Getting bromantic

By Lucy Jackson

e’ve all seen it: the couple that feels the need to flaunt their affection every Monday at break as if they were on a reality TV show that the entire Upper School is watching. It can be egregious and awkward, but up until recently, it has been mostly boy-girl. Now, though, boys are getting in on the action— holding hands and hugging — with other boys.

“It’s not uncommon to see boys holding hands or with their arms around each other,” Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo said. Cuseo’s office looks out onto a more secluded lunch area prone to public displays of affection.

“It’s nice, but you want to make sure it’s not mocking in any way. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though,” she said.

Cuseo, who went on maternity leave a year and a half ago, said she only started noticing the interactions upon returning as a dean this year. But she isn’t the only one who has recognized boys cozying up to each other as a recent trend.

“We human beings are a bit more at ease with each other than we used to be and we show honest affection more easily and more openly across genders and between genders no matter what our sexual preferences,” Cinema Studies teacher Ted Walch said. ”That straight boys can be openly affectionate strikes me as a healthy thing for all concerned.”

School psychologist Luba Bek noticed an increase in physical contact between boys on her Peer Support retreat earlier this year, she said.

“They had no problem giving each other hugs, sitting close to each other and talking, and just doing things that in the past only some of the boys did,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘wow’. It was the first time I’d seen that level of comfort and that lack of fear.”

Eli Moghavem ’10 believes it has more to do with Harvard-Westlake than anything, he said, although it didn’t strike him as something recent.

“It’s been going on ever since I went to Harvard-Westlake,” he said. “At the Middle School everyone would be all touchy.”

It’s this “touchiness” that Bek says has always been there, but that boys have covered up in the past.

“We all as human beings need touching, we need affection, we need physical contact, we need to be held, to feel another person, and that doesn’t disappear, it’s just culturally suppressed,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling to see that surface.”

While Moghavem attributed the physicality of male relationships to the school atmosphere, Bek thinks the open affection may be a result of the liberal environment Los Angeles provides as well. The less homophobic surroundings make boys feel more at ease expressing themselves, she said.

“I bet we won’t see it in Alabama – I think it’s L.A.,” she said. “One of the biggest fears that guys have, and polls show this, is being afraid to be perceived as gay. So now that we’re getting more liberal and more open to the possibility that sexuality is not black and white, men are not as afraid to express their feelings.”

Another factor, Bek said, that contributes to the openness between males is a decrease in the “macho” mentality of our society, one that used to stimulate a culture that excluded any kind of physical affection.

In fact, varsity football player Benedict* attributes the team mentality of his sport, often associated with “macho” males, as the reason for his ease with being affectionate and touchy.

“Having been on the football team with lots of guys makes me far more comfortable doing things I wouldn’t otherwise because of the intense experiences we’ve shared,” he said. “This not only extends to my friends, but also to my acquaintances whom I’d feel comfortable grabbing or giving a hug to and embracing.”

Whatever the reason, Moghavem agrees with Bek’s thinking that male teenagers may just be more comfortable with themselves.

“I don’t know, I’m just confident in my sexuality so it’s not a big deal,” he said.