How I Became a Bro
Sometimes I get sick of being myself. It's boring, and I've been myself basically my whole life: a smart, anxious young man.
I've wondered what it'd be like to dress like I stepped out of a douche factory, flipping the middle finger to society, and hitting on girls while chugging light beer out of a goddamn red Solo cup. Basically, Vinny Chase from Entourage. That's the ideal version of who I wanted to be, at least for a while. An honest-to-goodness bro. And then I got to be him... but it wasn't easy.
What the hell is a bro, anyway?
Before I began my journey to become a bro -- and better understand these dudes I have seemingly nothing in common with -- I sent the following email to my co-workers:
"I'm writing a story in which I become a bro. When you read that, what did you think? If everyone could send me a sentence or two on what the hell they think a bro is, that would help me out quite a bit."
If you're saying to yourself, "Wow, he's trying to get his coworkers to write this story for him," you're right! My coworkers range widely in age and background and relative bro-ness. Here's what they sent me.
"A bro was probably in a frat, plays lots of fantasy sports, hits the gym hard, drinks mad buckets of sweet domestics and plenty of Red Bull."
"... a dude in a polo and khaki shorts wearing SOME kind of sports gear who drinks lite beer, gets into fights, catcalls women, and loves Entourage more than his mom."
"First and foremost, a bro has no idea he's a bro. If he becomes self-aware, and able to feel shame and acknowledge people's feelings about his actions around him, he's already past it."
"Supreme confidence in the absolutely stupid things coming out of your mouth."
Shit, I already have boat shoes. But that's where the similarities stop.
Definitive proof that I'm not a bro, bro
This is just to prove that I'm not a bro. This is a photo of me from a few years ago, testing out my index finger to make sure it still works after consuming a bunch of Sonic shakes. It did. Bros don't look like that guy in the photo.
I don't look like a bro on the outside or the inside. I'm incredibly self-aware, having been born with a multitude of Jewish genes, an ethnicity of people who all were born and then a second later thought, "Why did I choose to be born then? I should've been born later! No one wants to see me right now, they haven't even had breakfast," and then continued that line of self-questioning until they die.
Nevertheless, here’s some stuff I enjoy: shopping at Whole Foods, craft coffee and beer, reading actual books, crossword puzzles, and the city of Portland. Alright, you get the point. I’m not a bro. If I was going to truly become one, I'd need to undergo a Kafka-esque transformation, starting with my hair. All my hair.
Getting a bro haircut
I don't look like a bro in that photo, either, because, again, I'm not one. I'm wearing the same Avett Brothers T-shirt I got at a concert of theirs about five years ago. I wear it all the time. I don't shave my body hair. I don't particularly care how I dress.
I needed to shave my body, get a new haircut, and get new clothes.
I'm not shaving my beard because I look like I'm 12 without it, and because I don't ever trim it, I have sort of a poor man's James Harden thing going for me.
But my hair hasn't been cut for months, and it needs to go. Bros and Jewfros -- while those words rhyme -- do not go together. Bros keep their hair short and their game tight, bro.
The woman who cuts my hair is a treasure trove of info on bros, because she is married to one. I've seen photos of her husband on Facebook. He's ripped. But also one day they went to a monster truck rally and a poetry slam in one day. He loves poetry slams. Would not have guessed that. Are all bros complicated young men who harbor a secret love of slam poetry? I hope so. I hope I meet bros like that in my journey.
She finishes cutting my hair. I tell her I'm going to a Denver Chive party later, where I will be among hordes of bros, and to see if I can fit in/become one. She tells me if I want to look like a bro, I need to buy a flat-billed snapback and cargo shorts. She says to go to Tilly's.
I will, but first I've got some body shaving to do.
Shaving my body hair like a bro
Unlike the Bear Jew in Inglourious Basterds, I am not hairy in general (I have also never scalped a Nazi... yet). But I did need to shave my stomach, which I have never done in my entire life. I buy $20 clippers from Walgreens and go to town on my beer gut. Why do bros do this? Oh right, they have six-packs and definition from going to the gym every day. You can't see a six-pack if it's covered in a layer of fur. Belly shaving is pure vanity. I do not understand it, but I'm going to shave the shit out of my stomach anyway.
When I'm done, my gut reminds me of a freshly shaven Patton Oswalt. In look and feeling. I'm not making this up -- one time I got to squish Patton's face. My gut and his face both look and feel the same. Probably not a good look.
Dressing like a bro
I sent a text to my boss with that photo and got the response, "Oh my lord." Tilly's hooked a bro up!
Tilly's sells the bro lifestyle like Urban Outfitters sells the hipster one. I'd never heard of it until earlier in the day. It's a publicly traded stock on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: TLYS), and has a market cap of about $250 million, which makes it a smaller player in the sector (Abercrombie is over a billion), but that's no small potatoes.
I browse the racks with a Pellegrino in hand (the least bro drink ever created) and decide on a snapback that says HALL OF FAME (this says, "My head is legendary"), a tank with a hot chick on it (this says, "I'm so baller I can objectify this chick on my shirt while hitting on girls and still get laid tonight"), and camo cargo shorts (this says, "I'm a goddamn warrior... and also it's useful to have pockets?"). I felt immediately uncomfortable. And ridiculous.
In the first photo my girlfriend took of me, I gave the camera a dazed look. But then I shifted -- I was gonna give a "bro look" to the camera. I tilted my chin up. I gave the middle finger. And something shifted in me.
The "id" inside of me spoke for the first time that day. You can see it in my eyes that I think I'm a good looking motherfucker. It's 1,000% bluster. I'm faking it so hard.
And yet... I could tell my girlfriend found me attractive in a way she hadn't five minutes ago. I know this because she said, "It looks good on you, actually. I don't mind it. I like this 'you.'"
Was my fake confidence attractive? The clothes?
If you wear those clothes, you’re allowed to give the middle finger to the camera. I knew this, and felt rebellious. Who else would wear a tank top with a naked woman on it not as a joke? A bro who slays it with the ladies, probably.
The clothes are permission to act a certain way. You can hit on that girl that’s out of your league. So what if she rejects you? Fuck her. I'll get into a fight, yeah. Fuck this guy, I’m going to crush him.
No one can hurt you if you don’t care about them. Not the girls who don’t text you back, not this asshole you're gonna punch in the throat, not anyone.
As a self-aware human Jew, when I look at this photo I think I look ridiculous. But then I see that confidence, that “fuck you if you don’t like me” attitude, and it makes me feel stronger. I wish I could say I can put on a pair of slim-fit khakis and a plaid shirt and feel that way, but I can’t.
I’m going to need that same attitude to walk into a roomful of bros at the Denver Chive party and try to fit in.
Diving deep into bro culture
If I want to be a bro, I'd better study up on their world with a steady diet of bro-culture staples.
I visit theCHIVE.com
Before I click on a thread entitled “I love the smell of burning bras in the morning,” I wonder if there are 35 photos of women not wearing bras or 35 topless pictures of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. It's the former.
Many of the comments on these threads of half-naked women are photos that were posted earlier in the thread with commentary. Like, “more of this sexy ass milf!!” It’s the Internet equivalent of “BRO, CHECK THIS OUT.”
I’ve spent a day on the site, and I felt myself get dumber the more I scrolled. I'm mad at myself for thinking it's entertaining. Also: more of this sexy ass milf, please.
I watch bro TV shows
I watch two episodes of Ballers on HBO. This is Entourage where The Rock is Vince and I am in heaven. Everyone oozes confidence and money. Bro shows are great shows.
I listen to bro music
When I was shaving my stomach, Kid Cudi blasted from my phone. Mac Miller. Wiz Khalifa. Hip-hop that's about feeling good. Drake, Lil Wayne. OK, maybe not too much Drake... don't want to give myself a mental breakdown.
EDM is also part of the bro's soundtrack. I turn on Calvin Harris' Pandora station while I'm crushing some dips at the gym. Krewella, David Guetta, and Diplo are all my shit now. Heard some Zedd and didn’t realize I’d been listening to him on the radio for the past few years. It’s actually good! It's also more uplifting than the music I usually listen to.
Here's a Sufjan Stevens song I love...
We're all gonna die
We're all gonna die
We're all gonna die
We're all gonna die
Here's a Zedd song...
We might not know why, we might not know how
But baby, tonight, we're beautiful now
We'll light up the sky, we'll open the clouds
'Cause baby, tonight, we're beautiful now, we're beautiful
There's a reason a partying bro always seems happier than a brooding hipster to me, and maybe because of what's in their earbuds.
I become a creepy bro spy
ViewHouse is where the bros party around here in Denver. They start drinking there during the day, playing cornhole and hitting on girls. I show up in my bro finery -- that outfit you saw me wearing at Tilly's earlier -- faux black leather hat, tank, camo shorts.
I eavesdrop to get a feel for what bros are all about. How they communicate with each other. If I showed up to ViewHouse dressed like myself, I'd feel like an outcast, like I didn't belong. In $100 worth of threads from Tilly's, I am bro wallpaper, listening to conversations and watching bros movements like I'm Jane Goodall observing chimpanzees.
"We got next!" says one bro, as he bro-fully bumps shoulders with another bro playing cornhole. He does not know this other bro, and he had the balls to bump shoulders with him?! I feel uncomfortable bro-hugging other guy friends I've known for 20 years.
I walk around.
"Get the fuck out of my face!" one bro says to his friend. He's aggressive and playful at the same time. He's acting primal in a way that I don't think I'm capable of, or want to be capable of. It's deeply unsettling, which might attract girls. A little scary, a little mysterious -- that's an intriguing combination.
Everyone's drinking and screaming and flirting with girls and YOLOing their Saturday away. I'd rather be back in my house doing anything else. They are having more fun than me, and they're having more fun than you.
I feel almost ready for this Chive party. But first, the gym.
Gymstagramming, Day 1
I signed up for Instagram, but barely used it on the day I went creeping on bros in Denver. But now that I have it, I decided to use it at the gym, since that's where my hairstylist said her bruhsband used it a lot.
I'm no stranger to the gym, but I have never done a workout like this. My recovering bro of a boss (credentials: worked at an Abercrombie in college, was in a frat, played high school lacrosse) sent me a workout routine to follow. This photo was taken on chest/back day. I felt stupid taking this photo.
I tagged it with a few things. A few people found this photo.
Day 1 feelings: Instagram is dumb. I don't understand why people like taking gym selfies.
Gymstagramming, Day 2
You see that look on my face? I'm buying my own hype. And as you can see by the number of likes, people are buying it too. I start to see likes come in on my photo from real actual people, including attractive women. And it's happening at the gym!
I pay less attention to my leg workouts on day 2 and more attention to the photos I can take of myself and the gym around me. That pays off in spades when I take this photo.
I put exactly the right filter on this photo and know I've got a good shot with this one. You can tell because I'm dropping f-bombs and a few more hashtags into the caption. I feel like the Ansel Adams of Instagram, in that I took a photo of something that basically the entire world appreciated. Check out those likes, bro!
A week after I took the photo, I got this comment: "Awesome pic! We want you as a Division Supply Co Athlete! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want in!" No one has ever asked me to be a co-athlete before! I don't care if it's spam!
Day 2 feelings: Going to the gym is way more fun with Instagram.
Gymstagramming, Day 3
It was bis and tris day, but I could not have cared less. I barely worked out. Instead, I stared at my phone nearly the entire workout, tracking my likes. A good mix of hot chicks and bros. I spent a good amount of time getting the angle and the filter right.
I completely get why bros take gym selfies. You get instant gratification on your looks and your life choices. It's motivating. Not to work out, but to look good at the gym. But it also gives you a reason to get your ass to the gym, so that's something!
Day 3 feelings: If I used Instagram at the gym regularly, I would barely work out. But who cares? It feels great.
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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