The bro-ment of truth: the Chive party
After all this training -- all this chest bumping and ego-boosting and narcissism-faking -- I walk into the Denver Chive meetup with no swagger. I'm alone and uncomfortable. What if everyone knows one another and they figure out I'm an undercover bro? I'd make a real shitty spy. But I want to immediately assimilate, to befriend every bro inside. I want to achieve bro hive mind with them, feel accepted, and bro out like one of the guys.
I think about all this on my way into the venue... and then I walk in. My confidence deflates instantly. That's just not me, as much as I'm trying to act like it is.
This party is dead. Girls are chilling, taking selfies with each other. Bros are hanging out with their friends and talking at a normal volume. Bros need other bros. One cannot bro alone. I saw it at Tilly's, where bros shopped with girls or other bros. I saw it at the bar. You can't fist pound the air -- you need another fist to meet you halfway. I get it now. I've been here an hour, more alone than I felt at that eighth grade dance, and I can't wait to leave.
Finally I make a dumb joke to a bro about blocking the entryway to the bar. He's with his girlfriend and a friend. I'm desperate to talk to anyone, to get to know a bro firsthand.
I make awkward small talk with the guy. We play Jenga, and then I lose track of him for an hour.
I'm standing alone, staring at my phone. "Come over here," says a voice out of nowhere. It's Jenga guy, and he pulls me back to his friends. He's a saint. I'd never do this for another person, let alone a guy I just met.
I make up a story about how my girlfriend tells me I dress too much like a bro, and I try to get him to open up about his opinions on bro culture. He tells me a story about a fight he got into recently. He doesn't consider himself a bro.
I am not like this guy, and I never will be. I tried to act like a bro and fit in, but I pussied out and acted like myself. Just staring at my phone in the corner of the room taking notes on the people around me like a creep. All my bro training and culture immersion was for nothing.
"You are totally not a bro," he tells me.
"Thanks," I say.
The bro experiment comes to an end
Was I ever going to be able to become a bro? Of course not: I can't go back in time and become an athletic guy who was popular in high school. I can't glide through a bar, hit on every girl there, and generally not give a shit about what people think of me. All the snapbacks in the world can't make that happen.
But with all that confidence comes a lack of self-awareness. And anxiety, which often accompanies that self-awareness. Anxiety that has the ability to control you, to make you think you're not doing anything right, ever. To make you second guess yourself. To have no confidence. What could be bad about not having anxiety or self-awareness?
But I found out the bros do have anxiety, and they are self-aware. It just manifests itself much differently with them than it does for me. They're keenly aware of other bros' approval. They crave acceptance, too. They're more like me than I want to admit. They do give a shit, just not about what I think. It's about what other bros think. And Instagram fills that hole in the bro soul. They like other people's photos. They pose a certain way. They need the motivation of others at the gym. And when I got that motivation at the gym from other people, I began craving it too. I liked being told I'm good at something, which came as a surprise. I don't ever crave that attention, but once I had it, I wanted more.
I used to think bros were awful human beings with nothing to offer the world. I don't believe that anymore. I've become a cultural relativist. I see each individual bro in context as someone part of a larger bro culture. Bros don't go it alone. Just like emo kids need other emo kids, and hipsters need other hipsters. It's a cruel world out there, and our jobs, our families, and our relationships crave more of us every day. It's hard to persevere without having something to prop you up.
So when you feel like you're part of something bigger, it fills you with strength. Whether you go to an alt comedy show in the back of a comic book shop or a bro bar or a basketball game where everyone's wearing the same jersey, it feels good to fit in. It gives you strength. You can persevere now, with the help of your bros. And that's why it feels good to be a bro. I felt glimpses of it -- on Instagram, when I was being bro wallpaper at that bar. I get that we all want this feeling, no matter what group we fit into. I don't fault bros for being the way they are anymore. I even kind of get it.
Bro on, bros. Bro on.
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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist and is now a true believer in wearing tank tops to the gym. Follow him to a good book at: @LeeBreslouer.