Lovers aren't a patch on our childhood best friends

The best mates of our school years are a precursor to romance as well as a curse, says Aine O'Connor

As adults we tend to fixate most on our romantic relationships, we've made into a holy grail the search for the Significant Other.

Once you have one of those we imagine that dinner, walks, trips, laundry will be different. By and large those who find one spend at least some time lamenting the fact that laundry has not indeed become magical, and those who don't can believe that life without is only half a life.

As adults, however, what we're really talking about is a significant sexual other, for it is really only that which differentiates one relationship from all the others?

But are our friendships not just as significant?

Burrowed deep into adulthood and under layer upon layer of romantic partnerships we can lose sight of just how important friendships are. But when you watch children you realise that once upon a time friendship was everything.

Number One made his first best friendship when he was about five and for six or seven years that friendship, although not exclusive, was the be all and end all.

A change of house, school and phase weakened the friendship and now, at 14, he has a group of best buddies who are the be all and end all.

Girls are nice I'm told, but they tend to want to chat rather than climb trees and that can be a bit boring.

I don't know if girls are different, or it's just personalities. From junior infants to second class it was hard to keep track of who was flavour of the minute for Number Two. Some kids would come back to the house perhaps three times a week. Then never be spoken of again.

In third class she started a more concerted effort to find the One, the best friend, and there were almost staged efforts at togetherness, friendship bracelets and avowals, most of which ended in anything from boredom to betrayal (too many games of chasing with the wrong person were enough to put an end to the plans for sharing a home when they grew up).

But now, and since this summer pre-fourth class, there has been another change as an already existing friendship has developed that kind of intensity that makes her happy and me look back.

Suddenly I remember those pre and early-teen friendships where entire days together followed by sleepovers and more entire days and phone calls and the apparent inability to ever get sick of each other.

These are the friendships that mark your life and in many ways contribute to who you become, it's someone with an influence to compete with your family and the oracle "my teacher". A friendship like this is a place to grow away from your family in safety, a next step. And precisely because of what they give you, independence, they commit a sort of harakiri.

The next step in obsessive best friends is romance and the best friend left behind often feeling, well, dumped. Along has come someone who offers not only competition, but another level.

In so many ways best friendship is a precursor to romance, and maybe that is where we get the idea that romance has to be like those best friendships of when we were nine. But because we're not nine and it is romance, it has difficulty living up to the myth we created in our heads back in the day when a best friend was the best thing.

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