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?