One of my students recently posted this article from the New York Times. He was horrified by the Orwellian overtones of the piece -- the notion of Big Brother stepping in to discourage kids from developing significant "exclusive" friendships.
On initial reading of the article, I have to admit there was a part of me that could see the logic of encouraging kids to socialize in larger groups. I've often struggled in larger group situations, particularly if there are people in the group I don't know well. It may come across as snotty or aloof, but it's really just about me not being comfortable. Maybe if I had been thrown into these larger group situations as a kid, I'd be more comfortable as an adult.
And yet, there is a whole lot to be said for having that one special person. My childhood is a bit littered with best friends. Many close friendships were extinguished by people moving or being stuck in different classes -- ultimately opening the door to new friendships. I was an awkward, nerdy kid, so it was nice to find fellow nerds with whom to bond as a child. Even though the friendships didn't necessarily last for decades, I am filled with warm memories of riding bikes, slumber parties, secret sharing, and crazy adventures. I can remember sitting in the backseat of my 6th grade best friend Alicia's mom's car refusing to speak anything but Valley Girl speak. (This was the year Moon Zappa's "Valley Girl" came out -- and the year Square Pegs was our favorite show on tv.) I think fondly of sleepovers at the home of my freshman year best friend Keri giggling for hours because we thought they were singing "I like it kinky" in Simple Minds's hit "Alive and Kicking." I think of the excitement when my friend Jenny (best friend sophomore year) got a VHS copy of Top Gun -- and we would watch the volleyball scene over and over and over again. And don't even get me started on the beauty of breakfasts and dinners spent in the kitchen of my high school best friend Caity -- I've never met a better cook than her dad.
For the past twenty-one years, though, I have been blessed to have one best friend. We met on my first day of my freshman year of college. We bonded over a shared love of James Dean. I remember thinking that I wanted to be her friend but was sure that someone so cool would never, ever give me the time of day. Danielle seemed like one of those girls I had admired in high school -- the girls who seemed smart and funny and totally cool and usually pretty nice but not the kind of person with whom I would be good friends. Thank the stars I was wrong. Over the course of the years, Danielle and I have grown closer and closer -- this despite the fact that we've only shared the same zip code for five of our twenty-one-year friendship. Danielle inspires me on a nearly daily basis -- whether it's to be brave and try something new, to take better care of myself, or just find the good in any situation.
True, I am blessed to have many friends -- friends from college, from work, from theatre -- but there is nothing like that one best friend who knows all the secrets, who knows where the bodies are buried, and has the photographic proof that will always keep you from running for office. I feel sorry for this new generation of kids, for while they may have the ease in groups that I still lack at 38, they don't have that soul mate who is that first call you make in triumph or tragedy, the best friend who for some reason seems to love you no matter what. I wouldn't trade that friend for anything.