In recently explored the importance of our ‘childhood neighbourhood’ and how, historically, we are all shaped by the neighbourhood we called home as a child. This column examines what I consider the second half of this exploration, the part best friends play in our personal histories.
Just as I did when I examined childhood neighbourhoods, I shall share my personal perspective to illustrate my various points.
I have been fortunate enough to have had a best friend, or at least people who I considered a best friend, during each stage in my life. The nature and characteristics of these relationships may have varied during the specific moments in my life, but their importance never wavered.
Many people I know have been blessed, maintaining friendships throughout their entire lives, dating back to childhood. One of my flaws would seem to be my failure to maintain best-friend relationships throughout the various stages of my life. I discovered too late the importance of nurturing those relationships as I travelled life’s highway.
If you still have been able to maintain a childhood friendship over these many years, then you are most certainly very wise and fortunate indeed. Having a close confidant can make one’s life so much easier and so much more fun, to boot. We have friends we go out with, friends we work with, and friends who provide us with all the necessary essentials of life.
A best friend is someone with whom you don’t have to fill in the blanks, someone who just ‘gets you.’ They know all your personal details and all your foibles, too. It is much like picking up a book and knowing exactly where you left off. One can usually cut right to the chase, get right to the root of any discussion immediately because all the necessary background information is there.
As a young child, my best friend was Robin Graham, who lived across the road from me on Niagara Street. I always felt we enjoyed an unspoken bond, a common life experience. I was also blessed to have had close friendships with Glenn Needler, who lived down the street, with Mark Orton and Alan Peppiatt, whose families were friends of my parents. Apart from Glenn, I somehow failed to maintain these early friendships, allowing my life to get in the way.
I, of course, established friendships at the various places I worked, but they were, for the most part, tied to a specific place, time and circumstances. It seems the friendships I did establish were rather temporary. As my life changed, so, too, did the people around me. I should have paid more attention.
One of our most basic fears is being alone. Whether your best friend is around the corner or perhaps in another time zone, knowing they are there provides us with a reassuring degree of comfort, a sense of being connected and not just free-floating through life.
If one finds oneself feeling isolated, whether physically or emotionally, they can pick up the phone, access a computer or hop in the car and contact their closest pal. Both of you will feel better for having that bond. That is one of the aspects of maintaining these relationships that I miss. I was never very good at ‘keeping in touch.’
Best friends offer unconditional support, seemingly at any specific time or place needed. Best friends have seen us at our best and our worst, and they love us either way. It’s important to have someone in our lives we feel totally at ease with, someone we can be ourselves with, sweats and all.
Good friends help us develop our self-esteem. It is so important to have someone in our life who thinks we are important, someone who wants our opinion on things, who values our company and makes us feel wanted, and boosting our self-esteem.
How do we know this person is ‘best friend material?’ Best friends will be totally honest with us, because they know us well and are able to tell it like it is. Be grateful to your best friend the next time they look you in the eye, shake their head and suggest perhaps you may wish to rethink a possibly silly decision. You can feel assured they have your best interests at heart. Jack West has provided me with this over the past years, thank goodness.
Our best friends can often provide us with a fresh perspective on life. While we are all individuals, with different experiences and opinions, having a best friend to share things with can often help us learn new things about ourselves. The insights they share with us can open our eyes to new ideas and new ways to think about the world around us. They bring a fresh perspective to problems, helping us find those ‘a-ha’ moments that lead to problem solving.
When a close friend does something you disagree with, you are more likely to confront them and discuss what has upset you than if it’s a person you aren’t as familiar with. Getting through this with a close friend helps to prepare you for other times in life when you will need to face difficult situations and provides you with another skill for your life skills bag.
Loyalty is a virtue that is indeed hard to find. Usually, with a best friend, one never has to worry about someone sharing your secrets or talking about you behind your back. Best friends equal built-in trust, since you have spent years building your bond, which just gets stronger over time. A loyal friend will be on your team no matter what, being honest with you and never betraying you. This is one of the elements of close friendship that I crave. We all need someone who we can trust, someone who has our backs.
Having a best friend means sharing experiences. We sometimes get stuck in our own routines, and it’s nice to hear about what other people are doing. People often live vicariously through their close friends, learning about things they may not have thought about doing.
They are the ones with whom we tell things we wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else — our greatest fears and biggest mistakes. Being able to share these intimate details about our lives helps to normalize whatever has happened. It is clear, from my observations, that quite often fear or discomfort is diffused when one shares it with a friend.
I am sure some of you are asking: But what has this to do with history? History is chock full of stories about best-friend relationships and how the course of history can change depending on the availability of good friends and their strong influences.
Where would you be without the influence of those special individuals who assumed the role of best friend in your life? I have no doubt my life would have been altered had I been better at maintaining friendships.
My life has been enriched by those who extended their hand in friendship, and I am eternally grateful. Alas, I discovered much too late the true value inherent in the careful maintenance of a ‘best friend’ status.
Think back at the part your best friends played in your life. If you are one of the fortunate ones who still has a childhood best friend, count yourself blessed. Your personal history was undoubtedly formed by the strength of the various friendships you have enjoyed, and a part of you owes its existence to their friendship.
Finally, the aspect I miss most in not having maintained many close relationships with those I grew up with, attended school with or worked with is the ability to turn to them to provide a sounding board before I act. I feel certain a lot of pain and mismanagement could have been alleviated had I nurtured most close relationships.
Your childhood neighbourhood shaped, in many ways, the person you became, and your best friends shepherd you through your life, smoothing out the rough parts and enhancing the great moments. I hope you all have been blessed by a great best friend and that you, in turn, have been a best friend to someone near and dear to you.
Sources: Personal observations by the author; Top 10 Reasons You Need a Best Friend, by Jessica Padykula; Why Your Friends Are More Important Than You Think, by Kira M. Newman.
Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with NewmarketToday, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.