Sunday, August 8, 2010

The End of the Best Friend

The title for today's entry comes from a very interesting article in the New York Times which outlines the idea that children having one best friend is a thing of the past and that school officials are cracking down on one-on-one friendships that could possibly lead to trouble. In many ways, I'm troubled by this article because to me monitoring children's friendships in schools seems like it has some sort of Big Brother ulterior motive...but at the same time, our world is changing incredibly quickly and quite frankly, I sincerely wish somebody had monitored my friendships as a girl/teen/young adult. So I'm going to take you through this article, pulling out choice phrases and quotes and tossing in some of my own terrible friendship experiences for good measure ( For your reading pleasure...)

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

In the last few years, I've stopped referring to any of my friends as "best" because it implies that they rank higher than one another which simply can't be anymore. I prefer the term "close" or "girlfriend" (I very seldom make close guy friends, ironic given that I grew up in a male dominated environment.)
Prior to this, I had three significant "best" friends. One for middle school, one for high school, and one in college. By sheer coincidence, they all happened to be blond girls with names that began with the letter "A." This makes me sound like I have serial killer characteristics, but I promise you, it is purely coincidental. The three are significant because whether I liked it or not, they each played an important part in shaping me into the girl I am today. (With one girl for each set of schools I attended. Damn, I only sound worse with each line I write...) And also because you would think that if you make one bad friendship, you learn from your mistakes and don't do it again, but uh, I did it three times. I'm only 22 so I'm fairly certain that if it doesn't happen with girls in the future, my intimate relationships with guys will be a ridiculous roller coaster ride of their own.
Well. Let the good times roll, shall we?
The moral of the story is that big groups of friends can really be packs of truly horrible people or really great ones. Flip a coin on that one. For me in grade school, they were heinous. In college, they were my soulmates. But in no way, shape, or form did anyone in any school I ever went to did the faculty attempt to rescue me from my one-on-one friendships. I doubt I would even have listened if they tried to.

...“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.”...

Did it ever in my case. Here come my 3 ex-best friend tales. They'll be brief, concluding with "where are they now?" moments. Warning: this is about to give the Mean Girls Burn Book a run for its money.

Grade School Friend (GSF): Her mother was an incredibly dominant force in her life and she told her everything, every single detail of her day. There was literally nothing about her daughter she didn't know which made GSF the target of much teasing from the popular girls in my grade. At one point or another, both her and I craved the popular spotlight and attempted to work our way into it. I was rejected, but she was semi-accepted. Sure, they still made fun of her relentlessly, but she stuck with them which pissed me off and led to us fighting because "I was just jealous." Friendship ended in 7th grade. We have never spoken since. We aren't even Facebook friends which as you know, is the ultimate diss. A friend of mine went to high school with her where she reported that there, she was as big of a bitch as ever with the worst incident being that she LAUGHED when one of my old grade school classmates died in a car accident when we were 16 and didn't attend the wake or funeral. Ironically, this girl was in the popular girl clique. Of course, karma came around and her boyfriend cheated on her with some random girl a few months later. Golf clap for fate.

High School Friend (HSF): We were like salt 'n pepper. One didn't come without the other. Unfortunately, I did that thing I used to do where I placed too much dependency on one person and the closeness of our friendship led the way for the glorious train wreck. She started dating some guy I really hated and even went so far as to abandon me on my 17th birthday for him. When I heard that, I shouted so loudly at him in the cafeteria that I'm fairly certain that if somebody could have, they would have paddy-wagoned and straitjacketed me away. She also wrote me a really cruel email mentioning this pair of crappy pants I used to have that I really liked that she and some other girl gossiped about how terrible they were when I wore them. In addition to that, my entire fashion sense was verbally slammed in the email which in retrospect isn't bothersome because I was just exiting my goth phase. The funny thing about this email is that today, I am widely regarded as being extremely fashionable, but I seldom wear pants. This might have been the tipping point for me. Wrapping it up...our friendship ended when she transferred schools without telling me (Happy Senior Year Heather!) and these days, she's dating some guy who graduated from HS with us. Works at a casino too.

College Best Friend (CBF): You should never rely too much on a girl who plans out her entire wedding future with some guy she went out on one date with, is a bitch to your friends, and prints out Facebook chat conversations with guys with stupid lines like "if i could i would give u my world baby cause we r n luv like yeh" and tapes them to her wall in your bedroom (I dragged everyone and his uncle into our room to see that. Many people enjoyed a hearty laugh in October 2009 though most were downright disturbed when I told them this was the same guy who enjoyed killing baby rabbits for fun). But really, it all came to a head when she told me she would have abandoned me in the middle of West Hollywood on the night I got so drunk, I woke up in a wheelchair. (A story so terrible at the time but hilarious today. I would also like to point out that when it seemed like the worst moment of my life, my girlfriends made me feel much better about it, getting me orange juice and telling some stories of their own. Soulmates, I'm telling you.) These days...oh who cares?

But such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.
“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”

Nay, I say, nay. I mean that at the whole "denying kids of emotional support in intimate relationships."
The intimate friendships and closeness I had with the three girls mentioned above was not for my benefit whatsoever. The last two in particular referred to what we had as "the friendship." Brought up in conversations beginning with "yeah, I don't think the friendship is working."
As though I should be so lucky, so privileged to be with them. These kinds of remarks only made me infuriated and ready to burn the bridges fast. Attitude like this never fails to make me want to grip them by the side of their face and bring them back down to earth.
Intimate friendships, depending on the types of people you have them with, can be very good or awful. These days I have very good ones with a bunch of different girls because I learned to be myself and stay myself. There was a time when I used to be scared of what to say, what sorts of jokes to make. The time when I tiptoed around girls who were supposedly "my BFFs." Security, what security came with this? Emotional growth? I learned to monitor who I was and that can't be healthy.
So I quit. I woke up one morning and didn't care anymore. I made better, kinder friends this way. As for my relationships with guys, this was and still is fairly superficial, but this is a really long story for another time...

Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships — everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up.

In the case of those three girls, those friendships only taught me how to pretend how to care and fake sympathy when in reality, I was so detached from their issues, I wasn't even thinking about them and was altogether somewhere else. That's healthy ain't it? Thank goodness for the girls who came into my life before/during/after these three.

It sounds bad, I know. I'm getting depressed just writing this because I've sort of repressed these memories for some time. I did grow from the experiences, believe me, but it was a slow growth that at some points made me almost scream at myself in the mirror, "Why? Why do you keep doing this to yourself?" If adults had attempted to intervene, well, they would never have. I was quite the picture of wholesome innocence for a very long time and did a damn good job of putting on a show of how sugar and spice and everything nice I could make things appear. It was only when I would write, that I let my feelings out onto the surface and with those three, I wrote pieces that sounded extremely unhappy. It was and still remains the best way to express my feelings. The simple act of penning words or typing them releases me in the only possible way I can be.

“No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend,” said Michael Thompson, a psychologist who is an author of the book “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.”

No they can't. The adage, experience is the teacher is the best way to go. You're in for a rough, rocky ride with good moments and bad moments, but in the end I think only you can make this discovery on your own.

Trust me. You'll always make it out to the better side.
And only the most wonderful people are there, waiting for you.

Love to you all,


Heather {A Measure Of...} said...

whew! what a post! so much i'd like to respond to.
1. i think we need different people and relationships in different parts of our lives.
2. the friendships that end badly always hurt, and often (in my case) i can't even remember why or how they ended. maybe a natural progression. but the best thing we can do for ourselves (and for moving on in all other relationships whether they be romantic or otherwise) is forgive. we humans have a tendency to carry such huge unforgiveness weights around with us for years, decades even. and the only--certainly the first--person it hurts is ourselves.
3. there is one girl, who was never even my best friend or anything like that, but i was going through a hugely difficult time, and she was pretty mean. at the time, i clung to meanness in general, i think. part of my rough time had to do with an abusive relationship, so i was attracting said types of relationships in other aspects of my life. in the end, we are not friends friends (i totally left the country anyway :) ) but we still might email once in a while. i wish her well, but would never get into a trusting or close relationship with her. but i also know she's not a mean person. but we attracted a weirdness in each other at that moment in our lives. (i don't believe any of us are truly mean. i do believe even the meanest person is light inside, even if they don't let it shine through.)
4. i've had only a few really close friendships throughout my life, and i still have those friendships. they kind of have to last the test of time though before you can truly know if they are fleeting or not.
5. soulmate friends are so beautiful and it's amazing when you find them!

this is officially the longest comment ever!

Sadako said...

Friendship. It can be really toxic. I don't know if my stories are quite as bad as yours, but I've definitely found that sometimes you get can be really hard to connect with people one on one like in TV shows and so.

Jennifer Fabulous said...

This is seriously one of the best blog posts I have ever read.

Oh, and I just have to say that quotes like: "This makes me sound like I have serial killer characteristics, but I promise you, it is purely coincidental" made me laugh out loud during the entire time I was reading this post. You are freaking HILARIOUS!

I have so much to say about this topic that I'm not even sure where to begin. I don't want to write a post here in response to your post. That seems rude. Lol.

But I just wanted to say that I loved reading your stories about past friendships because I can relate. I'm sadly going through two "friendship breakups" with two "bffs." Its pitiful. No matter how old we get (I am 26) there are still Mean Girls who act completely immature. It sucks.

I will say though, that I don't agree we should abolish best friendships. When done right, it can be very healthy. After all, it is like having a sister. And as an only child, I feel grateful to have a legitimate best friend who has been by my side for the past 11 years. She lives across the country but she is always there for me. It makes me feel less alone. I think everyone should have that. It makes me sad to think there are people who don't...

Anyway, I could seriously go on forever but I'll spare you.

I'm gonna have to read that article now! :)

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

I also read the same article and agree with you that it's a bit 'big brother' or at the very least can't they worry/write about something else-

And I agree with Heather's comment above- That people/relationships are there when you need them-

My- I'm very agreeable tonight.

Len♥reNeverM♥re said...

Thought provoking post Heather!
Makes me wonder what ever happened to my best friend back in my kindergarten...hmmm???

Anonymous said...

Wow! I can't believe teachers and educators really think they have a right to go around and police kids friendships. Part of having a best friend is about learning how to deal with all the other emotions that come with close bonds. Sure, jealousy is normal, but eventually we learn how to be secure with ourselves and our friendships. It's how we grow into adults to be well-rounded people capable of multiple relationships with multiple different levels of depth. I had ups and downs during highschool, as we all do, but I think I would have died if I felt like an adult was trying to tell me what to do. I had a wide variety of friends because my parents enrolled me in different activities, we had second homes in places where other kids lived, I was friends with my parents friends' kids. Great post, thanks for highlighting this new trend. And for weaving your own stories in to it too.- G

Andrew Green said...

I've never had more than four friends at a given time....
And the ones I have now are pretty much the same people I associated with in high school. We were always pretty close and exclusive.

I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of school counselors interfering in such situations. It sounds unnatural.

Meredith said...

fascinating article and commentary! though oddly for me the thing that struck and saddened me was the notion that "the days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date." It just sounds so... I don't know, sterilized, less free. I remember those 'former days' and they were such happy times. There's nothing wrong with wanting to encourage kids to make other friends and try to prevent bullying, but the camp that separates children who seem to be forming close attachments is really bothersome to me. It's just too much interference.

Martina said...

Best friends are love connections too i think - some live long and get better with time, others don't.
And they work on us in various ways.
But what would we be without them? Each friend shows us a special side of ourselves, brings out a new color, a new facette. And of course it's great to meet new people all the time. But real best friends are like pearls - not so easy to find and therefore very precious!

Jaime @ La vie...J'aime said...

This is really interesting and so true... i need to read the article!

Carissa said...

what an interesting article and an interesting post! thanks for sharing, though I am sorry to hear you had such awful experiences with your "best" friends.

friendship, I have learned, is tricky. what we need and want from friends changes as we get older, as do the friendships themselves. as with anyone, I've lost friends, kept friends and made new ones, though I've found making the new ones has become much much harder since graduating from college (and working from home!)

my best friend from third grade is still my best friend. we do call each other that. but that doesn't mean we can't have other "besties." but I think we both know that we have been through so much and known each other so long that we are truly each other's best friends. that being said, we've both changed a lot over the years and work/responsibilities/boyfriends have made it more difficult to see each other as often as we'd like. it makes me sad at times, to be honest. but still, I can't imagine her not being in my life, not being my best friend.

and because of that, I don't think it is bad to have one very close friendship. however, I also think you can't be so dependent on that friendship that if something goes wrong, you lose yourself. it's a balancing act. but I definitely don't think schools or teachers should be trying to monitor kids' friendships-- unless they see a true health or safety risk.

sorry for such a long comment! but thanks for bringing up such a though provoking issue :)

Anonymous said...

love the last pic!


Diana Mieczan said...

That is such an interesting post...Really something to think about:)
I wonder whats up with my old friends...As we moved so much I often had to make new friends a few times a year....and I so agree that sometimes friendships might be little toxic....Great post,sweetie!!!
Thanks for that:)

The Zhush said...

Great post...and as a mother to girls now, I always have my radar up for the mean girls...but in the end, its like what you said, to a certain extent, they must experience things in their own lives to grow and learn themselves.

Amber said...

I guess I'm lucky. I've never really had any best friendships go sour. There are a couple of people that I was incredibly close to that I've fallen out of contact with--mostly my fault--but I've never had some blow up that couldn't be fixed by having a little heart to heart. Your GSF sounds like a horrible person/sociopath.

Chic 'n Cheap Living said...

Hi from Bali dear! Wow, all of these girls sound like verified drama queens and seemed to have put you through a lot.

But you learned what you could from these experiences and as painful as it was, it's pretty worth it.

I think it is possible to have best friends and have one myself. Friendship can be a beautiful thing and I hope you find friends that are worthy of your loveliness my dear!

Kristin Quinn said...

Wow. Its interesting to see how the experiences of bad and good friendships can shape us to choose more beneficial and fulfilling friendships as we grow older. Your post has me reflecting on my history of best friends, many who have been in my life forever and others who have drifted away and a few who have fallen out. Thank you for the trip down memory lane and the insight you have given!

Martina said...

Hey Heather, hope you're having a lovely weekend - sleeping in, nice breakfast, a walk in the sunshine, meeting your girlfriends ;) Sunny greetings!

Jo said...

Hmmm....even though I had a huge "break up" with my best friend just after high school graduation, I am still all for having best friends. I learned so much from that friendship, and its eventual demise. P.S. We ran into one another a few years later at a funeral. She approached me and apologized....and neither of us could remember what she was apologizing for. Hahaha!

What I do think we should look at is the romantic relationships among high school kids. That's an area where just sticking with one person is, in my opinion, a bad idea. But, that's another topic for another time. ;)

Hope you have a great work week!!

Mimi said...

this article is really very interesting! i used to have two best friends in high school, and let's just say things didn't end up all too well. i guess that's kinda what the article refers to as possessive factor. said bff #1completely changed everything about herself, needless to say, we no longer talk because my best friend is simply not there anymore. but i'm still best friends with bff #2, and now i don't have just one "best friend", i have 4. there's 5 of us in our close group of friends and we are all each other's best friend. :D

p.s. i am a new follower. i hope you can come visit and maybe follow my blog too. thanks! :)

<3, Mimi