In today’s fast-moving society, many teen-agers find themselves struggling to maintain the friendships they began back when plaid and alligator logos were considered intense fashion statments.
How do teen-agers keep these friendships going? How have Bert and Ernie survived as “Sesame Street” friends in spite of Ernie’s continual pranks and antics?
First off, what is it that initially attracts people to each other?
There are proverbs that suggest why we have the friends we do: “Birds of a feather flock together"; “opposites attract.”
But which is more true?
“I don’t think that opposites attract more than non-opposites,” says Lucy Steiner, a marriage and family counselor in Placentia. “When they do attract, it could be for a variety of reasons. For example, someone may do what another wishes she could do, and therefore she is attracted to this friend as an alter ego or as wish fulfillment.”
Julie Stayner, a former counselor at Connelly High School in Anaheim, says that friends don’t want to have too much in common, that there must be something that distinguishes one from the other.
“I think that there has to be a common-base interest in any type of relationship,” says Stayner, now a college counselor with a private practice. “But two people can’t have absolutely everything in common. If they have everything in common, neither has anything to add to the relationship and it stagnates.”
But some teen-agers say similarity breeds contentment.
“I look for someone I can talk with and will understand,” says Molly Spengler, 17, a senior at Connelly. “She has to be on the same wavelength--someone I can share and do things with, have a good time with. Overall, she has to be someone I can laugh with yet at the same time cry with.”
Spengler’s best friend since the seventh grade has been Angela Asher, also a 17-year-old Connelly senior. “Dependability,” Asher says, is her most important criterion for a best friend. “I look for someone who can understand me, who will take me for what I am and isn’t constantly analyzing me.”
Tina DeMarco, 14, and Jennifer Miller, 15, both sophomores at Connelly, have been each other’s best friend since their freshman year.
“Trust and loyalty are really important,” DeMarco says. “They have to be someone who can keep a secret.”
Says Miller: “I look for someone who has the same qualities as I do--who is like me and my personality. I look for someone who is nice and fun to be with.”
But what makes a friend a best friend? Is it simply a matter of time spent together? Or something deeper?
Stayner suggests that the answer is different for each person. “One may say, ‘My friend respects me, cares about me and understands me.’ Another may say, ‘My friend is a lot of fun to be with.’
“A best friend,” she says, “must be someone who can listen without always giving advice and who can share her feelings on a pretty consistent basis. She must also care, understand and respect her best friend.”
And how do best friends differentiate?
“A friend is someone you know; they come and go, and you can’t rely on them to be there forever,” Asher says. “A best friend is someone you can sit with and be with, where you don’t need to talk. She is someone whereby saying nothing, you are both saying everything.”
Says Spengler: “A friend is someone you can go out with and do fun things with. A best friend is someone you can confide in, open up to, and trust with your innermost thoughts.”
In order to remain best friends over a matter of time and through thick and thin, counselors suggest that communication is the key.
“A disaster in a friendship is natural. . . ,” Steiner says. “Either one has smaller, more frequent upheavals that tend to reoccur, or one has a crisis here and there. These can be a help to a relationship if the friends trust each other enough to explain what led to their actions and what it is that is missing from their relationship.”
Says DeMarco: “We always talk things out and we don’t keep things bottled up. We don’t lie just to keep the other one happy. I think we also know when we get on each other’s nerves.”
Adds Miller: “I wouldn’t say it’s the amount of time that you spend together but what you say in that time that can make you best friends.”
What can get on friends’ nerves?
“Guys weaken it,” Miller says. “Sometimes I won’t get along with her boyfriend or she doesn’t get along with mine. She’ll always be with him and we don’t get to talk as much--that’s where the conflict comes in.”
How do best friends define a best friend?
Says Spengler: “Her problems are my problems; we deal with things together. When she’s in a good mood, so am I. When she’s in a bad mood, I am too because someone I care about is hurting.”
Asher adds: “A best friend is reliable, understanding, truthful and totally blunt: I don’t say what she wants to hear but what she needs to be told.”