You young’uns may not know this, but the term “BFF” has been around a long time. My generation used to sign our notes with it, along with other obnoxious acronyms like “LYLAS” (Love you like a sister) and “LYLARS” (Love you like a real sister). In middle school, my BFF and I even had matching t-shirts proclaiming “BFF” in pink puffy paint. It was the iridescent kind, so you know it was legit as fuck. We wore those matching t-shirts to school one day, not knowing how lame they were and how badly we’d get teased. I can’t reveal the real name of our worst bully, but I can tell you she was positively hulking for a thirteen-year-old, and her nickname, as I recall, was “Beef.” Beef and her accomplice, a scrawny ratlike boy with a mullet and an overbite, flounced around school singing “BFF! Burnt French Fries! Burnt French Fries!” (Also, when the teachers weren’t paying attention, “Butt Fuckers Forever.”)
I’ve always sought a partner. Growing up, I had three best friends, serially. One from roughly age 4-11, another from age 12-14, and a third from age 15-16. It was very important to me to classify the friendship as “best”—with witty acronyms, say, or cheap necklaces from Claire’s Boutique.
At about 17, I carried my need for well-defined relationships into the realm of romance, where it stayed. Although I suppose technically my romantic partners have been my best friends for most of my adult life, I’ve tended to refer to Ray as my “best friend” because . . . well, because he’s kind of my favorite.
Last weekend we were at brunch with some college friends we hadn’t seen in years,* and in recounting a story about his roommates, Ray identified his roommate Tom as “my best friend.” I felt a little bubble pop inside me, realizing the truth of it.
How had I not even realized that we barely talked anymore? My husband is pretty much my best friend now, I guess.
It wasn’t like either Ray or I had cast the other aside on purpose. It had just happened.
When Puffy Paint Twin and I first established our best-friendship in seventh grade, I introduced her to my uncle, who later scoffed, “Nobody’s best friends forever.” This was quite a shock to my system of belief—as if, say, someone had told me that I would go on to marry a regular person and not Joey from New Kids on the Block. It wasn’t a mere You’re wrong, more like a You’re wrong, and how can you even say that?
Sadly, my uncle was right—at least about my BFFs. If friendship is the crust of the earth, my first BFF bit the dust in the shifting plate tectonics of sixth grade. We started talking again in high school and are fairly close now, but don’t refer to ourselves as “best friends.” Puffy Paint Twin became a borderline abusive religious monomaniac round about tenth grade. Turns out what I thought was LYLAS was actually LYLASUMWDPTMT (Love You Like a Sister Until My Well-Disguised Psychotic Tendencies Manifest Themselves). She’s currently blocked on Facebook. Here are three quotes from her that exemplify why we didn’t stay friends:
1992: “You’re a selfish little bitch and I don’t know why everyone thinks you’re so nice.”
1997: “I don’t think anybody is really gay. I think the Devil is just telling them they’re gay.”
Her: “Look at this article that proves the Harry Potter books are satanic!”
Friend: “Um, that article is from The Onion.”
My third best friend, through my junior and senior years of high school, is the one who truly breaks my heart. I loved him. I still love him. He is an addict. And I don’t know how to be friends with an addict, so maybe I haven’t been great. But I never gave up on him, because he’s not someone you give up on.
The trouble is, sometimes those friends give up on you. Even if you try really hard. Even if you think you’re doing everything right. Even if you hold their secrets and carry their burdens and hope, hope, hope they’ll come back to you. They don’t.
He’s been in out of rehab over the years, but he’s been sober enough to post on our mutual Facebook friend’s timeline: Wedding congratulations. Photo at the campfire. Birthday wishes. “You’re like a sister to me.” It’s LYLAS all over again, two friends opening their recently purchased necklace on a bench outside of Claire’s. There’s only room for two here, and I don’t even know what I did.
His seat at my wedding, empty. His comforting voice at the other end of the line during my miscarriage, absent. My messages to him, unanswered.
I anticipate having to welcome my son’s future BFF into my home cheerfully and optimistically, knowing that what my uncle once said is true. Nobody stays best friends forever. I suspect the dynamics are a bit more fluid with boys—I doubt I’ll have to worry about necklaces and puffy paint—but still, it will be hard for me to enjoy the present knowing that little Camden or Braden or Hudson or whoever the fuck is temporary.
It’s always the same impossible task. How to love what we know is temporary. There’s a Mary Oliver quote in here somewhere. (Ah yes.)
Maybe my son will be more like his father. Affable and extraverted. Not so gut-wrenchingly disconnected and alone that he can’t let go when it’s time to let go.
*By the way, as you approach 40, college begins to seem like a long, strange dream you had once, full of things you can’t explain to anybody else. Has anybody noticed this? I was 99.8% sober in college,† so drugs aren’t the reason for this phenomenon. I think it has something to do with having all aspects of your life located in one small area and interacting with the same people. Maybe it just happens to people who go to really small schools.
†Also 99.6% chimp and 98.7% bonobo. Which I still am.