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In Defense of the Best Friend

by Ailen Arreaza

August 9,2010

My husband is a very lucky fellow. And it’s not just because he’s married to a woman who can mix pancake batter and make grilled cheese sandwiches like nobody’s business – the gourmet meals are only a small part of his good fortune. He is very lucky because he has lots of friends. And I’m not talking about co-workers or social acquaintances; I’m talking Friends, with a capital F. These are people who have known him for years. People who, after a round of drinks, can sit around for hours telling embarrassing stories and then back up their anecdotes by producing entire photo albums filled with his many, many regrettable hair and wardrobe decisions.

He has this one friend, Rey, whom he met in the Venezuelan version of Little League twenty-five years ago. After college, they decided to move to the U.S. together and have continued to stay close. I think it’s wonderful that he has someone who isn’t part of his family, but knows exactly how his mother will react in a certain situation, pushes his buttons by calling him the same nickname his entire middle school taunted him with, and can recall every single girlfriend he’s ever had. And even though men in their thirties don’t refer to themselves as such, let’s call it what it is: Rey and my husband are Best Friends.

I’ve always admired their relationship, so imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, I read in the New York Times in an article entitled “The End of the Best Friend” that today’s children are being discouraged from forming those kinds of intimate connections. According to the article, “the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.”

The piece goes on to talk about a summer camp where the counselors or “friendship coaches,” as they are called, work to make sure that all kids are friends with everyone else. If they see two children spending too much time together, they purposely put them on different sports teams or sit them at different tables during meals. “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”

Seriously? How far are we willing to go as a society to keep our children “safe”? From baby knee pads that protect infants from the perils of crawling to a national outcry because a mom allowed her nine year old to ride the New York City subway by himself, I think we have gone too far.

Like my husband, I too had a best friend growing up. We shared secrets, had thousands of inside jokes, and finished each other sentences. Our sleepovers lasted entire weekends and we planned on moving into our own apartment someday, having a double wedding, and getting pregnant at the same time. Our babies would be BFFs too!

I haven’t hung out with her in years.

As we grew older, we began to drift apart. Our lives went in opposite directions and, after a while, we no longer had anything in common except the memories of our inseparable childhood.

When my father passed away eight months ago, I called to tell her what had happened. She offered her condolences, but didn’t make it to the funeral and I haven’t heard from her since. It was disappointing.

And yet, I am so glad that she was a part of my childhood. She taught me more about trust and intimacy than anyone outside of my family. And even though our bond didn’t stand the test of time, we learned everything about friendship from each other. Our connection served as the foundation for the many wonderful relationships I have today.

It’s worth it. Whether the end result is 25 years of a continuing friendship or memories of experiences long gone: sharing your childhood with a best friend is a transformative experience.

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