At dinner the other night, when I brought up the New York Times story on educators and other "experts" trying to protect kids from the horrors of having a best friend, my 14-year-old daughter was all over it. "We read that story at breakfast this morning'' at the classmate's house where she'd spent the night at a slumber party, "and we all said that was a stupid story. Every girl needs a biffle'' – a best friend for life, which I am apprised is the preferred term – "someone you can tell anything, someone who, when you call, you know they'll pick up the phone." The story wasn't stupid, her father corrected her, and that was the end of that discussion; bye, honey.
I am also on the BFF bandwagon, and cannot imagine my life without the grace of girlfriends plus – "heart friends" in the phrase favored by my bestie Mary Monnat, the first person I met our freshman year at Notre Dame, and the one who held my hand and made me laugh as they wheeled me in for my mastectomy. (OK, the drugs might also have had something to do with that.) When I saw Mary a couple of weeks ago at our college reunion, I was reminded that 30 years on, a stroll with her is still the emotional equivalent of about 1,000 hours of yoga. There are half a dozen other women I consider sisters – some of whom I might seem to have little in common with, because friendships on that level are as mysterious and spiritual as any romantic connection, and yes, often a lot more durable.
My problem with our Politics Daily colleague Delia Lloyd's argument against best friends for girls is in her definition of terms; anyone who would undermine and hurt you is not your friend at all, let alone the lead dog. (Dog? Woof! Not for the b-word allusion but for the loyalty, the "I am with you all the way home, wagging my tail and growling at any who would threaten you.")
Have I known women who would just as soon cut you as look at you? Who would shiv you in the office and then smile and ask you to lunch? Sure, but they weren't friends, or even friendable; that sort of person is not heart-friend material.
So much in modern life is disposable, transactional, forgettable and then forgotten, but not how Pam TenBarge made me feel less dorky in seventh grade, even when I totally was, or how Kim Harris made everything plus amusant in high school French and ever since, how Lori Bernat and I talked relationships every Friday night when we were single girls in New York, or the Christmas my fellow cub newsie Anne Noble helped me make cop calls ("Anything doin' in Balch Springs?"), or the summer Rose Sterr and I biked around the lake every morning when it was barely light ...
It's good to have lots of friends, of course, but what's a more important or life-giving life skill than the capacity for true intimacy? (Maybe I'm extra suspicious of this new friendship ban because it reminds me of the ixnay on "particular friendships" they used to impose in convents, where the real worry was that friends might fall in love, women being natural temptresses and all.)
With all that schools have to contend with -- drugs and guns and drop-outs -- administrators are going after...kids who really like each other? I'm trying to imagine the important committee meeting at which some misanthrope or other made the case that no good could come of warm personal ties, but I really can't. ("No progress on the gang front, but what say we crack down the besties? They're the worstie!")
My favorite response to the New York Times piece was one of the comments it elicited, pointed out by our PD colleague Donna Trussell: "Let me see . . . I am a teenage girl who lives in the 21st century hook-up culture where few of my girlfriends have steady boyfriends and instead have casual sex. I deal with the expectations of boys who get most their ideas about what is 'normal' intimacy from the hardcore porn they watch. I am a teenage girl of divorced parents whom I move back and forth between every month. I am a teenage girl who is bullied by most the kids I go to school with. My best friend is one of the only people I can talk to and I am not giving her up."
That is one grammatical teenager! But even if the writer is a 44-year-old guy, anybody who would tell a girl otherwise is not her friend.
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