Sunday Reflections: What if Best Friends Aren’t Forever?
My half of my BFF necklace sits in a box in my closet. I don’t know what happened to the other half; maybe it flew out the car window that fateful day our junior year that changed my life forever. Maybe they took it off of her when they loaded her into the ambulance, trying hard but without success to save her life.
Earlier this year, January 1st to be exact, the other part of our trio left this world as well, after succumbing to a depression that I could not fathom, he ended his life.
I thought about them both this weekend as another close friend posted a collage of pictures of her girl’s weekend out in Southern Texas. There she was, laughing and smiling with her three closest childhood friends.
I thought about them, too, as The Teen announced that one part of her best friend trio was moving away.
There has been a steady drumbeat in the YA community, a cry for more books that celebrate female friendship. Female friendship has become a sort of sacred sacrament in YA literature. We celebrate books like Dumplin’ and Kissing in America (both books I love) where female best friends are challenged, they grow, and then they come back together in the spirit of love and forgiveness. Best friends, we tell girls, are forever.
But what if they’re not? What are we telling girls whose friendships bend and then they break? Or they realize that their best friend is now their worst enemy? Or what if their best friend simply moves away? Or what if their best friend, like mine, drives off the road one fateful day in their junior year and forever comes at the age of 16?
By the time I graduated high school, I had already been enrolled in nine different schools in three different states. I was what they called a “military brat”. The only book I have ever read that captures the feeling of knowing you were going to move in the next three years is IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE ALIVE by Eric Gansworth. Knowing that your life is steeped in impermanence puts a certain cloud of doom over potential relationships. You enter into your best friend contract knowing that no, this isn’t forever, this is just until your parents gets their next assignment.
It is perhaps because of this history of lost best friends that I have always been drawn to the mythos of best friends forever. I have craved it in ways that you can’t even imagine. When I see articles that ask why Friends is still such a popular show, I don’t hesitate to answer: it’s because it celebrates the mythos of best friends forever. We are all looking for our Scooby gang. We all want to belong somewhere.
The BFF mythos is a concept that is spoon fed from girls since the moment of conception it seems. Entire industries are build on its foundation; there are rows and rows of necklaces at your local Claire’s or Justice glistening in the store lights reminding girls that they need another half to share their spoils of shopping with. Without a BFF, your heart is simply a broken half, you need another half to make you whole.
Maybe from the get go girls are taught that they are only ever half a person needing half a necklace and that they always need a second half to complete the heart picture. In your tween and teen years it’s your BFF, and then later your husband or significant other. First there are two half necklaces to make a whole and then later in life there are two lit candles that become one candle when you snuff out your individual light and the two become one.
Here’s the simplest truth: sometimes, best friends aren’t forever. And that’s okay. Sometimes friends grow apart. Sometimes friends become toxic. Sometimes friendships end. And we need those stories as well. We need books that model relationship grieving to our tweens and teens. We need books that remind them that some relationships shouldn’t continue and that’s okay. We need books that tell our lonely and disenfranchised and still kind of lost teens that it is okay.
Best friends forever is nice. I’m not going to lie, it’s a concept that I will probably always covet, but it hasn’t been my reality and I often finding myself lacking because I, as a female, have not successfully cultivated the BFF status. But best friends aren’t always forever. We moved four years ago from one state to another, seeking job security in a time in which our country faces some of its most challenging financial inequalities that many of our kids will ever see. In the four years that we have lived in this neighborhood we have seen families move in and out, also chasing financial and job security.
Look, I’m not saying that best friends forever is a toxic concept or something that shouldn’t be celebrated. Because it’s not and we should. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate books that celebrate female friendship, because again, we should and I do. I always will. What I am saying is that we need to make sure that the message of BFFs is balanced with another important message, the message that says if your friendship is toxic or harmful to you, it’s okay to end it and if your friendship does end, it’s okay to grieve it, forgive yourself, and find new friendships.
Friendships, like all of life, are complicated things. We need more than a three-letter acronym to help our teens understand and navigate them.
This Sunday Reflection is brought to you by a mother watching her daughter navigate the middle school years, and that probably tells you everything you need to know to understand where I’m coming from.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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