Nowadays, it seems like casual acquaintances quickly rise to the level of BFF -- Best Friends Forever. My 21-year-old daughter boasts over 2,500 'friends' on Facebook. After a while, the term friend itself starts to ring hollow. Despite numerous degrees of separation, a friend's brother's cousin's girlfriend may still qualify as a FB friend. And suddenly there's a "new BFF" which is really a BFFN (best friend for now), as most don't stand the test of time.
So what makes a BFF? Very few childhood friendships continue past the tumultuous teens and the college years. Inseparable high school chums are often replaced by college buddies who help bridge the gap between youth and adulthood. And those too may fade into distant memory as we grow older and our circle of friends is determined by the schools our kids attend, the religious communities we belong to, where we work and how we vote. The sweep of life leaves a detritus of friends behind.
So it was delight and excitement when my two best friends from childhood popped up on Facebook. The layers of time quickly faded as I stared at the photos of mature women with layered rich lives and remembered the buck tooth smiles and awkward teenage grins. These were friends who -- according to our mothers -- first bonded in the playpen. After our initial reconnection, messages were sent with smiley faced LOLs, which lead to a hastily planned best friend reunion (the "forever" part was TBD, I suppose). We were to visit our hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, where we played as little girls, shed our innocence as teenagers, and came of age amidst the excitement and turmoil of the sixties.
As the days leading up to the reunion approached, I was overcome with excitement. I shared the news with coworkers, friends, and strangers. Memories long forgotten began to reemerge. I recalled the intensity, anxiety and excitement of cheerleader tryouts in ninth grade. (All three of us made the team.) I remembered the anguish we felt after my friend's older brother was drafted, when the horror of seeing body bags on the nightly news suddenly became very personal. And as we awkwardly shifted from girlhood to adolescence, our emerging sexuality was at times overpowering. One of our daring capers was to stealthily obtain a copy of "The Sensuous Woman", reading with feigned disgust and titillation about the "Whipped Cream Wriggle". From Barbies to boyfriends -- through the shifting tides of girlhood and womanhood -- my girlfriends and I shared a journey that was both profound and simple. We grew up together. And then we grew apart.
But I wondered -- after spending a weekend together, once the girlish excitement faded, would we still have much in common? Would the bonds that so strongly held during our formative years survive into middle age? And would we be able to recapture the essence of what we so loved about each other; a shared history, a cherished sense of fun, and an empathic connection that helped us heal each other's wounds as we stumbled awkwardly into adulthood?
The answer was yes. The weekend was spent visiting old haunts throughout the town, such as the park where we rode and fell off our bikes, imagined a large boulder (which did not seem so large anymore) was a comfy sofa, and smoked pot in the early mornings before high school. (How I ever passed first period geometry is still a mystery). We laughed, cried and retold stories with cackling exhortations. We included my 85-year-old mom as an honored guest, the only mother among us still alive. My mom reveled in the reminiscing, particularly the recollections of my dad who had a special fondness for both my friends. Oh how I wished he could have been there.
Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the reunion is that the essence of our friendship was still very much alive. Spending time with people who have known you your whole life can be deeply comforting and affirming. Even though there were gaps, it was remarkable how quickly we were able to pick up again and regain the sense of camaraderie we had shared so long ago. I felt whole being with friends who knew that I once loved Bordeaux cookies, hated my frizzy hair, and struggled with blinding headaches. We did not have to explain ourselves. We knew each other and still loved each other in ways both simple and profound.
That is the real definition of a BFF. And that is the true meaning of friendship. As we age, may we share each other's joys and comfort one another through the inevitable losses ahead. And may we continue the story of our friendship, building new memories as we cherish the past, for the rest of our days.
Two thousand friends on Facebook have nothing on three real childhood BFFs.
Tell me, how do you define a true friend in your life?