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I have had about half a dozen best friends in my life, going back to when I was six and Lynn was seven. She lived one block away on an elm-shaded street crowded with kids. I had other friends on the street Cindy, Cheryl, Kelly, Diane but they were not best friends.

How do best friends happen? Why do we become best friends with one person and not another? I’m also puzzled by how someone I can’t stand some creep, ass-kisser, bully, cheat has any friends at all, let alone a best friend. But it happens all the time. Even Saddam Hussein might have had a best friend (or not, which might be illuminating).

Sometimes I imagine we are equipped with emotional sensors, like those stick-on patches the doctor applies to your body when conducting a cardiogram. You can’t see them they‘re either invisible or under the skin but when you meet someone and your sensors match up, like round pegs in round holes, you have the makings of best-friendship.

Best friends sleep in backyard pup tents on hot summer nights. Best friends swim together. Best friends play games together, the way Lynn and I did, or learn about boys together, encourage each other to explore the world around us and learn about life together.

Best friends grow up and move or grow up and change and sometimes they die it’s happened once with me and if we‘re lucky we find another best friend. It’s easier to break up with a best friend as there seldom are nasty recriminations, as often happens when lovemates break up.

My next best friend was Karen. We stayed best friends to the end of Grade 8. We were thrilled at the prospect of going to high school together until one evening, when we arrived on our bicycles at our meeting spot, I had to tell her that we were moving to Wisconsin. I didn’t have enough life experience to comprehend the enormity of the disappointment and I didn’t cry until I was home alone in bed.

An explanation I heard recently for why people become friends, sometimes even best friends, is that they share the same sense of humor. The person who told me this insisted that the operative word is share. “It’s not just that another person makes you laugh,” she said, “but that you can make them laugh.”

My next best friend was Dawn. We actually used to crash weddings in the summer, much like the fellows in this year’s summer movie Wedding Crashers. We’d arrive, pin a $5 bill on the bride’s dress as she and her new husband stood at the entrance. Then it was free beer, free eats, dancing all night.

I am in my mid 40s. I’ve tried love and marriage but over the years best-friendship has proved much more enduring than love-ship. Even when best-friendships end they tend merely to lapse and often can easily be restored. Love-ship too often turns to hate-ship. And when best-friendship ends there’s no alimony.

Best friends don’t try to change you. Whenever I attend a wedding I am struck by the stark reality of marriage, expressed in the words: aisle, altar, hymn.

For me, best friends always are women. I have many close friendships with men more man friends than women friends actually but I can’t become a best friend with a man because I will want to have sex with him, and nothing ruins best-friendship more quickly than having sex.

Best friends tolerate your moods, even if your mood indicates you like to be alone much of the time. Edward Gibbon (The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire) never married but considered himself a contented man. “I am indeed rich,” he said, “since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes.”

I enjoy solitude far more than I ever imagined as a younger woman. We don’t know nearly enough about the benefits of solitude. Married couples rhapsodize on their perfect unions, but unless they both die in the same head-on collision or plane crash one outlives the other, and unless you learn how to enjoy it the solitude can be a curse.

Psychiatrist/author Anthony Storr says in his book Solitude that friendships become less important as we grow older. “Perhaps this is a beneficent arrangement of Nature, designed to ensure that the inevitable parting with loved ones will be less distressing.” He does not regard marriage as the elixir. “If we did not look to marriage as the principal source of happiness,” Storr writes, “fewer marriages would end in tears.”

There are books, articles, movies, TV shows and songs about love, but precious little good advice about friendship. Or solitude, for that matter. There are few lessons on how to become a best friend or how to maintain best-friendships.

We learn about best-friendship in the gutter, much like the other Maybe that is why so many people are bad at friendships, they never truly learned how to be a friend. Friendship is all about caring for another, putting them before yourself, being friends through thick and thin, good times and bad. There are no classes on how to be a good friend, unlike marriage classes. There are no friend therapists, unlike for marriage. Maybe it is past time for friend clinics and teaching people how to be a good friend.


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