Women connect differently than men.
At a very young age, we are taught to find and claim a very best friend - a girl friend who will be our BFF, our closest confidante. Anne Shirley (with an "e") and her bosom buddy Diana Barry. Nancy Drew and her gal pals, George and Bess. We tell our best friends our deepest secrets, share our fears, confide our crushes, and, sometimes, we break each other's hearts.
When I was very young, I had two best friends - one who lived next door and the other who I saw at church. Michelle lived next door to me with seven brothers and sisters in a three-bedroom house that was identical in almost every way to my own suburban ranch.
Their home was often bedlam - kids couldn't find socks, the littlest child was naked, Michelle's mom would be cutting huge stacks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in one swipe - desperately trying to get her brood off to school. I loved it.
Michelle and I would walk to Parkside School together, past the chained link fences of backyards restraining huge, barking dogs. We played a game called 7-up, bouncing a rubber ball against the side of her garage. We ate the insides of maple seeds until her mom, horrified at our odd behavior, ordered us to stop.
In 4th grade, she moved away - and broke my heart. How could I go on without my walking-to-school best friend? Who would I catch fireflies with on the front lawn at night? Who would be my ally on the school playground? I was devastated.
My other best friends, Janet, attended the First Baptist Church with me. She also had a large family with four older brothers and sisters. The youngest of her family, she was much more adventurous than me.
When I was with Janet, we almost always got into trouble. We cut the hair off of her sister's dolls in a make-shift operating room, imagining that it might grow back. We made huge tents out of sheets in her living room inflating them with the only box fan - our own personal air-conditioned room. We sat together in a back row at our Baptist church, until our giggling and passing notes got so loud that we had to be separated.
Janet was fun, lively, outgoing, and liked to chase boys. Our families went camping together, and we both were Chums and Guards in the Awana clubs. In an extroardinary act of kindness, Janet agreed to join a neighborhood gymnastics class with me in 7th grade. I was horribly awkward, and my parents thought it might help if I had some outside of school assistance with my lack of coordination. I could not do a cartwheel to save my life.
We both enrolled in a community-school gymnastics class that was predominantly attended by 5 and 6 year olds. We stood out - and not in a good way. Janet stuck by me as we learned to do sommersaults and basic tumbling, even when one particularly annoying 5-year-old taunted me. She was a true friend.
As we went on to school, dating, marriage, and kids, our lives grew apart. I never stayed in close contact with Michelle. I did keep in touch with Janet, especially via facebook, and I consider her a friend who knows me best.
But it is true that my female friendships are different now. They are more spread out and less intense. I see some friends only once a year - or maybe only chat through email. Christmas cards are a welcome treat as I catch up on their lives and see photos of their spouses and children.
Yet, girlfriends are an important part of my life, even as an adult. We communicate differently - we look each other in the eye - we shop together and call it a success without buying one thing - we love to hear each other's problems and not fix any of them - we complain about our lives and realize we don't really want to change them.
Friends understand and tolerate our quirks. They cry with us, laugh with us, cheer with us, groan with us. They forgive us for not being in touch. They always care. They know our faults and love us anyway.
I am thankful, deeply thankful, for all of my girlfriends.