Last night I went to see first-time novelist Kelly O’Connor McNees read from her new book The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott at Barnes and Noble. I’ve never actually been to one of these author events before, but I checked out the B&N website the other day because I thought readings might be a good place to pick up potential BFFs. (That’s right, I go trolling bookstores for women.) I was especially excited to see that McNees was reading because, first of all, Little Women is one of my favorite books so I get excited about any tangentially related novels (see: Geraldine Brooks’ March), and I’d actually just read a rave review of The Lost Summer on another blog so it was on my radar. Extra enthusiasm came when I saw that the 30-year-old author is from just outside Chicago, so perhaps she could be my friend (I’m in the market for a new-author BFF whose brain I can pick. Wait, that sounds gross.)
Thinking about Little Women from my new friendcentric perspective, it occurred to me that the four sisters are pretty much each other’s only BFFs. We hardly hear about any other female friends throughout the entire story. Louisa, like her literary counterpart Jo March, was the second of four girls (the youngest of whom was named May. Amy in the book. Really, Louisa? I love you but I’d think you could handle something more creative than swapping the first two letters…). It got me thinking about the family as BFF question: can they be one and the same?
Just as I generally believe that husbands and BFFs should fall under separate-but-equal, I think one has to distinguish family from friends. Yes, my brother and I are incredibly, perhaps unusually, close. I call him about pretty much anything and everything—Modern Family, professional dilemmas, complaints about family. Not that I’ve ever had any (Hi Mom!). Similarly, my mother and I talk every day. She lives only a few blocks away so I see her Quite. Often. Still, I guess I’m a compartmentalizer: I like to keep family in one box, husband in another, BFFs in the third. This doesn’t mean they can’t meet and mingle, but I think it’s helpful to have different people in each role.
Also, there’s a muy importante distinction between friends and family: Friends are people we choose.
In Joseph Epstein’s Friendship: An Expose, he writes, “A best friend is that person who gives you the most delight, support, and comfort, often in those realms where family cannot help. A best friend is perhaps the only person to whom you can complain about the difficulties presented by your family.” I tend to agree with this. If members of my family double as my best friend, then who do I complain to about my family? And, if ever necessary, to whom do I complain about my BFF?
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I totally asked the author out. She had no cards with her but said it’s important for writers to stick together and I should email her via her website. (I know you’re thinking this was a classic brush off, but I really don’t think so. Perhaps that is classic denial.) She’s around my age and new to the biz too, so I think it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Do you think a family member can be a BFF? Or is that akin to mixing business with pleasure? You know where I stand… Now you weigh in.