While it may have been a traditional social taboo for men to have shown affection toward other men publicly, beyond a firm handshake or a quick high-five, it's becoming clearer that the rules that govern the rituals of male bonding have changed these days, allowing — even encouraging — men to be more demonstrative.
Signs of nonsexual, nonaggressive, nonthreatening greetings from one man to another — the case in cultures outside the United States for many years — extends here now, too.
This newfound closeness includes body contact, such as a handshake that evolves into a front shoulder to front shoulder style of embrace, an arm around the shoulder salutation and a brief-to-lasting bear hug.
It's happening between fathers and sons, and ordinary, everyday men, as well as among entertainers, politicians and athletes, who were among the first to do it, notably during a game and after a big win.
What accounts for the change in men?
"First, we're seeing less homophobia in the U.S., so men are realizing there's nothing the matter with closeness, and it doesn't have to be at all sexual," said David Baron, chair of the department of psychiatry at Temple University's School of Medicine. "Consider in Italy, for example, where men will greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and walk arm in arm."
It used to be that, among men in this country, any sign of affection was considered a "queer thing to do," he acknowledged. "Now, without any sexual connotations, it has become more acceptable for men to demonstrate care and concern for family and friends."
One of the reasons for men's change in attitude and action is the tremendous impact sports has in the United States, he continued. "If men see athletes show their emotions on the field and on the court by embracing — and by a smack on the rump for a good play and for trying hard — then that says a lot about it being okay for the average man to do the same in his life.
"Also, when men see other men cry — long considered not a manly or macho thing — that, too, can become more acceptable to do.
"Through these influences," he said, "men acquire greater freedom, and learn that it feels good to share their emotions with other men — that they don't have to be so stoic all of the time. It's a natural instinct not to be that way; we're all social animals.
"It could be, too, that in stressful economic times, as we are experiencing now, men focus more on family, and on the fact that they have a family and have their health, and despite [the fact] that they may not be making a lot of money right now, they still have those good things in life," which should not to be taken for granted.
Slowly, but Surely
Baron said that the changes appear to be gradual and more than trendy as men continue to move away from puritanical beliefs that physical contact was wrong.
According to Peter Moore, editor of Men's Health, based in Emmaus, Pa., while touchy-feely wasn't part of being a man in the past, it is much more so now.
"Now, men want to show how we feel. Much of that comes from what we see in sports, for example, from which we take our cues — when we see basketball and football players congratulate each other by hugging. So men, who watch, aren't afraid of that anymore and of doing that sort of thing in their own lives.
"We need that close contact as much as we need vitamin C. Guys have been bottled up emotionally for too long," he added.
Another factor is that men are finally learning from women about the plus side of emotion.
Explained Moore: "Men view women more as equals, and are seeing that there is an advantage to building and maintaining social networks, that these offer opportunities for close friendships. Today, men have strength and women have strength, and the two know they can share their strengths and take away what they need most for themselves and for society."