Requiem For a BFF

Being the new girl in 8th grade was like walking over hot coals every day. All the other kids were a part of established cliques. Hormones and insecurity are a double rip tide that pulls under all but the strongest and most resilient of us during middle school.

It was a life preserver to have Karen draw me into her circle of friends during a ski trip. Her clique wasn’t “cheerleader popular”, but they were a pretty cool group. As time went on, we cycled between being besties and drifting from each to connect with others in the intense friendships that characterize adolescence. Karen and I found our first bond in our respective difficult home lives and our shared weed smoking habits, then as each of us came to newfound faith in our Rescuer, Jesus.

When I got married at the end of my sophomore year in college, Karen and I learned that the bond of true friendship was elastic in nature. Our lives went in different directions for a while, and our rubber-band bond stretched farther than it ever had before.

Our lives were different for a while, as I focused on married life and then starting a family, and she traveled abroad and finished college. We fell again into closer orbit after she and her husband started a family. We were together in the trenches of parenting, and our kids grew up spending lots of time together. Even after my family moved a couple of hours away midway through our kids’ respective childhoods, Karen and I stayed tethered to one another by phone call and visit.

I had a solar system of friends and acquaintances, and for years considered Karen the inner ring, my closest friend, fixed in orbit, always and forever my Proverbs 18:24 BFF. What a consolation it was to know there was always someone there who knew my story and was in my corner no matter what. When my husband and I went through two hellish church leadership experiences, Karen’s friendship proved Aristotle’s axiom true in my life: “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” Karen was one of God’s most effective antidotes during those difficult periods, and a bubbly glass of celebration of our shared lives and faith during so many ordinary, extraordinary days together.

As our kids grew into adulthood, our once-synced lives again fell into a stagger step cadence. More than a decade ago, an excruciating breach in my family sent me to the Valley of the Shadow. Karen is one of the most committed party-creators I know, and as time went on, a long, hard season of clinical depression became a buzz-kill party guest and threw Karen and I out of sync in new ways. When Karen and her husband moved to a new part of the country, the rubber band binding us stretched far and thin, and our every-so- often conversations shifted to catching up on newsy bits and referencing our thick catalog of shared memories.

Certainly, there is something wonderfully comforting about having someone to call BFF. David had his Jonathan. Anne of Green Gables shared bosom-friendship with Diana Barry. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are an invincible power duo. But at midlife, many of us realize we’re in for (pardon the pun; I couldn’t resist) a duo-over.

This life stage brings often carries a shift in relationships. I wrote a piece for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog a few years ago about midlife loneliness that follows after kids leave the nest and we discover some of our friendships may be fading as a result. I noted then:

Our kids scattered, some to college, others into the workforce or the military. Some friends relocated or put new energy into their careers. A few marriages ended. The easiest way to deal with the new distance in these relationships was to make excuses for it (“How did we get so busy? Let’s get a date on the calendar ASAP!”) or to try to pretend nothing had changed.

Midlife strips us of the things that formed our network of relationships in our 20’s and 30’s: children's activities or the drive to find meaning in a career. No one I know is riding in a red convertible with her empty-nester Gal Pals, singing along to oldies while heading together to a beach house weekend.

As I’ve matured, my friendships now look less like a rigid, closed-unit solar system and more like an open-source web of relationships. High school cliques and the comfort of having a best friend I could name carried me through first-stage adulthood, but were not sustainable as I moved into midlife. Now, I’m content to know there’s something “best” about each diverse, enriching, relationship in my life, because each is a gift from the Eternal One whose friendship has sustained me ever since the day Karen and I stopped smoking weed together and began following him.

Michelle Van Loon

Since coming to faith in Christ at the tail end of the Jesus Movement, Michelle Van Loon's heritage, spiritual hunger and storyteller's sensibilities have shaped her faith journey and informed her writing. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's popular Her.meneutics blog, and is the author the upcoming release Moments &Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith (NavPress, 2016). She’s also written If Only: Letting Go Of Regret (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and two books on the parables of Jesus.

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  • My life has held a lot of geographical moving making that friendship you talk of seem impossible. Especially in the days where there was such a thing called “long distance”. 😉 My heart has held a desire to have that small circle and when I did, I never saw the progression of life interrupting it as it has. Thanks for helping to put in perspective some of the struggles I’ve had in this area. Yes, miles can definitely test the elasticity of friendship. But it’s not broken yet!

  • Michelle, this is a beautiful description of friendship and one I know well. Oh, “rubber-band bond” is the perfect descriptor for how our relationships stretch and bend and sometimes break. Thank you for this perspective!

  • I love how honest this is–because friendships are hard. I did some research recently that dovetailed with what you’re describing here–it gets harder to make friends as we’re older, and that’s society-wide. In my early thirties, I thought I was the problem–now I know it’s a cultural one. And being able to talk honestly about these real losses–and have gratitude for the friendships that remain helps me stay moored in the sometimes lonely nature of adulthood.

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  • True friends are so important, aren’t they? I love how you went from having one best friend to realize that “there’s something “best” about each diverse, enriching, relationship in my life, because each is a gift from the Eternal One…” God has made such a variety of people and our lives are richer for the diversity that each person brings. I really enjoyed your post!