“Mama, what’s a BFF?” my daughter asked one afternoon.
Without much thought, I quickly explained the acronym. I was busy: handling hamburger meat, checking I hadn’t burned the French fries in the oven, and sniffing the sink in search of a smell.
She looked at me, puzzled, and I figured it was because it was 4:30 p.m. and I still hadn’t showered.
Her bottom lip quivered.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, washing my hands.
“So, if I’m not a best friend forever, am I the worst friend forever?”
Her face fell. Her shoulders sagged. I knew where this was going.
She’s six, and to six-year-olds, there are only absolutes. Best/worst. First/last. Fun/boring. There is no in-between, no gray waiting area where most things (and people) mill about, periodically trading places or tip-toeing near the edges. And, in that moment, I saw how demoralizing that type of rank-ordering is. I was quickly taken back to 1988, to the child who wasn’t holding the other half of a broken heart necklace, and immediately felt my own heart crack a little.
I could have hurried out to Wal-Mart, five-dollar bill balled up in my fist, bought her one of those damn necklaces, and helped her stake her claim by clasping it around the first friend she saw. I could have promised her she wasn’t the worst friend, that she was, in fact, the very best friend. That they don’t even make necklaces for friends of her status. That she’s even better than the “best.”
But, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to have a BFF.
I don’t want her to think that filing her friendships and labeling them with degrees of importance is any way to start a relationship. Girls–especially girls–are sorted and categorized enough. Prettiest. Smartest. Sweetest. Bossy. Tomboy. Do they really need the extra layer of scrutiny from one another? Their friends? And in first grade, where there’s already competition around who’s reading at the highest level, who’s solving math problems fastest, and who’s first to lose their front teeth, do we really want our kids to fight for friendship?
What, exactly, is a best friend forever in elementary school, anyway? The person who shares their packet of fruit snacks at lunch? The girl who gives you a big push on the swings? The kid who stands up to the class bully for you? No, these aren’t best friends. These are simply friends, and children should be allowed to have as many of them as their hearts desire without the stress of choosing only one to be the bestie. They have a lifetime to prioritize things: favorite flip-flops, top ten songs, best bra. Why would we want them to settle on a best friend so early? I can’t even decide on the best ice cream flavor, and I’m a grown-ass woman.
But, I get it.
We want our children to be well-liked, and what’s the harm in allowing them to celebrate a close relationship with a little token of appreciation? I mean, we all had one. Maybe you were “Be Fri” or “St Ends.” And you wore it with pride, like you belonged. But as innocent as this bauble was in elementary school, it began to tarnish and leave green streaks on your neck in middle school.
As someone who was more Regina George than Winnie Cooper as a teen, I clawed my way through what I perceived to be the ranks of middle school friendships, often leaving behind scratches on someone else’s face. I remember this jockeying to be ruthless, a scramble to the top of a garbage heap where only those who played the dirtiest could be crowned queen of the mountain. And at the base of that stinking mound? A rusted BFF necklace that attracted all the rest of the trash.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for strong female friendships, and I honestly believe that we are just doing our best to put our girls in good standing. But instead of piling them into a pyramid, maybe it’s time for our daughters to understand that the types of friendships that lift them up instead of push them down don’t get built with chintzy metal.
So, can we finally toss the BFF necklace and end the perpetuation of this stupid ritual before it leaves our daughters as bruised and betrayed as we once were?
How about instead of asking who our child’s best friend is, we ask them what makes a good friend? What if we focused on the qualities of a supportive friendship and not the ranking? Maybe our girls would learn to see one another as beautiful threads, each as important as the next, that weave and lock with one another to create a sturdy tapestry.
What if we encouraged our daughters to have a lot of friends? Better yet, a lot friends from a lot of different backgrounds? Yes, this would require that we step out of our own comfort zones, confront our own judgments, and, God forbid, potentially hang with parents we don’t want to talk to let alone invite over for a BBQ all for the sake of diversifying our daughters’ friendships. But wouldn’t this help our daughters see beyond better or worse, and maybe start to appreciate different?
And what if the girls who once celebrated the birth of the best friend necklace all those years ago turned into women who ripped it from their necks for the very last time and, finally, buried it in the ground where it belongs?
RIP, BFF necklace. You were a piece of shit.