Recently, my “best friend” Jeanette invited my family over to her house on a quiet evening in our little suburb north of New York City. The grown-ups ate guacamole and chips and sipped wine while the kids ate macaroni and cheese and caused chaos in the living room. It was all thanks to my son’s intuitive friendship matchmaking skills.
Jeanette has a son the same age as mine, and we’d met through mutual friends. We were casual acquaintances when my son — who was 4 years old at the time — asked out of the blue one day if she was my “very best friend in the whole wide world.” I answered, “Well, I don’t actually know her that well. I’ve only met her a few times.”
But he started asking me about her all the time. “Who’s calling?” he’d ask when my phone rang. “Is it Jeanette?” If we were going to a party, my son asked if she would be there. When I had to go to a work-related event, my son asked me if Jeanette was there, although she and I don’t work together. “Who are you emailing?” he’d ask me when he saw me composing an email. “Is it Jeanette?”
What was it that made my son think she and I were best friends? My husband and I had various theories. Did my son somehow sense that Jeanette and I had things in common, beyond the fact that we were both parents and lived in the same town? Maybe he harbored a crush on her or saw her as an ideal mom for some reason. She and I have similar names — maybe that resonated with him.
When I asked him about her, he just shrugged.
I started to wonder if my son thought I needed a best friend. I have so many friends that I sometimes feel I can’t keep up with them all. But what I don’t have is a lifelong, ride-or-die, No. 1 Best Friend Forever — a Thelma to my Louise, an Ethel to my Lucy — and maybe my son had noticed this.
I’m sure this is rooted in my previous experiences with these kinds of friends, as several of them ended dramatically and badly — like when my best friend throughout elementary school and into high school suddenly dropped me for a new best friend; or when my best friend in college started inexplicably acting cruel toward me, and we stopped being friends before graduation. Another childhood “best friend” and I simply drifted apart. These experiences, along with other times when certain friends made it clear that we weren’t as close as I’d thought, have left me wary of being too dependent on a single best friend.
One day, shortly after my son had randomly decided Jeanette was my best friend, we ran into her and her kids. “Look, Mommy!” my son shouted. “It’s your best friend!” I said hello to her and explained.
She rolled with it. “My bestie!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. We hugged. I appreciated her sense of humor, and I was happy that she played along. I would have done the same thing.
We kept bumping into each other more and more — at the library, the farmer’s market, the playground, and at backyard barbecues — and I began to uncover quite a few commonalities with my “best friend.” I ran into her and her kids at the playground one day and found out she was dealing with the imminent loss of a parent — I’d gone through the same thing, with the exact same disease. It turns out Jeanette and I are both lactose intolerant, and share an inability to return purchases that need returning.
Our sons ended up in the same kindergarten class, so they saw each other every day, and Jeanette and I began to plan more regular, on-purpose get-togethers. Since we’re both busy, working moms, it’s not as if she and I go out for long, leisurely coffee dates or “girls’ weekends” away. Mostly what we do is hang out as families.
Over our guacamole at Jeanette’s house (naturally, we happen to have the exact same blue enamelware bowls we use for snacks, as well as many of the same snacks in our respective houses), I thought about how the woman my son chose, seemingly at random, as my new BFF is great. She is smart and kind, friendly and funny. She’s engaged with causes I think are important. She’s a terrific mom. We have the same political beliefs. Our husbands and sons are a good fit, too.
I’m happy my son decided that Jeanette and I were kindred spirits and that he fanned the flame of friendship where I might have hesitated on my own. It’s an honor that my new “best friend” is the kind of person my son sees as being a counterpart to me.
And instead of having parents engineer the playdates for the kids, in this case it was my son who opened a new door in my life. As he grows older, I can’t wait to see where else his intuition leads.