Upstairs tonight, I have two broken-hearted little girls tossing and turning in their beds. They are each missing an important piece of girlhood: a best friend.
My oldest girl is sad because her best friend of two years has moved away. She tries to pretend it doesn’t bother her, but the loss cuts deeply. It comes out in strange ways, overreacting to disappointments, unnecessary concern about the specifics of after school plans.
At school, she has a social void she doesn’t know how to fill, and the stress is getting to her.
My younger girl is sad because she has never had a best friend. An introvert like me, she hasn’t the knack for mingling that her sister has. She is coming to the end of her preschool years, and has awoken to the fact that most of her classmates have special friendships.
“Why doesn’t anyone choose me?”
Oh, those words destroy me. That’s what a best friend is, after all. Someone who chooses you, above all the others. Someone who finds special value in your person, and you return the feeling in their company. Before we become obsessed with the romantic version of this game, the fundamentals are laid out in our early childhood connections. We all want someone to want to be with us.
I struggle to answer. I mouth some platitudes about how we have many kinds of friends. But she knows I am talking around the question. I don’t know why anyone chooses anyone else. Friendship, especially best friendship, has always been a giant mystery to me.
As I hold her close and tell her how much she means to everyone around her, I explode inside into a spiral of mom guilt and despair. How have I not supported her social development enough? I am a terrible example, I should be more outgoing and less aloof. I never push her to join in when she isn’t ready, should I be less hands-off? I nearly shake with the weight of the self-recriminations and rush of pain.
I tuck her back into bed, knowing I haven’t really helped her. I look at the clock, it’s late. My partner is out of the country. I feel a need to talk, but to who? I don’t have a friend I can call late at night anymore. I have many close friends, but right now I don’t have anyone I feel comfortable getting out of bed to discuss my emotional turmoil. This realization sends me further down the mommy shame spiral, as if my unsocial influence must be having a poisonous effect.
All three of us girls now lie in our beds, each lonely, each feeling rejected. We are singles in the doubles game of friendship. I know from my own hard won experience that this state of aloneness is temporary. The elementary school social network will shift, and the older girl will connect in particular with someone new. The younger girl will start a new school in the fall, and some lucky child will learn what a funny and imaginative playmate she can be. I know – well, however grown-ups make friends, that will happen for me, or an old acquaintance will be renewed. All these things will happen, in due course and in good time.