The friends we love (and the friends we love to hate)

When I was a child I believed in that most ideal and magical of friendships:

The B.F.F.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, B.F.F.’s are Best Friends Forever, a popular idea of friendship introduced to us as impressionable children and reinforced by the books we read and the films and T.V. programmes that we watched.

Sweet Valley High

The ones I remember best were books like the Sweet Valley Kids/High/UniversityArchie Comics; programmes like As Told by GingerBuffy the Vampire SlayerPopularMy So-Called Life; and countless films featuring groups of friends and best friends taking on the world like The Goonies and Now and Then.In Primary school it was my greatest hope to find that elusive dream, a B.F.F. of my very own. And I did have one, for quite a while. For about two years I had my bestie and we had sleepovers and were happy. And then we got a bit older and we made more friends and slowly we grew apart. We were still friends but she found a new B.F.F. and I had found a new group. It’s weird, when I look back at it now how everything seems very…predatory. With my new group of friends there was an obvious favourite among them and although she already had her own bestie, I kind of set my sights on her to be mine.

See? This all reads incredibly creepily. The more I think about it, the more that Primary school was like a battlefield. We always see shows about the woes of being in High School, but most of my worst memories come from Primary School. I’ve always been fat and in Primary School I was picked on and called names and bullied quite a bit, however I didn’t realise it was bullying then because I thought bullying was when other kids beat you up. Even if I had known what it was I don’t think it would’ve made any difference.

Moving swiftly forward, in my first year of High School I made friends with the girl I sat next to in my register class and we decided, as one does, that we were best friends. We had nothing in common, and we didn’t even hang together at break. But we clung on to the title because it gave us something to steady ourselves. Our best-friendship was over before the year was out but we’re still facebook friends. Between grade 8 and Matric I think I went through 5 or 6 different social circles, and the one I found in Matric has been the one I still have the most friends from today. My current Bestie came from that group and as an “adult” I am far more aware that my B.F.F. dream of my childhood was nothing like the real thing. The real thing is better and my expectations are much more realistic these days.

Getting back to those stories from our childhoods, I specifically remember in Archie Comics and in the Sweet Valley series, the unbelievable evil that people seemed to be able to do to each other. I could never understand how Betty and Veronica remained friends despite the nasty things Veronica said and did and despite the fact that they were constantly after the same boy!

Veronica, Archie and Betty

I always liked Betty more than Veronica, but in my older age I have learnt to appreciate the grossness of the entire situation. Betty – low self-esteemed and pining after a boy who treated her like dirt more often than not, Veronica bouncing between Reggie and Archie, so shallow and vicious. Reggie pulling horrible pranks on people, even Jughead was given horrible storylines of betrayal – all in the name of a few laughs. I could never understand what kind of friends would do these things to each other, it baffled me beyond comprehension. And, within the same issue, the cruel, backstabbing stories would be followed by plots of compassion and how friends do anything for each other. And one thing that stands out to me now is certain storylines where Veronica would “give” Archie to Betty as a birthday present or some such thing.

G.R.O.S.S.

The point of this trip to my bookshelf is that I couldn’t understand how friends could treat each other with such nastiness and disregard. However, in my 29 years I have learnt a lot. We do terrible things to our friends, just as they do to us and a good deal of the time it is unintentional because generally we are so concerned with our own affairs that we don’t always see further than our noses.

Backstabbing Barbie

Then there are times when things are done 100% on purpose. Sometimes it’s an invitation that never came, a payment for something or other (but something innocuous enough that bringing it up makes you seem petty). In some cases it is as simple as the tone of voice used for a comment, or the way it’s phrased. Sometimes it’s in the form of a gift – this one’s a real biter because not only are you being insulted, but you have to thank the person for it too.

Yup. We are nasty pieces of work and this has come from years of honing our skills. When we were younger and stupider we said and did shit without thinking. By now we know how to use calculators. So what can we do about it? There’s nothing we can do about what people do to us (other than confront them) but we can try to be better ourselves. I see a bazillion pictures on sites all over the internet with lovely motivational sayings. My goal for my 29th year is to put as many into practice as I can, starting with this one:

Rules for Doing Good