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It’s a Bromance: Rising Trend of Platonic Heterosexual Relationships in Television

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BROTPSFor the longest time, it has been nearly impossible to find a TV show where the main hero and the main heroine didn’t end up together. Agents Mulder and Scully? Agent Booth and Doctor Bones? Colonel O’Neil and Captain Carter? These are only some of the infinite number of television’s partners and friends who went on to become a canon ship, and… it’s a little frustrating. If aliens unfamiliar with Earth culture and relationships watched our TV shows to familiarize themselves with the way we interact with one another, they would probably think that men and women working together is impossible – it always ends in a ship that’s canon. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, despite what “science” might say.

Though I am told that there have been a few studies done that “conclusively proved male/female friendships cannot exist without devolving into a relationship,” my own experiences suggest otherwise. A large number of my friends are male, and this has been the case for years. It’s always annoyed me when people told us boys and girls can’t be friends; it’s always annoyed me when other girls said in high school, “If a girl says she has many guy friends, what she really means is that she sleeps with all of them!” It’s as if pop culture is telling us that this thing is impossible and we shouldn’t even try because we’ll fail – but come on, that’s utter BS. Deep, profound and lasting friendships between men and women are entirely possible and entirely awesome. Sure, some devolve into epic and lengthy love stories. Some devolve into a fedora-clad individual stomping his foot and complaining about the “friend zone”. And some… some just stay friendships. And are awesome.

Which is why I’ve been really excited about recent developments in television over the past couple of years. Suddenly, we get all of these… brotps, man. Bromances where one half is in possession of a pair of female reproductive genitalia, and the other half is in possession of male reproductive genitalia, and those genitalia do not meet, ever. It’s so refreshing. It’s my hope that positive, lasting portrayal of friendships between men and women will help popularize the notion that men and women can cooperate, instead of always adhering to the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” nonsense, and, in turn, help to bring out more realistic and relatable female characters in pop culture.

Here’s a look at a few of TV’s emerging brotps (and what I hope will continue to be brotps) and what I like about them.

original images from superenatural season 8

original images from superenatural season 8

Dean Winchester and Charlie Bradbury – Supernatural

Aside from the fact that Felicia Day is God’s gift to mankind and is absolutely flawless in every way (no, I do not have a girl crush in the least, don’t look at me), Charlie Bradbury is absolutely awesome. She’s energetic, skilled, strong, intelligent and unashamed of the things that mean a lot to her. She’s a geek, and quite obviously, she’s the girl pretty much everyone in the Supernatural fandom wishes they were. Oh, are you telling me you don’t want to be a butt-kicking, sword-wielding Queen who gets to *spoilers* waltz off into the land of Oz and hug Dean Winchester and discuss Game of Thrones with Sam Winchester? REALLY? I smell a liar.

I’m not even going to get started on how she’s a lesbian, and that’s cool too. Although, wasn’t there another cute, geeky redheaded lesbian on some other show about things that went bump in the night that Felicia Day was on, way back when dinosaurs walked the earth (aka the ’90s)? Point is, Charlie’s pretty kickass.

The thing I think I love most about the relationship between Dean and Charlie is that Charlie kind of brings out the good side of Dean. She encourages him to acknowledge the geeky side of himself – which, we all knew he had all along but he didn’t really admit to having one. Depending on which Tumblr meta you read, she also may or may not be a subtle hint from the skies above that Dean Winchester’s sexuality can be found in that closet over there… no, go dig a little deeper in… wait… what do you mean, you’ve found Narnia? Dean, in turn, seems to take on a kind of older brother role for Charlie – like, can we talk about his disapproving frowny-face when she says she’s taken up hunting in 9.04? Most of the moments we’ve seen Dean actually be honest with himself (and others) about stuff were when he was interacting with Charlie… although, it’s not saying much, because Dean’s lying pretty much hit legendary levels as of 9.09.

The friendship between Dean and Charlie is a friendship built on mutual respect, a love of out of the way, geeky things, and monster guts. Really, could it get any more awesome?

epic tv bromances - the doctor and donna nobleThe Doctor and Donna Noble – Doctor Who

Some people really don’t like Donna, and I can’t imagine why. Every time someone says the companions aren’t unique enough or normal enough or are all constantly sucking face with Gallifrey’s bad boy, I jump up and down, waving my TEAM DONNA flag. While a friend from the UK who’d grown up on a steady stream of British telly and Doctor Who reruns told me once she wasn’t fond of Donna’s character because it was less a character and more Catherine Tate Show crossing over onto Doctor Who, I’ve never seen it and can’t say if that’s the case. Also, there was a “Which Companion Are You” quiz on BBC America’s homepage a while back, and I totally got Donna, so if I’m a little attached, that’s why. I even have a postcard of the Doctor and Donna hanging to my left, at this very moment!

With that said, I’m quite glad that Donna never mated with the Doctor, because I really like them better together as mates in the British sense of the word and not in the love story sense of the word, or, worse yet, the A/B/O dynamics sense of the word. They were awesome together – snarky banter, witty comebacks, lots of humor and adventure, none of it tinged by any of that romance nonsense – was it really that necessary for the Doctor and Amy to kiss? I don’t think so. I think that the show could use more companions like Donna – real, solid people, like you and I, people we could imagine meeting on the street and having a normal conversation with, who kick butt without having to be some sort of mystical “Girl Who Did A Thing”. There really is no better way to describe the relationship that Doctor and Donna had; it was most definitely a bromance. I want more of it.

best brotps - sleepy hollowIchabod Crane and Abigail Mills – Sleepy Hollow

There are things I loved about Sleepy Hollow right from the start – the fact that the pilot played Rolling Stones might be the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s definitely not the most important. The relationship between Ichabod and Abbie is awesome. People ship them, a lot – Ichabbie is a major non-canon OTP right now on Tumblr. UG and I actually came two panels early to the Sleepy Hollow panel NYCC had this year, and hearing Tom Mison say that Ichabbie was intended to remain a brotp in the foreseeable future was worth it. So worth it.

I love the dynamic Abbie and Ichabod have, so very much. I’ll admit that currently I’m about half a season behind due to life, the universe and everything, but the past six episodes have done nothing to convince me that Ichabod and Abbie should be BFFs for like, the next forever. Abbie serves as Ichabod’s guide in the modern world, and Ichabod serves as Abbie’s guide in the world of Things That Dean Winchester Hunts For A Living. They’re partners, they’re witnesses to the unraveling of the world, and sure, that could be romantic in some way, I guess – if you stand together as the world falls apart around you, people are bound to ship it like it’s tea, tobacco or bananas. However, to me, it feels as if their connection is not that of fated lovers waiting for his wife to be killed off the show finally come together in love and harmony amongst evil and darkness. To me, Ichabod and Abbie are warriors, comrades in arms joining a common cause, and they should stay that way.

Also, Ichabod is married and as far as I know Katrina isn’t dead yet so umm that could be really awkward, especially since they seemed to be quite in love in those flashbacks. Ick, married men.

1Of course, you might be sitting there and going, “Well, gee, FG, that’s great that you’re so passionate about dudes being friends with chicks, but why is this so important? Why should I care?” There isn’t really a simple answer, because this is kind of a personal thing of mine, and I’m not good with personal things. I’m not good at explaining my feelings. If it’s anything beyond why I ship Debriel like there’s no tomorrow, I can’t express it in words, because Dean Winchester is my spirit animal. Please bear with me while I attempt to explain it through grimaces, manly gestures, angry chewing, stabbing motions and interpretive dance.

The personal part? That much is obvious. Though I identify as genderfluid, I am still (and have lived all my life so far) as a biological female. As such, my interactions with others involve me generally being percieved as a female. I have dude friends, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t a genderfluid thing. It’s a “50% of the world is made up of people who are biologically male and you are bound to befriend some” thing. While I no longer encounter the “men and women can’t be friends” mentality or the “if a girl has guy friends she’s probably banging them all” mentality because my friends are, for the most part, mature enough to handle friendships without dissolving into a fear of cooties, it’s a thing that’s stuck with me since high school days, and I’d really like it if other girls didn’t have to go through that either.

I also feel that accurate portrayal of realistic platonic relationships between men and women will help to get rid of the dreaded “friend zone” thing. Guys, there’s nothing wrong with being friends. Friendship is magic. Friendship is fun. Friendship is eating chocolate while watching Ghostbusters together at 2am. Friendship is wandering around for hours trying to find a church in which to get condemned. Friendship is stopping the horsemen of the apocalypse while wearing a crown and a wedding gown. There’s nothing bad about the friend zone. EMBRACE FRIENDSHIP. FRIENDSHIP IS AWESOME.

A part of me hopes that, as heterosexual platonic relationships become more common on television (and elsewhere) it will affect how women are portrayed overall, and, in turn affect how women are treated in real life, because life tends to copy art a lot. In friendships such as those above, both parties are portrayed as being equal, neither of them burdened with having to play to their respective gender roles or whatever bullshit. They can kill demons together and go on awesome escapades through time and space together and they can save the world together… and there’s none of that romance nonsense. A lot of good stories got ruined by misplaced romance, and it’s done nothing to dissolve the idea that if a man and a woman have a close working relationship and intimate chemistry, then they need to be together, and if they aren’t together in the romantic sense, he’s being “friend zoned.” In that sort of situation, the female is reduced to nothing more than another trophy to be won. Real life doesn’t work that way. Instead, if TV were to portray platonic connections between men and women as being profound and rewarding, it would dispel a lot of myth about how women are unable to be friends with men, unless they’re gay or in the “friend zone” and wouldn’t the world be a nice place if we had more things that portray men and women as being equal and equally capable at doing things? We don’t have enough of that.

I don’t normally write about this sort of thing, preferring to save my social commentary to those dark, lonely nights when I write my novels and pretend I’m Neal Stephenson, so I’d really like it if you guys could tell me how you feel about the subject. Are there any particular heterosexual brotps that you’re in love with? Do you feel that we need more brotps? Do you think I’ve had too much cold meds and shouldn’t write long rambling posts? Let me know!

Author: Freak Geek

I love candlelight dinners, long walks on the beach and killing demons. Usually you can find me at rock concerts. 90% of redditors believe me to be male. I'm pretty sure I'm Loki.

21 thoughts on “It’s a Bromance: Rising Trend of Platonic Heterosexual Relationships in Television

  1. Dudeeee yes there needs to be more het. brotps
    Im only on season 2 of Stargate, but right now Sam and Daniel are my BroTP to rule all BroTPs. My poor family has to sit there and listen to me rant about their “epic friendship of science and history and wormholes” as we go through the series. I also love Anakin amd Ahsoka from Star Wars.

    You’re right, though. If the media potrays more men and women in totally plaronic friendships, where they are equil and respect/trust/love eachother, then maybe socioty will reflect that. Oh, what a wonderful thing that would be.

  2. Very interesting article and I feel like it brings up some great points and really engages you to think about things. I really enjoyed reading it.

    It is my opinion that one thing that prevents brotps between men and women from staying brotps is the fact that many brotps become otps for fans and I feel like a lot of times shows do tend to go where fans lead them, to a certain extent. Would Mulder and Scully or Booth and Bones have become canon if the ships had not have been so popular with fans? I don’t know, but I can’t help but feel like fan influence had to have some kind of impact on those decisions, especially since I’ve heard people say that the PTB of The X-Files had always say Mulder and Scully were always going to be just friends.

    Out of the three brotps that you listed….. okay, confession, I don’t actually watch Doctor Who so I know nothing about that one other than what I’ve seen on Tumblr here and there, but as far as the other two go, I adore those brotps myself and think they’re awesome. But I already see so many people….and Orlando Jones, hahah!… in the Sleepy Hollow fandom shipping Ichabbie and wonder if they won’t inevitably go down the couple road too, even though they say at this time that it won’t go down that path.

    I definitely agree with you that it would be nice for a strong male/female brotp to actually stay bros. At the same time though, while reading this I can’t help but think about how it is the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to male/male brotps and female/female brotps. As you point out in your article there is an “infinite number of television’s partners and friends who went on to become a canon ship”, but yet how many times have we ever seen the same thing happen when to two characters in question are the same gender. I’m not saying that I’d like every buddy cop show to have the two leads suddenly develop feelings for each other, but you know some examples of bisexual and/or homosexual partners/friends falling in love with each other-Having a friends to lovers, slow burn kind of romance between two men or two women on a television show that isn’t specifically about LGBT people would be nice in my opinion.
    As you said, it almost seems like sometimes the media is telling us that men and women can’t just be friends, and I agree with that, but it also makes me think about how it seems like the media is sometimes telling us that love is just for men and women, when I wish the message would be that love is love, regardless of gender, and that being fluid in your sexuality is okay, that we don’t have to be labeled into one box.

    This also all makes me think of the double standards that exist in our society. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone ask why everyone wants to make two guys gay for each other and wants to know why they can’t just be friends and says that this just perpetuates the myth that two guys can’t be really good friends unless they’re gay….but yet I believe that this article is the first time I’ve seen anyone call out the fact about why can’t a male and a female be just friends and how the constant friendship-to-romance of male/female friends and partners perpetuates the idea that men and women can’t be friends.

    When I really start thinking about it, there is just a lot that bothers me about relationships on television shows. I guess I should probably just not think about it. Haha.

    Also I feel I should apologize because this is hastily typed, not read over at all, and also typed when I’m half asleep and extremely tired so it is rambly in addition to being incoherent and full of poor grammar, word choices, etc etc. Sorry!

  3. I 15000% agree with you, and although I’m still stuck in high school with people who have a different view on platonic hetero BROS. I have a friend right now who has been ‘indirectly’ asking me out for weeks after telling him I feel like he’s my brother, and there have been times when I have had to demand respect for myself or others from him. I am not a trophy. The girls around me are not trophies.

    But in every show, no matter if it’s a popular show everyone talks about or a show recognized mainly by fandom and is unknown to most of the people around you, no matter what show it is, you always end up with female characters in relationships. Relationships are great, fine, wonderful, but that becomes the entirety of their character and it weakens them not only in the ‘your-true-love-is-the-chink-in-your-armor’ way, but it weakens the actual character. Their plot line is usually then shaped around their love life and the men competing for them. No matter what, a man would come out on top. Every time I see this happen, the show or movie or books manage to romanticize it, they manage to make it look perfectly alright to devolve not only storylines but women into nothing but the girlfriend/fiancee/wife of XXX.

    This doesn’t always happen, but it very often does, and it’s why I’m left feeling really uncomfortable around a guy friend. It’s the same reason those of us who don’t always love the way these relationships work don’t want to start a relationship with out friend. We don’t want to ruin everything. It’s because we probably will and we don’t want to go into it thinking we won’t, looking for something better even when you might already have the best you can get.

    Another problem with these romantic relationships cause is that they don’t give room for two guy friends to get together or two girl friends to get together. It creates a forced dynamic between a male and a female character that isn’t natural for them, and it excludes other possibilities for them. It leads to the belief that despite how perfect two guys can be together, it shouldn’t happen because there’s a ‘perfectly suitable’ woman over there. Only, we want to turn her into a trophy before she can fall in love. Now we have a devolved female character and a relationship with two men that’s probably never going to happen. But the creators still queerbait. Which then turns homosexual relationships into a joke, which is the whole reason why myself and even a few friends of mine don’t feel comfortable coming out to our families just yet. Our sexualities are still jokes to them.

    But one day they won’t be and all we’re going to see in the media is gay. And not Dean and Cas canon gay, I mean Dean and Cas fanfic gay, but it’ll cause the same problem. It’ll happen to the female characters faster, though, which will be the serious problem. Women on shows will end up together for the sex appeal to the audiences, who are a lot more comfortable with two women than two men. It will sexualize women and will add even more tropes to what we have and will probably still allow men to be their own people without needing to fit into stereotypes or have ridiculous amounts of sex added to their relationships. This will bring us a full 180 where the really good straight couples will be harder to find in the media, they’ll be less ‘in demand’, and now we have the opposite problem. That ‘problem’ will be solved in time but we’ll probably be back to square one and the mainstream media focusing on gay couples (which is definitely already happening, which is good, but to a point) will go into television history as a ‘phase’.

    The same ‘phase’ that makes it difficult for teens to come out to their ‘accepting’ parents. This full cycle also brings us back to the same problem you introduced, which will be hard to solve because what fuels to media is, and always has been, sex. Everything seems to be about sex and who’s banging who and we always end up talking about the friend zone. It’s going to exist for a very long time, until media decides to grow up and figure out that it has really great friendships going that may also be ships but do not have to be canon in order to have good plot.

    And that was a really long comment. I’m so sorry, I just read your post and I loved it and agreed that ridiculous amount I said in the beginning. But it’s also 2am for me, so if I don’t make much sense or miss the point, don’t hate me. I promise my brain normally functions properly (in its own way).

    • Yup, you’re exactly right.

      I do think the whole “friends to lovers” thing makes it seem to impressionable young men that the best way to get the girl of their dreams is to be her friend until suddenly LOVE CONFESSION and then ETERNAL ROMANCE HAPPY LOVE JOY SEX THINGS STUFF happens. In media, we see it over and over again – boy befriends girl, they have epic friendship, suddenly BAM feelings, boy confesses to girl he’s in love with her, she accepts his feels, and they’re dating, happy ending. In real life, it’s more like… boy meets girl, they have friendship, girl gets used to seeing boy as brother, boy thinks this is where he confesses his feels of LOVE to girl, does so, is rejected because WHOA WHERE DID THAT COME FROM YOU DIDN’T SHOW ANY SIGNAL OF LIKING ME LIKE THAT.

      So annoying to deal with. >.>

      The fact that lesbians are making more of an appearance in media (i.e. Charlie, Willow, etc) than gay dudes are, I’d say you’re probably right on that count, too. :(

  4. I like it. Great topic. And I’ve hated that “falling into bed because we must” trope since I first saw it in the Dark Ages on Moonlighting (yes, I am a crone). I like Murphy Brown coz she didn’t sleep with guys at work or her painter but they were her family. I watch most TV for the relationships – not the romance. I chaff a bit at Charlie since Dearlie couldn’t be simply because of their own preferences but I LOVE their relationship. DoctorDonna took me a bit, but now I want them all that way (I’m tired of the DW versions of MPDG since 11 (not blaming Moff – he did gives us Sally and Reinette (which were flirty but fun)). I hate shows that devolve into soap opera – everyone must sleep with everyone. What about Baby Girl and Chocolate Thunder on Criminal Minds? Ace and Doctor Who? What about sex with no relationship ala May and Ward on AoS? I want to see what happens to Lady Sif. I want to know where Black Widow and Hawkeye go. Friendly, competitive, fraternal, open, flirty – these can all be brotps.

    Okay, talked too much again. Damn that Ambien!

    • I’d love to see a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie. They’ve obviously got history together, and a connection beyond the strictly professional – and yet they don’t come off as people who were romantically involved during that history.

  5. Love it. My favorite DW companion is Donna. I love that from the start you knew they were only going to be friends, though I think they were more like brother and sister.

    I always had a lot of male friends, too. Once or twice, they developed into more than just friends…and it never worked! Fortunately, we were able to retain a friendship, and are friends to this day. My husband’s best friend is a girl, and she was even my maid of honor at our wedding.

    Holmes and Watson on Elementary are also starting out very well as just friends, nay a partnership…and I hope it stays that way, too!

  6. Great read! I’d never thought about this topic before, but you’re definitely right, and it’s a very good thing. And, like Donna was absolutely my favorite companion, as well! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  7. This is a brilliant article ! And I have to say I adore Donna and her friendship with the doctor (she is the only one to dare kicking his ass !), and Charlie is a brilliant character in supernatural, so different from all the other female characters (refreshing). So thank you a lot for saying this ! it has to be said ! :)
    (not at all a constructive comment, but at least, I am enthusiastic)

  8. I love the relationship between Dean and Charlie – leaving aside any question of his sexuality, she’s the one person he knows that he’s not expected to put on a show of masculine bravado for. She’s not one of the guys – but she’s not one of the girls, either. So he can talk her though picking up a guy, give her real and meaningful emotional support in her djinn world, take her clothes shopping… I was a little upset with what they did with her (maybe fan-driven; for every CHARLIE FOREVER! out there there is a CHARLIE OMG WHAT A MARY SUE! STAB HER WITH FORKS!) but since I grew up on L. Frank Baum, I know that wasn’t necessarily a one-way trip…

    And thank you for mentioning Mulder and Scully. I loved their “bromance” – they were definitely each other’s best friends, partners in every possible sense *but* romantic. They’d gone through too much weird together to be anything else. I really hope the writers on Sleepy Hollow can keep the same dynamic going with Ichabod and Abbie – on some level they’re two halves of a whole, and it’s their equal partnership in the war against evil that’s going to save the world, but there’s no need in the story for them to be lovers. When it comes down to it, Sleepy Hollow is the world’s weirdest buddy-cop show, and an on-screen kiss between Abbie and Ichabod would (should? could?) be as weird as Mel Gibson kissing Danny Glover…

  9. Mal and Zoe het. BrOtp foreverrr
    Also Dean and Charlie
    Korra and Bolin (even though he had a crush at first)
    Knave of Hearts and Alice (though again people ship them)
    I could think of more but those are some of my faves for sure.

    • Mal and Zoe is actually a really wonderful example. there was that one episode where Wash got jealous of Mal and the entire episode basically proved that he was an idiot for letting irrational jealousy of his wife’s brotp cloud his judgement

      • That episode absolutely destroyed my feelings… in the best way possible. They’re definitely a great example of a heterosexual brotp. No shocker that Whedon was ahead of the curve on that one.

  10. Uh… John and Sherlock anyone?

  11. Okay, I can’t/won’t wax poetically like some of the other commentators; however, I loved this post! I love the Dean/Charlie relationship, I love The Doctor/Donna relationship and Ichabod and Abbie. I have just loved that friendships are being shown as valid relationships. I have had a couple of very dear friendships with other men that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and there are friends that never understood how, but it is a different kind of love, and I’m with you, I’m so very happy that it is being showcased on TV!
    Brilliant, just brilliant!

  12. Kima and McNulty (The Wire) were great kindred spirits – I suppose the fact that they were both ‘too much the dog’ didn’t hurt.

    I have two basic, contradictory reactions to the question: 1) Many of the truly successful non-Platonic relationships in RL are built originally on friendship, so I’m for that. But 2) I am so fed up with the narrative inevitability of mixed-couple friendships ultimately being consumed by UST, until it becomes plain old RST. I do really really like cultural depictions of close but platonic relationships between males and females. It happens for RL and it’s cool. And if Sherlock and John can survive and thrive After Mary, why can’t it happen between people of the opposite sex?

    Oh – oh – oh – geeks, geeks: hold the front page! As I ruminate on this, a scantily clad tree-surgeon … with an awesome tatt … has manifested in the council-property tree immediately outside my kitchen window. In JANUARY! Swinging from a harness in the branches like Tarzan of the Apes, armed with an enormous chainsaw. No idea what this means to the argument. But it must be shared!

  13. Let’s not forget Watson and Holmes from Elementary.

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