcohol abusers, nerds and gamers can all be bros. Gay guys can be bros—Canty knows Bromance has "a lot of great gay support." Girls can be bros, too. Originally, Canty and Wilmoth considered creating one app for women and one for men, and then encouraging them to cross-promote events—"a guy-versus-girls beach volleyball," Canty offers. But finding a female equivalent to the term "bromance" posed a problem. ("Ho-mance" was rejected).
Canty and Wilmoth are aware that the Bromance branding is a little tongue-in-cheek—"that's why I like it," says Wilmoth. Maybe it's even a little homoerotic. But who cares? If people find it so "gay," Jeff says, maybe they need to examine their own biases. "Good for them, I guess, if their homophobia prevents them from wanting to meet other people in their area who could potentially be great friends," Canty says. "But to me it sounds like you aren't comfortable with your sexuality." Sure, Bromance could turn into Grindr with training wheels. Or, it could evolve into a social network for bros with similar world views—non-homophobic ones.
For now, Canty and Wilmoth have faith that select bros "get" them. For every bro like J. Camm—who told me on gchat that "real guys just find a way to make friends" and "don't need an app with idiotic fist pump badges"—there are plenty of Twitterbros who use the #bromance hashtag winkingly, but unironically. For every snarky commenter, there are others who who admit that "sadly, there's just not a lot of possibilities in our society for bromances."
Meanwhile, if the peanut gallery turns out to be right about the cruising, Team Bromance says it will adapt. "There wouldn't be much we could do," Wilmoth says. "As long as it's successful in some way, I'll be happy."