It’s All Relative

My brother moved to Chicago a week and a half ago. My mother moved here from New York a little over a year ago. I have four cousins, two aunt-and-uncles and a grandmother who live within city lines (Also a new, three-week-old first cousin once removed. Hi Samantha!) Clearly, there are a lot of us.

Alex, my brother, is an especially exciting addition to the local family. We’ve always been incredibly close. He is, as his girlfriend pointed out recently, the male version of me. Unclear as to whether she thinks this is a good thing.

I’ve heard people say they are so close with their family that they don’t need friends. Their siblings, or their parents, are their BFFs. In fact, the 2006 study “Social Isolation in America,” found that in the 20 years prior, the percentage of Americans who named at least one non-kin person as part of his inner circle went from 80% to 57%.

If I believed in the whole family-as-BFF thing, Alex would be mine. We understand each other, we have that I-know-what-you’re-thinking connection when we’re in big groups, and we’ve been through some pretty rough times together. Luckily, I’m able to put behind me the bullying-the-little-sister years.

But I don’t believe in family-as-friends. Just the other day I was telling my grandmother about this blog and, pointing to my mother, she said “Isn’t she your best friend?”

“No,” I said. “She’s my mom.”

I’m a proponent of separating family, friends and romance. They are different relationships, with different tenets. When I first moved to Chicago, I had few friends, so I spent a large portion of my time with my aunt and cousins. And while I love them and love spending time with them, I craved a world of my own. I wanted a group of friends who didn’t know the inner workings of my family and who, more importantly, didn’t care. I wanted friends who were all mine.

I don’t want to demean the importance of having wonderful family. When I’m in a bind, I go straight to Mom or Bro or Aunt or Cuz before I try friends. I’m certain they’d come through for me if necessary, and I don’t feel that same confidence in my new pals. Yet.

But I think everyone needs some non-familial friendships. For sanity’s sake. There’s something about being with relatives that brings out the crazy in us all. And when that happens, we need someone to escape to.

I wrote about this back when I was pondering the March sisters (and the response was fascinating!), but now that my big bro is my new neighbor, it’s on my mind again. I hope to hang with him a lot—and will always feel comfortable calling for a last-minute lunch date—but I still say he’s family, not friend. What do you think? Can relatives do double duty?

13 Comments

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13 responses to “It’s All Relative

  1. I don’t think Mom can be a bff but I do think a sibling can. My sister is my bff even though she lives 150 miles away. Mom is Mom but siblings can do double duty.

  2. Ana

    I love my family but GOD NO they are not my BFF!!
    There is a special different relationship you have with people that have known you from birth, and there is a lot of baggage that goes into those relationships, too. I agree with Trish that siblings can sometimes be BFF (I see this usually with sisters) but while I love my sister & enjoy spending (some) time with her, I too like to keep the relationships separate. There is a satisfaction out of building a close relationship from scratch—of finding someone who wants to hang out with you (and vice versa) just because they LIKE you and not out of any (real or perceived) obligation or tie. And a freedom to being with people who do not know your mother or mother-in-law so that you can speak freely about any topic without worrying who it’ll get back to!

  3. My bro, Alex, moved to Chicago last year (creepy similarity?) and we hang out maybe once a week. Typically at my house with some beers. As a sibling and not a “friend,” he doesn’t expect to be entertained, treated like a guest or even be protected from my occasional bitchiness. We don’t have to go out to hang out and he’s super comfy at my place — hell, he took a nap there this weekend during a football game.

    So even though he’s kind of like a BFF, he’s really just a brother. I buy his dinners, he brings me booze, he’ll babysit my dog, I’ll drive him to Costco. I can think of 1 real friend where these things are also regular occurrences, but it’s just different with a sibling. A different type of friendship. Enjoy it!

  4. Karen A.

    The sibling relationship is different from the BFF, but both are special and enriching.

  5. I’m not terribly close to most of my family. At least not the crazy bit. The rest of’em just live far away. For a while I thought about having invisible friends, but I was afraid that they would make me look fat by comparison.

    • Lorrie Paige

      An invisible friend isn’t a bad idea for putting your want out there in the universe, like visualizing that you already have a best friend, and pretending that you do until you actually have one is a great idea, in my opinion.

  6. Lorrie Paige

    Wow, you’re more picky than I am in choosing friends! Hahaha!

    I can understand you wanting friends outside your close family, but I think–going by how you describe your closeness with your family (which is absolutely beautiful)–that they are also your friends in SOME FORM of the definition of friendship.

    In some of my favorite books on friendship, they always mention real-life examples of family members as BFFs too.

    I’d certainly have them as my friends–in addition to non-related friends, but I have no closeness with my family in any way whatsoever.

    Maybe try to get some of your now out-of-town friends/BFFs to move to Chicago too. That way your BFF search in Chicago would be solved! :)

  7. JP

    I definitely think sisters can be BFF’s. I think you can have a sister BFF and a friend BFF. They are different but with a sister, it’s someone who just gets you because they know you in a way that someone unrelated just doesn’t know you. Kind of like you describe the relationship with your brother but if he was a girl and he could then do all the fun girl things you do with your BFF.

  8. Jean

    My husband is my best friend, not my BFF though. Does that make sense? My BFFs are scattered across the country and I haven’t found a local one yet. (I moved here to be with my husband about 2 years ago. Sound familiar?) I joke that my husband is also my life coach. (He gives the greatest advice.) But it’s different with my female BFFs. I don’t have any siblings, but I would imagine it could be possible. Why categorize everything? Just be friends and be happy he’s closer to you. : )

  9. Lorrie Paige

    Added note from an “online friend” of mine, when I discussed to her my search for local friends.

    She said, frankly she doesn’t understand the need for friends because her family has naturally always been her friends.

    So having family as her main friends is a given, in her opinion.

  10. I agree with your perspective. It isn’t that you can’t be friends with family members, but there also needs to be non-family friends. I think it is important because non-family friend relationships brings things out in your own identity. I am not certain family friendships can always do that. Interesting subject Rachel.

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