Cause You Gotta Have Friends

(June AEU Column)

Until Bette Midler’s Trash and Flash toured Australia in the late 70s, I was a live concert virgin. But that night as I sat with my best friend in the second back row of The Palais Theatre I came of age.

Middler might have been barely discernible as a beached mermaid, zooming on and off stage in a motorized wheelchair, but my friend’s and my mutual excitement moved between us like an energy circuit.

‘Cause you gotta have friends/that’s right/ friends, friends.’

Later when we took the tram home we were so hyped up we missed our stop.

These are the four things I remember from my six years at secondary school:

  1. My friends
  2. My drama teacher
  3. My first boyfriend
  4. My friends

In writer Vivian Gornick’s recent collection of essays, The Odd Women in the City she describes friends as ‘Those with whom we can be our best selves.’ Maybe. Sometimes friends fulfill other functions other than making us look our best.

Do today’s adolescents do friendship differently in a world of hyper connectivity, virtual intimacy and Facebook de-friendings?

Well they do and they don’t. Sure friendship is mediated and arguably skewed via technologies but who am I to say that my son’s friendships are any less real or by extension, of less value than mine were?

The adolescents I know seem to get just as passionate and engrossed, hurt and infuriated by the seismic shifts within their friendship universe as we did.

The adolescents I teach and the ones that sometimes hang out at our house, are just as uncommunicative with adults and hyper relational amongst themselves as we were.

I watch my son being excluded and feel his inarticulate hurt. I hear my son’s voice heighten when he is with a friend and I feel all’s right in the world

Unlike Muhammad Ali’s famous remark that ‘Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain and not something you learn in school.’ making, cultivating and losing friendship is a significant part of the school’s ‘hidden curriculum’. It is there amidst the subterranean social hurly burly that kids learn the lessons of friendship – and we all know they are often the hard ones because navigating friendship is a bloody minefield even for kids.

I am careful not to be too obvious when I advise my adolescent son in matters of friendship. For example, when he told me that his friends said he is sometimes too loud, I just stopped stock-still and quoted Alice Walker at him. ‘No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.’ My son looked at me and said that I was weird and embarrassing.

Maybe next time I should go for something more relatable because I did used to read the Pooh books to him when he was young and he still let me.

 

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

“Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 

My new boyfriend is my oldest friend. We met when we were in high school.

The friend I went to see Bette Middler with is picking me up later to go to some party. ‘Come on’, she urged. ‘It’ never too late to make new friends.’

 

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