There Are Many Kinds Of Friends
Daddy suggests that “best friend” may be the least interesting; child reflects
I have been doing lots of thinking about best friends lately, because Kina has been talking about best friends, and I’ve been thinking about what best friends cost us. One of the things I don’t think I noticed about growing older was when I stopped mentally ranking my friends—a behavior thrust upon us in childhood and reinforced (for those of us born after 1985) by MySpace. Instead, I find I think about friends for different frames of mind. The justice friend. The jazz friend. The electric bike friend. The friend who understands that part of me that got stoned and listened extensively to Aphex Twin in college. The dad friend. The nihilist friend. All of them meet different parts of me, and I’m grateful for each of them (and the other twenty to fifty of them who have carved out little homes in my mind).
Every day, when I drop Kina off at school, I see the little kids outside their classroom, shuffling around to make time with the person they want most to be associated with. Even at five years old, I see these little girls boxing each other out to preserve their statuses with each other. They are all trying to figure out their best friendships. Kina wants a best friend. And her other friends want best friends. And those relationships aren’t necessarily all symmetrical—though maybe one of the best friends also wants to be Kina’s best friend, for now. I don’t know what it all means, but all the little kids are willing to slag off every other little kid in the universe in favor of their respective best friends.
This feels risky, right?
When everybody’s ranking up friendships, it stands to reason that there will be certain misalignments between parties, and I have heard too many stories now of kids coming home in tears because the person they had in the prime slot had relegated them to number two, three, or—shockingly—lower in their own estimation. I had a conversation with one mother whose eight-year-old son was devastated to find that his best friend had made another friend; when she reminded him that he could make new friends, he replied, “BUT EVERYBODY HAS ALREADY MADE THEIR FRIENDS!”
Let me tell you a secret, little dude: friends are not a limited resource. You will need different friends at different times for different reasons, and that best friend of yours does not have to be a friend for all seasons. That guy can be your classroom friend, and maybe if you decide to run track, you can have a separate running friend—Kina has one of those. If you’re like Kina, you’ll need that running friend (Georgia), but also: a New Home friend (Sloane), a shoes friend (Futura), and a friend to talk to at lunch (Runa). You’ll need a falling-down friend (Bliss), a parkour friend (Nicky), and a cousin friend (Otis). At different times in your life, you’ll grow closer to some and then further away, but knowing why you’re friends with somebody will keep you grounded in yourself—it will remind you that the proximity isn’t the point.
Best friends only last a moment; that’s something I’ve learned over the years, and I think it’s a poorly-held secret among most adults. That ephemerality of best-friendship is normal and fine, and the bit that hurts sometimes is the grasping and clutching for the idealized mutual preference as the tide starts to withdraw. With that in mind, let each occasion bring with it a friend-for-the-moment, and let them be there for you (and you for them) as long as the moment calls for it. The friend who is sharing that moment with you is your best friend, and then they are gone, and you are your very own friend. Your most constant friend.
But what if you don’t want just one friend at a time? Don’t worry. There is lots of you to go around, and hopefully many of them. You can have them all at your birthday party and sing and eat cake. They will become friends with each other, in that moment, too. Relish their friendship. Kiss them all goodnight.