Thursday, September 30, 2010


by Jo Robertson

I’m very envious of those male bonding stories. You know the ones -- those about soldiers during battle, Jack Kerouac wanna-be’s, motorcycling across America or backpacking through Europe,or motocycle gangs like the fictional Sons of Anarchy on FX.

Even men gathered around a wide-screen plasma TV on Super Bowl Sunday foster feelinga of envy in me.

You see, I’m convinced that men are by far the SIMPLE sex. They rose out of that primordial sludge with the single-minde
d focus of hunting prey. They tuned out the wails of infants, cast off the chills of winter, and set aside the circling of buzzards to either kill the animal they stalked or escape the one stalking them.

This fall football dominates television and the men in my family watch with avid interest. Nothing detracts them from the kickoff or the run to the end zone on that HD wide-screen TV.

It’s the same thing during basketball or baseball season, of course. The same basic instinct that allowed the strongest of mankind to survive
their caveman era keeps their minds focused on the basketball game, oblivious to any sensory stimuli outside their narrow circle.

But the nifty thing about men is they get to give those really cool speeches like St. Crispin Day’s Speech from Henry V – “we happy, happy few, we band of brothers.” And they get to pat each other on the ass and sling an arm around a brother’s neck in manly affection.
I love that speech where Henry V, against overwhelming odds leads his soldiers "once more into the breach," where he talks about how those not there will consider themselves "accursed" not to have been part of that lucky group, the "band of brothers" who fought that day. "He who shares his blood with me this day shall be my brother." Gives me chills!

And here’s the real thing I’m jealous of: men's bonds, almost entirely nonverbal, can be the most powerful ties that bind people together. They transcend love and family, careers and religion.

the stories, the really great ones, portray those bonds. Shakespeare scholars call it “manly love.” They get to go to war and watch sports events.

Medical science has pretty much determined that women are the stronger sex, regardless of the antiquated notions of many people. Women outlive men; fewer female infants die than male ones. In some villages that still practice the outmoded notion of female infanticide, they have to import brides for their sons. Yeah, women are pretty hardy.

Psychological and sociological studies regarding men and women are interesting, particularly one such study that involved recordings in which the subjects were presented with three separate, unfamiliar stories read aloud simultaneously. They found that the men quickly focused on one of the stories and shut the other two out. The women, however, tried to listen to and comprehend all three stories at the same time. Resulting, as you may imagine, in a lot of headaches for the women!

I mention this because it underscores one of the great differences between men and women and one, I believe, which leads to a great source of contention between the sexes.

When men are engrossed in a project, large or small, their focus is immutable, much like their primordial ancestors hunting prey. If they’re watching football on television and you stomp angrily by three or four times, hoping to get their attention with your not-so-subtle annoyance, they really DON’T notice.

Women, on the other hand, really CAN talk on the telephone, cook dinner, and know precisely the exact moment when a toddler is on the brink of grave mischief.

The crux of romance stories is the relationship, conflict, and reconciliation between a man and a woman. Often the characters appear horribly unsuited to one another or have some basic differences that make their coming together seem nearly impossible. While we may not have such conflicts in our real romance lives, my experience has shown me that there's plenty of drama between men and women, often because of the way they think, approach situations, or react to them.

Do you like male bonding stories? If so, what's one of your favorites?

What's your favorite male-female conflict in a story? What kinds of romance stories do you like best? Least?
Do you think the relationships between men are less or more complicated than female friends have?


flchen1 said...

Ooh, I do enjoy those! I like stories where you get the male perspective, too!

flchen1 said...

Hmm... trying to remember stories where we get more of the male perspective--I do think more of the stories in the last few years include more of the male perspective, and some do focus on the guys' friends, too. I remember Karina Bliss's early Superromances featuring three heroes who were friends; I believe they included some guy-bonding scenes.

I think my favorite m/f conflict is one where there's some sort of competition, and they make a bet of some kind. It's great fun to see the two characters go at it :) It's especially fun when they can't stand each other at the beginning, and see that dislike give way grudgingly to respect... Sarah Mayberry has a couple of stories where this happens--Can't Get Enough and Her Secret Fling are two I remember. Hilarious, too!

And in general, I do think that male friendships are more straightforward than female ones; of course, I'm not a guy! ;)

jo robertson said...

Congrats, Flchen1! Me too! I don't know why but I like them even better than the female bonding stories, even though I realize in real life women friends enrich our lives so much.

I must have too much of a masculine side LOL.

jo robertson said...

Fedora, I like the series books that involve a group of men who are friends -- soldiers, brothers, or members of the same club -- and you get to read each one's story in a different book.

jo robertson said...

I like the hate-at-first-sight situation too. One of my favorite aspects of "While You Were Sleeping" -- which is one of the most romantic comedies ever, I think -- was the fact that the hero is suspicious of the heroine from the get-go. And of course he falls in love with Sandra Bullock, even though she's his brother's "girlfriend," supposedly.

flchen1 said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I still haven't seen While You Were Sleeping--I must fix that! And I agree--I love those male-bonding stories a lot, too. Not that I don't also love those women's friendship stories--I adore those, too--but getting the guy perspective is always really interesting and fun to read, Jo! I guess you and me, both, then, with the masculine side... ;p

Sheree said...

Male bonding is fun to read. Also, getting the hero's perspective on the romance helps me understand him better, or at least tolerate him more. :)

The guy interactions in Julie James' "Something About You" were great fun.

jo robertson said...

Yeah, LOL, too much testosterone.

You MUST get "While You Were Sleeping"! It's way at the top of the list for romcom's. I remember when I first saw it (with Dr. Big) and we both thought, they don't make romantic comedies like this any more!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Sheree, yes, sometimes I think men come from an entirely different universe. Forget a different planet.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Fedora, hey now, hey now, your boyfriend's back!!!! Cluck!

Jo, what a fascinating post. I must say I find male bonding absolutely fascinating. Before I was published, I wrote most of a book that I just loved set in 18th century Hungary and it was about a guy who was basically Henry V cast as a Hungarian prince (oh, he was a gorgeous hero - seriously!). I needed an example of men working together in a positive cause and I did a lot of research on things like military units, etc. One of the most useful things I found to study was Australia's world cup winning Rugby Union team under John Eales. Very much a band of brothers who worked together to win the battle!

Christine Wells said...

Hi Jo! Great blog--I love the Henry V speech, too, especially with Kenneth Branagh giving it!

I love a lot of Nora Roberts stories because she shows really strong bonds between all types of characters. That kind of dynamic always gives me a warm feeling when I read about it. I think we all aspire to be and to have the kind of friend who would never betray you, even in the small things. I believe it's a myth that women can't have those kinds of friendships, though.

And I know I'm playing Devil's advocate here, but truly, I can become just as engrossed in something I'm passionate about as any man can be in a stupid football game! I think that kind of thing is all down to conditioning--it's when you allow other people to dictate your priorities that you find you're unable to focus on one thing at a time. Women need to learn to be more assertive about what's important to them, that's all. Why does the world have to stop for a football game? It's. A. Game. They'll be back there, playing it all over again next year. But the world does stop, because men place so much importance on it and they're adamant about never letting anything else interfere. I had to schedule my wedding around three codes of football, for goodness' sake! A woman would never be allowed place equal importance on the final of Project Runway, would she?

OK, end of rant. LOL

Congrats on the rooster, Fedora!

Anna Campbell said...

Sheree, did you see you won Miranda Neville's prize this week? Congratulations!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I think a whole lot of the difference is simply priorities, men make that football game a priority, women make the kids, the home, the job or whatever the priority.

Helen said...

Well done Fedora have fun with him

Great post and I totally agree most Men really can do only one thing at a time LOL happens here all the time.

I really love stories where the hero and heroine are competing to win something as in searching for things maybe artifacts of some such thing I have read a few of these and relly enjoy seeing them try to best each other although for the life of me I can't think of the titles at the moment.

I loved Band of Brothers and another great mini series that was shown here many years ago with Paul Hogan in was The Anzacs and what a great male bonding time that was.

have Fun

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Jo! Funnily enough, Michelle Butler did a post recently on the Healthy Writer blog about the kinds of movies we enjoy reflecting the themes we enjoy writing. Several of the movies I chose have strong male bonding themes eg Tombstone.

I also enjoy stories which feature a team/family/agency/cowboys - whether it's Suz Brockmann or Nora's Blood Brothers trilogy.

I think I enjoy them because in most cases they reflect values that make a hero honorable. It's not just bonding for bonding sake, but a code that reflects who they are.

As for the sports thing - umm - you should see me during a hockey game!

I think males seem more straightforward and focused because they have the ability to compartmentalise. One of the downsides of being able to multi-task, I think, is that you can't switch off from certain things because you're used to juggling so many balls in the air. Men can switch off from one thing and put in a little box to deal with later, then move onto something else.

Susan Sey said...

Great post, Jo! I've often been envious of male bonds. Women are so complicated, which means making friends--real ones--is hard. I'm convinced guys do it with a single pick-up game of basket ball.

That said, my favorite romance trope is the man's man being forced into close proximity with a woman who makes him rethink everything he things he knows about the fairer sex. It's always fun to see his mind being blown as this peculiar woman defies his stereo types again & again, not purposefully but just by being a well-rounded human being.

Big happy sigh.

p.s When we were on Kauai this summer, we went on a boat tour of the Na Pali coast line & while chatting with our fellow tourists discovered the woman next to us was Maggie Siff from Sons or Anarchy & Mad Men. Thought you'd like knowing that, as a fan of Sons of Anarchy. I'd never seen it myself, but loved her on Mad Men.

p226 said...

Hmm. See, men bond by doing. Women bond by communicating. I told my son about this, too. See, he's 13, and he's strikingly handsome. He's been hit on by college girls at my school. He's never had a girlfriend his age. They've always been older by a year or two. Now he's on the prowl for girls with jobs, drivers licenses, and cars.

Did I mention he's 13?


Anyway, I explained this concept to him, and I think my words have served him well. Eh... served him well for some definition of "well."

Regardless, I told him, "Son, guys bond my doing things. It doesn't really matter what. Playing a sport. Digging a ditch. Sharing a firing line. Being shot at. Whatever. Guys don't talk about stuff. You don't call a guy up "just to talk." You call a guy up and say "hey man, let's go (whatever)" and then you go do it.

Women... women bond by communication. You ever watched two women meet for the first time and follow the conversation? The first thing they're going to do is talk about their families, their jobs, their car, the weather, whatever they can think of to talk about. Because it's not the substance of the communication that really matters to most women. It's the fact that they ARE communicating.

I explained all this to my son. And I said "you get yourself a hottie you intend to KEEP, you'd better get good at that 'communicating' thing. This doesn't mean sitting on the phone silent and feigning interest with a grunt or "uh huh" here and there while you blast away on the next level of Call of Duty on the XBox. They'll catch you at that shit. They'll eventually ask you a question. And that question will usually be on a topic they stopped talking about 45 seconds ago. The normal guy is going to go, "huh? What?"


No, you want to keep one, you have to actually LISTEN to what they say. You might think it's inane, and it very well might be. But that's not the point. The point is to communicate. About whatever. Literally, anything. The fact that the point is inane doesn't matter. The point is, you are communicating. This means you have to talk, too.

I have friends I've known for years. I couldn't tell you whether or not they have kids or if they're even married in some cases. But I know with absolute certainty that on any given day, they can put a round through the X ring at 400yds, or do a magazine change in 1.75 seconds.

Guys do. Women communicate.

So, the converse of what I told my son is applicable to the ladies. You want to keep a guy? Sometimes, quit talking, and go DO stuff.

Guys: Doing > communicating
Girls: Doing < communicating

And thus end's P226's broad, sweeping generalizations for the day.

But that bond thing you're jealous of... there's not much more "do" in "doing" than fighting for your life, or training to do so.

MsHellion said...

Not a big fan of band of brother fiction. (I'm thinking of LOTR and I sorta was hoping to be hit by a bus while reading it so I didn't have to continue. Many things men value or focus on in their relationships are not things that are of interest to me. Not always: loyalty is huge with me and I believe it is a cornerstone in men's relationships. Stories about loyalty and the complications that can derive from being loyal is interesting.)

M/F conflict: I like the P&P sort of conflict. I think it's the one I most identify with.

And male relationships are way more straightforward than women's.

Gannon Carr said...

Male relationships are much more straightforward, but fascinating nonetheless. Nora writes some of the best male friendship dynamics out there. She really gets how they think and speak.

My daughter and I are outnumbered in our house with my hubby and two sons. Sports are front and center quite often, particularly football. Lucky for me (and them) that I love to watch it, too. *g*

p226 said...

She really gets how they think and speak.

So few authors get that right in a military context. Specifically the language. Probably because it'd be too profane for mainstream consumption. To get this right, roughly every other word should be the F bomb. Use it like a comma.

jo robertson said...

Anna C. said, "I wrote most of a book that I just loved set in 18th century Hungary and it was about a guy who was basically Henry V cast as a Hungarian prince"

Ooooh, the tidbits we learn about our Fo!

Like I said, war and sports -- I love that kind of bonding, but I just don't get it. I'm waiting for P226 to weigh in.

jo robertson said...

Oh, dear poor Christine. You are soooo outnumbered in your little family. One day those little boys will be big teens and you'll thrown up your hands and lock yourself in your office while they're "bonding."

Seriously, though, I think you're right on one level. And I think as we evolve we find more and more women taking traditionally male roles and vice versa.

But scheduling your wedding around sports events? That's just plain wrong.

jo robertson said...

Yay, Sheree, you won a prize!! Whooopt!

Right, Dianna, priorities. And there's some comfort in the fact that if you ask your guy to shut off the telly, that you REALLY need him, he'll do it.

I think.

I hope.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Helen. I didn't see that Paul Hogan series. Can you tell us what it was about?

Anna Sugden said...

OMG P226 - you need to post a spew-warning for comments like 'use it like a comma'!

jo robertson said...

Anna said, "As for the sports thing - umm - you should see me during a hockey game!"

Ha! I knew it. My sisters-in law were exactly the same. They'd go to any event, any venue for sports, coached sports, and the like.

I agree about the compartmentalizing. Sociologists say that we evolved that way because the cavewoman (who gave birth) had to rely on her ability to read nonverbal clues from the offspring for its survival, while the male had to be focused at hunting to survive.

I think it's not as simple as that and we've become more sophisticated and broken down sex barriers, but we still see a lot of behavior that's connected to the sexes.

Wow, did that mish-mash make any sense LOL?

jo robertson said...

Susan said, " the woman next to us was Maggie Siff from Sons or Anarchy & Mad Men."

OMG, that's so cool. You know a real, live television star. Giggle.

I do think women are emotionally and psychologically more complicated than men in general. My daughters and I have a peculiar way of conversing that involves speaking over one another and still understanding the thread of the dialogue.

Drives Dr. Big crazy.

When I was younger, I had a serious bout with PMS and was pretty much hell to live with. Boyd would track my moods, reactions, and behaviors in his appointment book and say things like, "I don't know why but I think next week you're going to feel or act such a way."

This made me really mad, but also made me feel he was watching out for me.

Yeah, complicated.

jo robertson said...

Ah, P226, thanks for weighing in. I knew we'd get a good perspective from you.

Love how you bottom line it -- men bond by doing, women bond by communicating.

I have to agree.

Uh, better watch out for that handsome guy of yours. Those cougars have claws!

jo robertson said...

Hi, MsHellion! I have to confess that I'm one who didn't read the LOTR books until after the movies. Viggo was a great motivator for me.

jo robertson said...

Gannon said, "Nora writes some of the best male friendship dynamics out there. She really gets how they think and speak."

I agree! I often wonder if she uses her husband and sons as research LOL.

MsHellion said...

That's when I read it too, but even with Viggo motivating me, I still was wishing for a bus.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Another GREAT, thought-provoking post, Jo-Mama!

I think P226 has nicely encapsulated the essence of male bonding. They bond by doing things, and that is enough for them. We women need a LOT more before we will trust someone enough to allow a relationship.

I have enjoyed some male bonding stories, but I much prefer to have the male and female trying to navigate through the mess of personal relationships. Those are the "fun" stories for me! ;-)

whose ONE complaint about LOTR was too few female characters

Pat Cochran said...

In real life, any sports team is
a good example of "banding." In
print: Suzanne Brockmann & Cindy
Gerard's Seals/Bodyguards/Special
Ops teams are all tightly bonded.
Brothers forever! Women though
tight as sisters, somehow don't
achieve the same degree of accord.
Maybe it's that we don't go about slapping each other on the butt!

Pat Cochran

p226 said...

Maybe it's that we don't go about slapping each other on the butt!


I think if you wish to begin slapping each other on the butt, few of us will complain.

Pat Cochran said...


Don't hold your breath waiting
for female fanny-slapping to
begin! You will find yourself
on the floor, cast in a vivid
shade of blue before that can

We may have adopted the various
"high or low fives," but fanny
slapping, IMHO, it's just not
going to happen!

Pat Cochran

p226 said...

A guy can dream of a world of gender equality, can't he?

Laurie Faelan said...

LOL. Amusing post and comments!

I agree. Men are single-minded. Who is it that wakes up at 2am when the kids have a nightmare or get sick? Wasn’t my guy, that's for sure. If a bomb goes off while the game is on, he probably wouldn’t notice unless it messed with the satellite reception.

And I agree that men like to do but it's funny, my guy will talk for twenty minutes on the phone while making the arrangements for the event. He and his buds talk about the latest game or what route they want to take, or what happened at work the day before. So they like to gossip too.

I like books about male bonding. Books like Suzanne Brockmann's seal teams or J.R.Ward's Brother books. Great reads that show all the wonderful things we love about men (or at least wonderful characteristics we wish they had). That said, I love books about communities of women. So much more satisfying.

As for hero/heroine types of relationships, I dig a war between the sexes premise with two evenly matched opponents. Lots of fireworks and a HEA!

jo robertson said...

Thanks, AC! I like those murky navigations between men and women in my stories too -- lots of angst and tortured lovers. Which I wouldn't STAND for in my personal life. Fortunately, Dr. Big is one of those uncomplicated males!

jo robertson said...

Oh, yeah, Pat, like P226 says, the guys would be all over that female butt-slapping. I'm sure it's along the lines of mud wrestling.

jo robertson said...

We women may not fanny slap, Pat, but we sure do a lot of hugging!

I just got back from watching a team of sweaty elementary kids run cross county. Our Sydney, who thinks she's a boy, took 2nd place and goes to the finals.

My daughter pointed to a long row of 3rd grade boys and said, "Those are all Sydney's best friends." Yeah, she's one female who gets that bonding stuff. Wait till one of them tries to kiss her!

Huge bubble pop. I'm just saying.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Laurie. I think you have the anomaly. None of my five guys talk on the phone longer than a couple of minutes, and their speech is often punctuated with long silences and communication in the form of grunts.

Ah, you hit on one of my favorite series about men -- J.R. Ward's The Brotherhood. Love those vampires!

Cassondra said...

Woooot Flchen1!

Good grab on the rooster!

Sheree said...

Thanks, Anna and Jo for letting me know about my prize!