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13 June 2011

You’re like a brother to me

Last night, I was at a close friend’s engagement party, sitting on a “his side” table. It was a mixed crew, but this friend tends to have more female friends than male, so the sex ratio was slightly skewed.

We started talking about how you could never be sure how many siblings anyone had, because people tend to say “brother” or “sister” about their cousins too. There are some who toss “rakhi brothers/sisters” into the mix, so basically, you think their parents are super prolific. “I always ask “Is this your real brother”?” said a young man at the table. I pointed out that ‘real’ or presumably ‘biological’ is really just a state of mind. What if your sibling was adopted? Not such a common problem in India, but by the time the next generation is ready to sit at engagement parties of their own, I think it might be, considering how many people I know who want to adopt or have already adopted.

Then we started talking about the future groom. “He’s like a brother to me,” said the same young man, and I, delighted, said, “Oh, me too!” STUNNED SILENCE ON THE TABLE. “What? What did I say?” I asked, perplexed. Apparently, it’s not quite a compliment if a girl says it about a male friend. I don’t know why, I’d be hugely flattered if one of my guy friends said I was like a sister. Wouldn’t you?

They then urged me to blog about this subject, saying that they were sure people would be able to point out to me that it’s just Not Cool for a woman to say it about a man. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t think of you as a man’ or something. “You’re better off just saying, “You’re my best friend,” was the advice offered to me. I get what they’re trying to say, saying “brother” immediately takes any offer of sex off the table, but hello, I’ve been friends with this particular brother/friend for SO long, sex was off the table aaaaaaaaaages ago. I mean, I don’t want to sleep with any of my close guy friends, do you? It’s  as anathema for me as would be the idea of sleeping with a “real” brother. The only difference is that unlike an actual biological sibling, the attraction to a friend could happen. (We’re disregarding incest here, obvs.)

I read an article somewhere, I forget where, but this was a long time ago, that said men only befriended women they found attractive. Which, okay, I'm not so convinced about. I'd prefer to think there was more to men than that, more than just a simple, "I think you're vaguely pretty so I want to be your friend." The article went on to say it was only once they thought a girl was pretty, that they explored the idea of a friendship, even if they weren't necessarily attracted to them. Women on the other hand, operate slightly differently. Okay, so I know in the first two minutes whether or not I find someone attractive, BUT that's not to say someone I don't find attractive now may not be attractive to me in the future. My list of things that contribute to being attracted to someone is long and includes, but is not limited to: banter, a good text message and a sense of adventure.

But either way, in my mind, I was so convinced I was giving him a compliment. Being an only child, one of the nice things is, I get to pick who I want in my extended family. Not all friends are so-called siblings, in fact, I’m rather picky about who gets the tag. If I’ve known you for a long time, if I know my relationship with you is steady and loving, if you’ve been there for me during hard times, and will try your hardest to be there when I celebrate, then, well, you’re like a brother/sister. I got shouted down when I tried to explain myself, but hey, no one’s talking on this blog but me.

I know friends, we all have friends, but what happens when you have a bond with a friend that goes deeper than just a plain ol’ friendship? I have several sisters of the heart, who I love dearly and deeply, and okay, I don’t have quite so many “brothers” because a male-female friendship is essentially different from a female-female friendship, but the few that I do consider to be closer to me than just a regular friend, the few that the idea of sex wouldn’t even come up with, not even in your deepest darkest thoughts, because the relationship between the two of you is so pure and good, almost asexual, but not in a bad way, you know? I feel they should be allowed to be my brothers, even if I’m never allowed to say that to them.


  1. Such bhaichara. This is something we Indians excel in, calling neighbours Aunties and Uncles, even vegetable vendors are Sabzi wale Uncle or Bhaiyya! Naturally buddies share warmer emotions so end up being "Just like my brother" but women can have "Just like my sister" not the brotherly variety, as you discovered LOL

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  3. Your friends were probably in a silly mood which is why they didn't want to have a serious discussion about it. On the face of it, an Indian woman saying a man is like her brother has become something of a joke because of the penchant of women to tie a rakhi for guys whose romantic advances they're trying to head off. So that's probably where they're coming from - reacting to the cliche. Otherwise if you can have soul sisters why not soul brothers. The adoption analogy though - an adopted sibling is one's "real sibling" in a way that a cousin is not. It comes from having the same set of parents, growing up together under the same conditions from a very young age, being seen as siblings by everyone else. Yes, cousins in a joint family may share much of this but there is still no doubt who the parents of each cousin is, and adopted children share those parents.

  4. You know i was thinking more about this after last night and i don't think it's about the sex of it as such... I'm pretty sure your 'brother-like' friend knew well enough that sex had been off the table for a decade or so! I think it's more than that... like for example, aren't we playful with our friends of the opposite sex? don't we pretend flirt just for a few laughs? Then i think about labeling any of these very close, obviously platonic, very non-sexual friends as a brother, and it just doesn't fit!

    ...A second possible reason why it doesn't go down well with most men... it's like a guy is automatically less sexy if he's your brother! and who wants to become less sexy just because you trust him, love him, feel safe around him?? not most men i know!

    .... a third one... calling a guy your brother means there isn't even a possibility of something in the future... leaving the example of our just-engaged friend aside, don't we all discover from time to time that our best friends are potential lovers/companions? You know the whole 'it was right before my eyes this entire time but i missed it feeling...'?? With how hard it can be find a real connection, it's quite possible that men just don't want to close that door!

    While all or some of the above could be true, it doesn't take anything away from the fact that someone would have to be pretty special for you to feel sisterly towards them!

    1. I was just going to comment when everything I wanted to say was written here word by word.. Now this is someone who did her homework. You go girl!

  5. I would love it if any of my male frens refer to me as "Sister". I feel flattered... This post had me thinking... Well, I ve noticed that a lot of gals at my workplace keep advances from guys at a safe distance calling them "brother". So in my male frens group the term "brother" is laughed at.. The meaning of that word when referred to by a gal means - keep distance..

  6. i totally agree with u gal..i would definitely love it if any of my male frens call me as a sis..i dont think there is any need to take offence..

  7. Full agreement with all the points Serendipity covered ..

    Friendship with a girl (however platonic it may be), is perceived to come about because the girl finds you fun to hang out with, smart, and a cool company in general..

    The moment 'brother' comes into picture, it seems to throw all those flattering adjectives out of the window.. no idea why it happens though..

    may be it is an offshoot of the flawed/dysfunctional girl-boy dynamics in most of our co-ed schools..

    Also, 'brother' forcefully closes the door to a lot of talk-worthy topics and that occasional harmless, playful flirting between friends of opposite sex, which I think is healthy for a normal male-female friendship..

  8. Then we started talking about the future groom. "He’s like a brother to me," ...

    I get what they’re trying to say, saying “brother” immediately takes any offer of sex off the table.


    I don't see what's bad about saying it. If I was a guy getting married to someone else, I'd take it as a compliment.

    Then again, I'm not a guy. And I'm not about to get married either.

  9. I am a boy and I definitely take pride when some female friend calls me her brother.

  10. Et tu The Compulsive Confessor ? Let the oft quote something :

    Harry Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
    Sally Albright: Why not?
    Harry Burns: What I'm saying is - and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form - is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
    Sally Albright: That's not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
    Harry Burns: No you don't.
    Sally Albright: Yes I do.
    Harry Burns: No you don't.
    Sally Albright: Yes I do.
    Harry Burns: You only think you do.
    Sally Albright: You say I'm having sex with these men without my knowledge?
    Harry Burns: No, what I'm saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
    Sally Albright: They do not.
    Harry Burns: Do too.
    Sally Albright: They do not.
    Harry Burns: Do too.
    Sally Albright: How do you know?
    Harry Burns: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
    Sally Albright: So, you're saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
    Harry Burns: No. You pretty much want to nail 'em too.
    Sally Albright: What if THEY don't want to have sex with YOU?
    Harry Burns: Doesn't matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
    Sally Albright: Well, I guess we're not going to be friends then.
    Harry Burns: I guess not.
    Sally Albright: That's too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

    ~ When Harry Met Sally


    Yes it's oft quoted. Yes it's clichéd. Yes there are extenuating circumstances.

    But largely it's true. For straight men a female's version of 'brother' is a polite term for emotional fuck buddy.

    Whom are you kidding really ?

    ~ me

  11. I used to sort of think the same way as you do but I too think 'sex' or at least the thought of it gets in the way.

    When you have friends of the opposite sex that you're very close to, can talk to, share secrets and laughs with, call in the middle of the night, at some point or the other, one of the parties involved will get a "what if this was more" thought, however fleeting that thought might be. You might not even act on it and quickly repress it. As I have learnt, just because you're not entertaining the thought doesn't mean your 'friend' isn't. I mean, if you think about it, it's only natural, isn't it? She or he is your best friend, well, wouldn't it be great if it could be something more?

    And once that possibility has been raised I don't think the relationship is purely platonic anymore. Even if you don't act on them. But that's just me.

    I've always been a beer-guzzling, back-slapping, at home with the guys sort of girl and two of my close male friends often say that no guy is 'just friends' with a girl, it's always with girls that they wanna bang. Ha.

  12. Oh, totally agree with you. And those researches are just crap. I definitely feel calling somebody your brother is a huge compliment. I know my friends would be happy if I did.

  13. I, too, would be glad if a friend called me his 'sister'.

  14. Nicely written.

    I do have few female friends whom i consider my sisters,which they r really proud of & their family too consider me as part of their family. A guy gal friendship need not always have an element of sex attached to it.

  15. how weird that there was stunned silence!

    I've a *few* men I'd consider brothers. And I don't see why it would be a problem. Lemme check with them!


    for men, being called a brother is not sexy, because sex is how any comment from the opposite sex is judged.

    for women, being called a sister it is a signal of commitment to be with her.


  17. interesting post.. which inspired me to write my own (!

    i think it may have something to do with how brother-sister relationships are viewed here -you know, the conventional 'protection' notion, etc.

    i can't see saying 'you're like a brother to me' as anything but flattering, however, i also have never said that to any of my guy friends as yet.. in other words -i'm happy with the 'real' brothers i have, and everyone else can just me my buddies!

  18. You know it gets very complicated. There was silence around when you said that because nobody expected you to say it, in our country its only behenjis who go around making bhais while those who hop around pubs and blow smoke are expected to check guys. Our cliched minds...

    But this friend-brother stuff is hard to understand. Imagine if some girl is coming off from a hard heartbreak or failed relationship; many here opt to look around soon for a new man to find solace. In this scenario if she sleeps with her best friend or he graduates to become a fuck buddy, then in a way he is helping in a bit "brotherly" way for there are no strings attached. Complicated but think about it

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  20. I'm going to stay away from culture here cause, especially in cases like this, hiding behind culture is precisely that: you're hiding, not thinking and being intellectually lazy.

    But I will say that I too don't like being called "like a brother" because it means the possibility of sex has been shut out completely. But that's not because I was interested in sex in the first place - I want to exercise that power myself! I want to tell someone that they're like a "sister to me". Makes sense?

    Also, it's like I don't smoke. But I would hate for someone to tell me I can't smoke. Feel like my freedom is being curtailed.

    As far as women friends are concerned, I have too many close women friends to see it as an aberration (maybe I'm the aberration). I would like to think friendships should be classified as "this particular" and not "peculiar" - in the sense no two friendships are ever alike and it would be wrong to analyse one from the point of view of a second friendship.

    I think most pretty women are exceedingly boring and too self-aware. I say this not only because I'm average looking but also because it is difficult to strike up a convo with women like that. I am attracted to women who can hold a conversation, are funny, have a sense of humour and, most importantly, can appreciate my warped sense of humour!

    'nuf said.

  21. Such babies these boys are. It sounds like the problem is they want to appear as if they are not undesirable (i.e., they potentially have a chance)to any woman who is not their blood relative, even if their relationship is, in fact, similar to that of a brother-sister.

    I get what people are saying here about closing the door definitively on a the potential of a romantic relationship. BUT this assumes that there is a potential for that in every male-female friendship. Sorry, guys, but there are some male friends with whom I, personally, would never consider a romantic relationship. It just sounds like that possibilty is hard for some men to handle. The hypocrisy of it is, many of these guys would say the same exact thing about certain of their female friends, but I guess they just don't like it when they are eliminated as potential romantic material (even by such aforementioned female friends that they themselves have eliminated).

    It's OK, boys - you're still loved. Just, you know, like a brother ;)

  22. Yep, its not cool to call someone a bro jlt for a woman.or between ny girl-boy friendship for that matter.
    coz, u may start liking ur friends "that way" over a period of time, even if you were very sure that nothing of that sort can happen between you two.(Bollywoood!!!)...So that may create complications later...So we be safe with "friends" all the time...


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