A Family Affair?

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.


Filed under Pickup Lines, The Search

38 responses to “A Family Affair?

  1. I’ve noticed in my own circle of friends/acquaintances that people who have a lot of family, especially siblings or cousins in the same age range who live nearby, tend to socialize mainly with their family members. I always marveled at that, but as someone with one brother (five years younger) and no close relatives nearby, it’s hard to decide whether I’d be the same or not. I would think siblings of the same gender would have more in common and thus hang out more.

    My brother was more like a charge of mine than a friend for many years; it’s only recently that we’ve come to regard each other with true, friendly (as opposed to familial) affection.

    One of my closest gfriends here in my newish town has a sister, and even though they don’t live in the same town, they are (in my opinion) insanely close. My friend has actually cried upon her sister leaving from visit before! Perhaps those of us who don’t have a same-gender sibling cannot hope to understand? Maybe we’re even a little jealous? (Maybe that’s just me!)

    • No, I think I have definitly been jealous of girls with close sisters in the past (though sometimes when I hear of how serious their fights can get, I thank my lucky stars!). I have four cousins who are sisters and I used to ask them if they always compared themselves to the March girls. I totally wanted to be one of them.

  2. Jackie

    Hi Rachel,
    You go girl for asking that author lady out! You’re my hero, I’m working up the nerve to do the same to my hair dresser, but I’m too chicken. So now I have split ends from the procrastination, and still no new BFF. *sigh*

    I think you’re exactly correct that family members can’t really be in the same category as a BFF. First of all, I don’t even have any brothers and sisters, so I’ve never experienced this. But who do you complain to when your mom won’t leave you alone? Or when your brother is dating a girl you don’t like, but your mom does like her? I know in my family, whenever a secret is told to anybody, it always comes out down the road at a family function. Not the case with BFFs.

    I think family (at least my family) sometimes crosses the line in different ways, (secret telling, blowing you off over and over, saying exactly what is on their mind instead of holding back just that wee bit to be more polite or PC, etc.) because they know that you are family. You’re with them till the end, there’s nothing you can do about it.

    With friends though, I think there is always that respect that comes first, where with family, it probably doesn’t develop in all relationships or situations. I’ve been told to excuse family member’s poor attitudes or rudeness because, “they’re family” but a best friend knows that it won’t be excused unless there is a darn good reason. Friends stay together because they want to, and they act like it. I’ve had more than one family gathering that ends in a HUGE fight, and everyone just writes it off, because no matter how inappropriate it was, or ill timed, or rude, or uncalled for, or out of line it was, it’s family. And who do you call when that happens? Your BFF!

  3. rudrip

    I count my husband as my best friend. We have similar interests and enjoy each other’s company. I am so fortunate. Although when we are not on the same wavelength, I want to confide in someone else and that is usually my sister. She doesn’t live nearby, but we talk often.
    I think it is great to have family you can confide in, but it is nice to have a support network outside of your family. Family relationships can get dicey sometimes and are usually more emotionally charged – having that friend outside of family can introduce some objectivity especially in difficult dilemmas. Thanks for the post.

  4. This reminds me of the Seinfeld when the George character talks about “worlds colliding” when one group of relationships meets and hangs out with his other set of relationships. Love it.

    As for me, I have been estranged from my mom for 15 years…am very close to my dad…see/talk to my brother a couple times a year. So I’m all over the board. I don’t think family can be BFF.

    Good for you for hopefully making a new friend in the author you met! I’ve made “business cards” for myself to give to other stay-at-home moms that I meet at the park/school/zoo etc. It works!

  5. katieleigh

    My sister and I were great friends all through our childhood…but we are so different that, especially as we grew older, we each had our own BFFs. Now that we’re both married and live in different cities, we still get on well but just don’t see each other that often.

    I do have a BFF whose two sisters live in town, and they are super close – but sometimes they drive each other crazy. I am grateful for BFFs who are my second family – but still different from my real family!

  6. Rachel, I actually think that a sibling can indeed be a BFF. While it would make sense that there may be a few subjects (like family) that you may not feel comfortable talking about, inevitably, there will be some subjects (like family, history, why you are the way you are) that they will understand better than anyone else you could ever meet. More importantly than their relation to you is the role they play in your life. I’m a pretty firm believer in women having “a handful” of BFF’s, and I certainly wouldn’t exclude (or, automatically include) a sibling just for having similar blood, but if they connect with you in the way a BFF should– then I say they’re in that circle. 🙂

    (p.s. If helpful, I have a Connectedness Continuum I developed that shows the the five circles of friends we need in our lives and their different roles. A sibling can be in any one of those circle depending upon the connection: https://www.girlfriendcircles.com/staticCircleConnectedness.aspx)

  7. Rachel, thanks for asking me out–I accept!

    Thanks for coming to my reading last night. It was great to meet you. Keep up the hilarious work on your blog and I look forward to your book, replying to your email with details for our date, and keeping in touch!

  8. I don’t have any sisters, so I can’t really relate! I have three brothers, two of which are 15+ years older than me, and the youngest brother, well, we’re just not close. And suffice it to say that the one brother that I was close to has a cool wife, but we’re…estranged. But I do think non-family make better BFFs.

    Oh, and I think it’s awesome you asked Kelly out. Who knows where that might lead? 😉 Strangers to acquaintances to friends to BFFs!! I’ve done the whole, We should hang out! thing before to varying degrees of success. 🙂

  9. Emily

    One on hand, I wish I lived in the same town as my big sister. We would get together often and our husbands get along really well, so we could have them as couple-friends and or be separate. Our kids are the same age and would really get to know each other. We see each other 3 times a year and mostly all get along and we text/email/talk at least once a week. HOWEVER, I really think that if I saw my big sis regularly, it would get hard and there would be more rifts. WHY you ask? Because no matter close we are, she still treats me like a little sister and bosses me around. I think bff’s are on a more even playing field, no one should be taking the upper hand. There is a line of respect that gets crossed over I think with family members. As my mom says, “please talk to me as if you don’t know me very well”. She usually gets more polite and respectful conversations after that. I miss my sister when I don’t see her for awhile and then I am ready for a break when she leaves.

    • Yes! Whenever I am with my family, I revert back to my childhood self and we all fall into our old patterns. My brother pinches me or makes disgusting faces and I groan and say “mooooom.” It’s like we’ve travelled back in time. I love your mom’s quote.. it’s such a great thing to keep in mind. Perhaps I will use it one day…

  10. Lisa Z.

    Hell no – my sisters are not BFF material.

  11. You will love this book. And furthermore, I can personally attest to the fact that the author makes a terrific BFF.

    Love your blog. Can’t wait for the book. (Really, can’t wait. Lived in new city for whole year now and still no local BFF. Must troll archives for pick-up tips.)

  12. Love your blog. What a cool concept. And yes I believe that family can also be BFFs. My mom and her sisters are all best friends and it is such a strong bond! I am envious of it, wish I had some sisters!


    Hannah Katy

  13. Johanna

    I definitely think family can be bff. Based on my experience, the family aspect is neither an impediment, nor a guarantee of friendship – it’s just another variable, the same way the friends you make later in life have a different foundation than the friends you make in grade school.

    My cousin is one of my bffs – we have lots of mutual friends (there’s actually three girls in my bff group, two of us just happen to be related,) and we like getting to gossip about family without having to explain to an outsider all the nuances of the relationships.

    My sisters and I (I have three, I’m the oldest) are all very close and rarely argue, but I think of them as sisters, not friends. Although we’re in totally different age ranges right now, so who knows where we’ll be in 20 years, when we’re at closer stages in life…

  14. Ana

    Hmmm. I only have one sister and she doesn’t live in the same city, so its hard to say. We do get along pretty well now, as do the husbands, but its a kind of weird dynamic. I agree completely that you revert to your old immature self around family, and to that end, I tend to get a bit defensive and competitive around her…its not an even playing field, as someone said. We are soon going to have kids the same age, and I do wish we lived closer for that reason (I never had cousins within a 1000 miles growing up, and was jealous of those that did)—but I think I would still keep “family” and “friends” somewhat separate.

    I also know people that socialize only with family, and I can’t imagine that. We are thinking of (sometime, in the future) moving closer to family and I know our weekends could easily become full of family gatherings/celebrations/etc… if we don’t really make a point to carve out time for friends.
    And that terrifies me. Because as warm and fuzzy family CAN be, it also comes with loads of baggage! And you can’t just “de-friend” your in-laws, no matter how annoying they are 🙂

    • Yes! I think this is partly what happened to me. When I moved to Chicago, I had a ton of family here.So it was easy to fall into just hanging out with my cousins or my aunt, it was natural and didn’t take work… Suddenly I realized that my “group of friends” was the same as my family, and that came with a lot of baggage, as you say. Suddenly I felt like “Woah. I need my own people, too.” So it’s great to live close to family, but as you point out we still have to carve out time for friends.

  15. Ana

    Oh and I LOVE Emily’s mom’s quote from above.
    sharing DNA is NOT an excuse for bad behavior!!!

  16. unabridgedgirl

    I’m really close to my parents and siblings, especially my brother. But I agree, it’s different having a friend outside of the family. I have two amazing friends that I can tell anything and everything to, and in turn, they can do the same with me. It’s refreshing and nice.

  17. Good question. I have some friends who would probably say their sister is their best friend… And while I am very close to my siblings, especially my younger sister, I don’t think of my siblings as my best friend. In some ways, our bond is closer than the bond with my best friends since we have such a shared history. But I definitely share different things with my sister v. what I tell my best friend. So I think there is definitely a difference. It’s becoming more and more of a fine line for us, though. So maybe one day there will be no difference between what I tell her & what I tell my best friend.

    Good for you for friending this author! Very cool. I have never gone to a book event like that but would love to some day. And like you troll for BFF’s at a book event, I’d love to troll for a potential BF. 🙂

  18. Well, of course it depends on the family members involved…that being said, my sister is my BFF. We weren’t always bosom buddies, though friendly, but in our adulthood we have become incredibly close. We are only 18 months apart, which is part of it and our husbands are friends. Plus we have some overlapping friends….so..yeah…it’s pretty sweet. I say that even though I literally just finished mopping her floors…

  19. Great question – I think it really depends on the relationship of the people involved. Some could handle the BFF element and others it would be disaterous.

    I actually found you from your recent comment at Enbracing the Detour and was complelled to stop over (glad I did)! Your comment resonated with me about measuring your self-worth in blog traffic and numbers. I have to admit, when I began my blog and as it started to grow, instead of taking the time to craft a well written post or comment on other blogs, I found myself analyzing numbers and counting my own comments – totally self-defeating – especially when those numbers changed daily. Especially when I made the move to WP and lost a ton of subsribers due to a feed issue, it was a blow to the blogging ego.

    I have come to learn that true readership develops over time and the ones who really read you will read you no matter what. You could post once a week or everyday – and they will be there.

    Really glad to “meet” you and look forward to blogging with you.

  20. Dave

    Okay, a guy’s perspective here. For a few years, I dated a girl with four sisters, and I constantly felt that I was being interviewed by a sorority, or listening in on an all-female pajama party. Those sisters were in each others’ minds so much that it was as if there was no room for anyone else. The girlfriend and I have since moved on to other partners. When I visited her recently, we had a wonderful time together — until she invited me to her home for a cup of tea and, there they were, sitting around in a circle, making me feel like I was playing a game of “Which One of These Things is Not Like The Other?”

    So here’s my question for all you female BFF-wannabes: Do you ever find that the guy in your life is feeling cast aside by the BFFs? Is that just a sign of the male’s natural immaturity and insecurity — or do you think your actions perhaps contribute to the problem? What about when the two males — your guy and your BFF’s — actually don’t like each other at all? How do you solve it?

    • Dave! You are a brave soul to face such a tribunal of women as a group of five sisters. I can’t even imagine. These are such great questions and I will get you answers, sir. Stay tuned for a blog post on this.

  21. I feel fortunate to count my husband as my best friend, but that said, there is no substitute for the power of girlfriends in a woman’s life. Raising kids and being a writer who works from home, it’s sometimes difficult to connect with people and make friends. So I understand the importance of making that extra effort to stay connected. But even then, I often don’t take the time to do so due to so many other life commitments, even when I know how nourishing it is.

  22. JB

    My two BFFs are my sister and the female-half of our best couple friends (I loved your couple friends post too!).

    I count myself lucky that my sister is my best friend. I don’t have a hard time talking to her about anything, including family. In fact, sometimes it’s better to talk to her about it than anyone else. She understands the dynamics better than anyone and it doesn’t feel as much like I’m ragging on my parents or my brother (or cousins or whoever) when I’m talking to her. And when I get annoyed with her–I have a great BFF that I can talk to about it! So it ends up working out great for me. I wouldn’t trade the closeness for the world.

    It’s rare to find someone who “gets” you so completely, who loves and supports you no matter what. I’ve got two of those: one whose my sister and one who is not. So I must be the luckiest girl in the world!

  23. Oh hon, I hope this is a BFF-for-real!! You’re working hard enough to “deserve” one. Do blog about whether or not it works out, OK?

  24. On the one hand, I am very close with my mom and 2 older sisters. We are all very involved in each others’ lives and do a lot of things together, especially my sisters & I. However, I agree with the quote that sometimes you need someone to get AWAY from your family with. I definitely need to vent about my fam sometimes. I think family can be close to BFFs, but it’s good to have other BFFs too. 🙂

  25. I always kept things separate but equal. Wait, that didn’t sound right…

    I chose to live far from most of my family. So, no matter how close I am to them in terms of my relationships with them, I still needed local people.

    When I was single, I didn’t have one group of friends. I had a number of different circles. Mostly because I am a woman of many interests and I didn’t find any one particular circle fulfilling all of then … so, I went for variety. For that time in my life, it worked.

    Now that I’m married, my life has changed a lot. I was ready for change and used marriage as my excuse. I’m still close to my family and they still live hundreds of miles from me. I still have a number of different friendship circles, but not nearly as vast as before. I have a few local women I consider besties (in fact, I introduced them to one another and we’ve all become wonderful friends). And my husband is my main go-to person. He is most definitely my best friend.

    Long story short, I think variety in friendships, in whatever form it takes and for whatever reason, is actually a very healthy, balanced thing.

  26. My brother is not my BFF and never has been. The thought of us being that close seems impossible. We’re just so different.

    I, too, love Little Women and often wish I’d had at least one sister. My parents stopped after my brother, though. Can’t say as I blame them.

    Too bad you live in Chicago because I’m sure we could be BFFs. I’m in the market, too.

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  28. If only more people could hear about this..

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  31. san

    I came here through the link back through your latest post and I need to weigh in, because I do believe that family members can be BFFs, too.

    My sister and I – we’re fraternal twins – are incredibly close and I would definitely call her my BFF. I also have a couple of other BFFs outside of the family, so I think that this is a good balance. My sister is still my first go-to person, though.

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