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OMG–Now Even the BFF Isn’t PC

Published: June 19, 2010 | Last Updated: March 25, 2023 By | Reply Continue Reading

By Diane Auer-Jones

I read this morning in The New York Times that some schools, teachers, and even summer-camp counselors are working hard to disrupt best friend (BFF) relationships and, instead, encourage youngsters to be part of big groups.

Some schools and camps go so far that they intentionally break up best friends by, for example, assigning them to different classes, different sports teams, or even directly pairing them with another child who is seemingly lonely and without friends of his or her own.

Sure, some best-friend relationships may be unhealthy and destructive, and I agree that school officials may need to intervene in those cases. On the other hand, for the most part, I would encourage school officials to get back to the important job of teaching students how to read and write and allow the kids to work through the ups and downs of friendships, while encouraging parents to intervene if a friendship becomes noticeably dangerous.

Sure, some friend pairings can turn out to be destructive and elitist, but most aren’t.

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of friend groupings-some call them gangs-that aren’t such a positive thing either. Maybe, just maybe, we ought to just let kids work through friendships on their own, recognizing that while some children might gravitate toward a best-friend pairing, others may be friend roamers-the kinds of kids who seem to have multiple groups of friends rather than a single BFF.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think about my own best friend and the many ways our friend-pairing has enriched my life since I was five years old. I met my best friend on my first day of school, and while we spent about three months as arch-competitors and enemies (or at least to the extent that five-year-olds can be), we soon became best friends. When a school redistricting effort in the early 1970’s took us, together, to a new school, our bond was further strengthened by the mile-long walk we shared every morning and every afternoon from our district-border homes to the new, open-space school.

I can’t imagine my life without Evie. There were sleepovers almost every weekend, and together, over the years, we learned how to bake, play tennis (sort of), speak French, march in a drill team, sing in a choir, and countless other things. We spent endless hours listening to Elton John and the Bay City Rollers, and while we were separated as she attended Catholic education classes, took horseback riding lessons, and became an accomplished ballerina, and I spent summers at a community pool and boating, we always found our way back to each other as the day came to an end and extracurricular activities melted into mundane things like dinner, household chores, and homework.

My life was enriched by her large Italian family, and especially her Aunt Anna who would allow us to have sips of Asti Spumanti and who was intrigued by the blond-haired girl who always sat at their table.

Evie’s mother was the best cook ever, and was far more interesting than were the women in my own family. Ida Camione had enjoyed-prior to marriage and motherhood-a career as an Italian singer and radio star. Evie’s mother smoked cigars after dinner. Evie’s parents were much older than mine, and while my father had served in the National Guard during the tumultuous times of the Vietnam War, hers had been honored for his service during World War II.

When my family moved away for two years, I was devastated by the loss of my best friend, but we managed to stay connected through letters (no e-mail in those days, and our parents certainly wouldn’t pay for long-distance phone calls). My happiest day ever was when we returned to the old neighborhood-this time without my father to pick up life where we had once left off.

During those two years, Evie had made new friends, and even became part of a new best-friend pair, but I was welcomed back and as we made our way through middle school, our friendships grew into a group. Over the years, among that group there were times of new “best friend” pairings, for example, when activities or interests brought two in the group particularly close, or when a boyfriend or part-time job distracted one friend from the other.

There was nothing destructive about our friend pairing, and frankly, I don’t know if I would have survived the unspeakable pain of life with an alcoholic father and the messiness of my parents’ very ugly divorce had my friend, Evie, not been there to make me laugh and remind me that my parents’ life was not mine. Evie’s parents gave me hope and love and a good dinner when I was despondent.

As adults, Evie and I live very different lives and we each have developed an extensive circle of friends exclusive of each other. I have work friends and neighborhood friends and boat friends and couple friends, as does she. But in the ven diagram of life, we have multiple friend groups that overlap from time to time because we mostly, through children’s birthday parties, have brought them together for shared celebrations.

Our children are a decade apart in age, but still we were there for each other through our asynchronous but equally difficult days of extended pregnancies, new babies, and the typical ups and downs of new and evolving marriages. Although I might be a grandmother by the time her children reach the difficult teenage years, they already know-as does she-that my home is always open to the frustrated teen who needs a break from his or her impossible mother and father, or to the mother or father who needs a calming break from the raging storm of hormonally charged teenagers.

Our children adore each other, with mine feeling a strong desire to mentor and guide her children, and hers seeing mine as strong role models (which, I’ll admit, was not such a great thing when one of my sons went through his Gothic stage). When my boys were teens, Evie was quick to remind me of all of the stupid/daring/dangerous things we did as teens, and when hers are teens, I’ll be there to remind her that this, too, shall pass.

Together, Evie and I have been there for each other through good times and bad, and we lament that life prevents us from seeing each other as much as we would like. But when we do get together, time lapses dissolve, our husbands watch us transform into the 16-year-olds we once were, and we laugh about all of the stupid things we have done over the years while toasting to the good fortune we have had in finding a lifelong friend. A best friend is one of life’s greatest gifts and I can’t imagine my life without mine.

In reading today’s article, I think about our teachers-Ms. Thiesen, Mr. Rhones , Mr. Robey, Mr. Edgerton, Madam Belfore, Ms. Press, among others who recognized the strength of the Evie-Diane friendship, and worked to nurture it rather than break it apart based on some untested pop-psychology, school-of-education recommendation.

The idea of teacher as “friend coach” is preposterous (it belongs in the annals of bad ideas along with structured playdates) and I dread the day when adults seek to impose their own values and world views upon the sanctity of the most precious right any of us has-which is the right to chose our own friends … including a very best friend.

Diane Auer Jones is president of Washington Campus and former assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. This post previously appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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Category: Child and adolescent friendships, KEEPING FRIENDS

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