A bosom friend — an intimate friend, you know — a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul,” says the protagonist of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables (1908).
Following mass speculation, it was announced this week that, perhaps surprisingly, Prince George will attend Thomas’s in Battersea just a few miles from Kensington Palace to begin his formal education. Being coeducational, the school certainly seems unconventional choice for the education of the little prince. That said, the emphasis placed upon wellbeing and pastoral care in the school corresponds with the family-oriented and ‘normal’ life to which Wills and Kate aspire for their children. The school is said to ban “best” friends in an attempt to prevent children being bullied and ostracised, and the mantra “be kind” encapsulates the ethos of the school. Is this unnecessary micromanagement or rather true sagacity?
Red art smock and rucksack in hand, the future king will be like any other child in the bustling school, which promotes multi-sensory play and the expressive arts in addition to the traditional subjects of literacy and mathematics. Nevertheless, pushy parents will no doubt aim for their child to enter the inner circle of the heir to the throne, encouraging them to shun the offspring of more ordinary, middle-class parents. Prince George will certainly receive a cornucopia of birthday presents, a multitude of play-date invitations, and extra-special attention from some star-struck children and their ambitious parents. Perhaps, therefore, it is a relief for dear George that the school will encourage him to have a wide circle of friends, enabling him to build true friendships and give him time to decide who his wingmen (or women) will be. Of course, the nation truly anticipates learning who the future king’s ultimate bae will be, but that excitement is certainly a few years down the line. For now, all we can hope and pray for little George is that he will find a group of friends who value him for the child he is rather than the king he will be in the future.
Best friends can be dependable and give a sense of security — they are the person that always “gets you” and to whom you only have to say one word for them to understand what page you are on. You can chat for hours with your best friend, have a laugh with them and confide in them. You don’t have to dress to impress your best friend (think make-up free pyjama parties with tubs of ice cream galore…). They can cheer you up, and you know their reactions, opinions, and expectations. But, heaven forbid that you and your best friend do fall out following a cataclysmic argument — they let you down, betray you for a “cooler” individual, or get a boyfriend. All of us have misjudged jokes, become frustrated with an individual for the most minuscule of reasons, and upset our friends. In addition to this, we have all experienced the horrible feeling of being left out. This is a painful experience for everyone, but made much more acute if you only have one best friend and have no one else to turn to. Friendships are fragile: our personalities evolve and are shaped by our experiences, and groups of friends are fluid and so it is vital to invest in more than one individual. The age-old proverb “good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget” seems fitting. Nevertheless, the mathematical perfection of three girls and three boys who are best friends and hang out all day in coffee shops found in the American sitcom Friends certainly seems fanciful.
Perhaps we cannot truly find our best friend and soulmate until we fall in love and marry them. This stance is encapsulated by the farewell speech of Barack Obama to the United States at the end of his presidency in which he proclaimed that Michelle had not only been his wife, and the mother of his children, but also his best-friend over their twenty-five years of marriage. That said, it seems that to have just one best friend, your spouse, without a wider friendship group is a precarious position to be in. Your expectations of that one individual will almost certainly rise beyond what they can fill and place a detrimental strain upon your friendship and marriage. Having friends outside your marriage or relationship seems a fundamental facet of happiness.
A healthy balance, the golden mean, seems to be the best solution: a small group of besties and a wider circle of friends. All this seems wonderful, but it must be questioned whether we can engineer our friendship groups – are human relationships not organic? Friendships are precious and irreplaceable, and all we can hope for the little prince is that he finds a group of friends, whether large or small, at Thomas’s in Battersea with whom he can laugh, play, and enjoy his childhood and who will support him when he ultimately becomes George VII.