Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Boy Friendships versus Girl Friendships

One of the more fascinating and moving things for me as a parent is to watch my child befriend another. "The better part of one's life consists of his friendships," stated Abraham Lincoln. And is it ever one of the better parts.

Observing the way females friend and the manner in which males conduct a friendship was something I didn't truly begin to do until I became a mother. I believe I really started to sit up and take notice when Kenny was about 13 and I overheard him lacing a conversation with his then best friend with some choice expletives.

"You are a (expletive deleted)!" he said into the telephone. "I really hate you." I was shocked and stormed into the living room where he was on the phone, scolding him not to speak that way to Joe, or to anyone else for that matter. He just laughed at me and insisted that Joe didn't mind; he knew Kenny was joking. I refused to believe him until I called Joe's mom later to apologize, and she relayed that Joe referred to Kenny in the same sweet terms. "That's just boys," she counseled.
Yikes! And yes, boys can often get away with that.

I was in recent email contact with a woman who has been one of my dearest friends since the sixth grade. Apparently I didn't respond in a timely manner to one of her messages, so she emailed back: "Are you mad at me?" Now that's a trademark of girl friendships pretty much no matter what your age or how long the friendship. We're more sensitive. We're prone to imagining that our girlfriend is "mad" at us if they even look at us cross-eyed. And we try not to use wounding words, at least when we're older and wiser. I still don't think even a 14-year-old girl could get away with calling her girlfriend some of the demeaning things boys seemingly casually lob onto one another.

A quick Googling of "children's friendships" revealed that despite the common belief that girls are better at relationships, "most boys consider their friends a vital part of their lives." Apparently a recent study of 10- to 15- year old boys and girls found that girls' friendships are actually more fragile, and, my experience to the contrary, girls allegedly say and do hurtful things to each other more frequently than boys. Girls are additionally hurt to a greater extent at the end of a friendship.

As a child morphs into a teen (or "teen wolf" as a friend of mine hilariously dubbed her daughter), friendships become even more important, with the confusion and turbulence of this period leading both sexes to form even closer bonds, not only with same sex individuals but also with members of the opposite sex. I watched this in action with my older three and now that Jack is a seventh grader, he and his male buddies have
suddenly overnight formed a small posse of boys and girls. Whereas last year he would troll Elm Street with just the guys, now when I pick him up on a Friday he is lounging with a mixed group at the Outback or by Dunkin' Donuts, et al. Of course, with him being my baby, it is with a sense bitter sweet when I spy on his new set of friends; he's growing up and I'm not entirely ready. But I digress...

I look back fondly at the relationships that I formed growing up in small town Weston, where the majority of us who graduated high school with one another had been together since kindergarten and first grade; several since the sandbox in nursery school. The male friendships forged in teenage-hood were often stronger than those with my girlfriends, or at least they were a distinctive type of stalwart. I observe my daughter Jess' platonic bonds with boys and share what my experiences were. I will often pass on the knowledge that her female friendships not only with her New Canaan buddies, but also with those up at her boarding school, will more than likely still be alive and well and precious when she is old and silly like me.

My kids have chosen friends with opposite personalities than their own, they've chosen clones. And most importantly, they have by and large chosen well.

I have recently been "found" on Facebook by a dozen or so men and women (whom I still think of as boys and girls) from my youth. It has hurtled me back in time, reviving memories of how vital their friendships were as I grew; how we all helped one another grow. It makes me picture Blake, Kenny, Jess and Jack as 50-year-olds, waxing nostalgic with Sean, Jenna, Joe, Bria, Caroline, Drew or Cole or Kit. Friends then, and friends in their present time.

You can be seven with a new buddy, or 70 with a crony of decades, and -- to paraphrase Bette Midler -- "friends are the wings beneath our wings." Friends are one of the sweetest things to be thankful for. On Thanksgiving, remember and be grateful for those friends; remind your children to be indebted. Happy Thanksgiving!

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