Everybody believes her own friendships are endowed with a kind of secret significance. When we're with our friends, we believe that we are in extraordinary company. Making us feel rare and prized, our friends capture our imagination and offer us perspective.
Appearing almost ghostlike as figures from our past or arriving like ingenues in a Broadway play, they serve to remind us not only who we are, but also why we're significant.
Plus, our friends remind us why fun matters and why good conversation is better than bad sex.
Friendships inspire us. They allow us to express ourselves, even when we can't stand the self we're expressing or when we're so far from our true selves that we turn to our friends to bring us back, as if we'd put our personalities in pawn and gave our friends the receipt for safekeeping.
As if they were the ones we trusted -- more than we trust ourselves.
Perhaps more than anything else, our friendships permit us to feel part of humanity.
On centuries of gravestones you can find inscribed, "She was a Good Mother, a Good Sister and a Good Friend" as if that were the highest possible praise a woman could be earn; rarely are there gravestones saying "She Remained A Size Four and Had Dazzlingly White Teeth Until Death."
Some friendships go so far back in our lives, we don't have a record of how they first started. Those details are lost in the sandbox, the splash pool or in the talk, literally over our heads, when we sat side by side on our mothers' laps.
Or our great friends can be new additions to our address books, since women's friendships often begin with intimate details about life and then proceed to generalities. It isn't unusual for women to start a conversation with a virtual stranger and, within the first 35 minutes, to know whether the other woman is in a relationship, has children, whether those children are happy, whether she works outside the home, has a good relationship with her parents/siblings/employer/employees/neighbors/veterinarian, as well as knowing whether she believes taking estrogen orally is better than taking it through a patch.
Most men, in contrast, know for certain only two pieces of information about their best friends (two guys they went to college with, with whom they speak maybe three times a year, and one guy from work): they know their nicknames and what kinds of vehicle they drive. If they're very close, they might know the mileage.
Men's friendships are often based on shared activities, which is not necessarily true for women, who have a wider variety of reasons for creating and maintaining connections with other women. And it's one reason men will often list their wife as their best friend. Women very rarely list their husband as their best friend.
In fact, when the researchers who perform these kinds of studies tell women their husbands have listed them as their best friends, the wives look at the names they've written down and ask, "Can I insert my husband as, say, 2A? The first two did more actual child care than he did."
Look, I'm not married to my best friend. I'm married to my husband. He's a man I adore but he's not my best friend. For that I am fantastically grateful.
One of life's great gifts is there's no taboo against having multiple best friends. You don't have to go into family court to explain or defend yourself. Nobody says "What? You've had 20 friends in 20 years? That's terrible. How could you?"
And that's because friends are people you're supposed to have in your life -- the more the better. Outside of reality television, nobody has ever said that about spouses. Certainly no woman has ever said it.
Ever hear of a show called "Brother Husbands?" I didn't think so.
Lovers, spouses, paramours and crushes are what you get for having vitality, passion and a willingness to overlook issues concerning bodily emissions. Friends are what you get for having generosity, compassion and a willingness to overlook their choice of a wide variety of lovers, spouses, paramours and crushes.
Friends? Friends are life's reward for getting it right.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.