I’m here to tell you that a woman can be a bro. I know this because I’ve dated too many of them.
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.\n
I met Christina my sophomore year in college. She was a small girl with a ruddy face whose gymnastics training had made her taut, graceful, and secretly strong. She was a little shy, but quick to laugh, and she had a Massachusetts accent that seemed really exotic to an Arizona boy like myself. “What bah ah we going to?” she asked me the first night I invited her out for a few beers. Later that evening, over a plate of glistening fried pub grub, she’d tell me she was “wicked stahving.”
I liked Christina more than I liked a lot of girls I’d met in college at that time, many of whom were stuffy, naïve, spoiled, boring. The ones who didn’t typify East Coast privilege were often crazy. There was the one with the Neverending Story tattoo and the cocaine habit. And another who, while exhaling a cloud of weed smoke, told me she’d had a dream that I was chasing her. I was a demon. She killed me. Christina was funny, kind, sweet to me, and energetic—everything I thought I was looking for in a woman. But then came the sports talk.
Being from outside Boston, Christina enjoyed the Red Sox in an almost ecclesiastical way. She booed at the TV when Nomar Garciaparra (“Nomah” to her) struck out, and she’d mutter under her breath about the “fucking asshole Yankees” whenever Steinbrenner’s squad appeared onscreen. When I told her I didn’t follow sports, she was taken aback. “Not even socceh?” she asked, raising a Bud Light to her lips. “Not even socceh,” I said.
That was the beginning of the end. In and of itself, the sports fanaticism might have been a non-issue—everyone has a right to their hobbies—but it turned out that all the Red Sox paraphernalia was a harbinger of a bigger problem: Christina was a bro.
In common parlance, a "bro" is always a man. Frat guys are bros, surfers are bros, Wall Street bankers who run up $3,000 tabs in strip clubs are bros. What exactly defines a bro is hard to pin down, of course, but similar to the Supreme Court’s definition of hardcore pornography, most people know a bro when they see one, especially if that bro is in a visor. I’m here to tell you that a woman can be a bro. I know this because I’ve dated too many of them.
In Christina’s case, besides sports, she had an affinity for Red Bull and vodkas, shit-talking, and the kind of ‘70s and ‘80s rock music drunk people and teenagers and drunk teenagers like to scream along to woozily. "Livin’ on a Prayer" was a favorite. "Pour Some Sugar on Me," too. Anything by Journey got her out of her seat immediately, the better to dance and howl with the rest of her sorority: “Doooooooooon’t stop belieeeeeeeeeeevin’.” To this day I think of “Don’t Stop Believin’” the way a dog thinks of a vacuum cleaner: It is a monster and it makes me run away. Fittingly, the night we ended our brief romance, Christina went home in a sweatshirt that had been discarded in my room by a friend. It smelled like Right Guard deodorant and read “Boston College Hockey.”
I never listened to Bon Jovi when I was growing up. I liked the Misfits and obscure hip-hop, and I learned to prefer films like Salò, an Italian drama about fascists kidnapping teenagers, over, say, Eat Pray Love. That’s not to say there are no bros who don’t share my interests, but few I’ve ever met do. Christina was the first bro I’d ever dated, but she was by no means the last. Because what constitutes a bro is so varied and difficult to perfectly distinguish, there were several times that I ended up in the midst of a relationship before discovering my girlfriend was a total broseph, and by then it was too late—I was on her couch nursing a Jägermeister hangover and watching Entourage.
Although I can’t give you the exact description of a bro, I can tell you some of the warning signs:
Going-out tops. Glittery, revealing, synthetic. Thanks to major chains like Forever 21 and H&M, a sequined going-out top now runs about $5, meaning bros across the wealth spectrum can collect hundreds of these things, like crazed glitter hoarders.
Clubs. Bros prefer nightclubs, especially ones that are hard to get into and/or were featured on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Once in the club, bros like bottle service so they don’t have to be in line for a drink when their favorite Journey song comes on. Be sure to not spill your cocktail on their going-out tops.
Two and a Half Men. I don’t know why, but bros love this show.
Obsessions with gay men. Not being homophobic and treating gay men with the respect and dignity you’d treat anyone? That's normal. Obsessing and fetishizing a gay man because you want a “sassy” gay best friend is what bros do. I’ve seen it.
My unwillingness to date bros used to make me feel shallow. "What business of mine is it what kind of music a person likes, or what their favorite pastimes are?" I’d think. Isn’t it stupid to care about the kind of clothing a person wears? Now, I realize how inexperienced I was to think those things.
When you’re younger, you’re taught to believe that love conquers all, and that a person from one side of the tracks can always fall in love with their polar opposite and live happily ever after—Grease, The Lady and the Tramp, Aladdin all teach you that, and all were great stories. When you grow up, however, you come to understand that falling in love and making a relationship actually work is a lot more complex process than Disney films let on.\n
In their infancies, when you’re exploring your partner and their life, relationships are exciting and easy to maintain. The real test of a union is in the everyday, unsexy months that follow the honeymoon period, and it’s in those months where things like music and TV and Halloween costumes start to matter (I refuse to be seen with a sexy cat, for instance). The bros I dated were never bad women. In fact, most of them were great people I connected with in a lot of significant ways. I maintain platonic friendships with a lot of bros both male and female, but those friendships work because I see those people once or twice a week at bars or parties, or I email them and ask how their lives are going.
Coming home to a bro everyday is a different story. Waking up to a bro everyday is a different story. Spending every waking moment with a bro on lazy Sunday afternoons, which are sacrosanct in my world, is a different story. If I’m going to be with someone for that long and that intimately, I need to know I can turn to them and make a reference to the interpretive dancing in my favorite Kate Bush video without her asking, “Who’s Kate Bush?” I need to know she won’t need to go to an expensive Vegas club for all her birthdays. I need to know that sometimes she’ll be up for watching an Almodóvar flick instead of The Hangover Part II. It sounds icky to say that those little things matter, but that’s what genuine relationships are: large and wonderful unifications built on a bunch of minor details. People love to celebrate 50-year anniversaries, but they often forget that beautiful decades together are built on thousands of common days, millions of common minutes.
I hope that Christina is happy somewhere and still listening to Journey. I hope that hockey sweatshirt is still providing her the warmth I couldn’t give.