Binomial Nomenclature

A few years ago, a woman I’ve known for decades pointed out to me that I am in the habit of categorizing my friends whenever I speak of them.  Not in any really meaningful way, but just by appending to the person in question a one-word description: my college friend, my dear friend, my crazy friend, my London friend, my high school friend, my best friend.  I wasn’t aware that I was doing it until it was brought to my attention, but it’s true: I do it, and I don’t know why.  I have a theory that it’s because I’ve moved around quite a bit, and need the extra word in order to place people where I met them, just for my own mental clarity.

Pin the tail on the place we met.

“Everyone is a something friend,” she said. “Never just a friend.”

She was absolutely right.  Everyone is a something friend.  Whether it’s a close friend, college friend, or work friend – they’re all friends, but they are not the same. Using an adjective not only clarifies how a particular friend fits into my life, but also indicates to what degree I’m going to clean the house before he or she comes over, and whether I know what foods he likes and how much cream she puts in her coffee.  So it’s useful on many levels.

Will this come out of the closet before you arrive, or will I light candles and hope you don’t notice the dust bunnies?

The need to qualify friendship is a female thing, I think. Generally speaking, men have friends, and that’s the end of the story. The only qualifying that happens among men is the occasional addition of a pejorative.

For instance, here’s how my old friend Chris recently introduced a story:  “I played golf with that cheating bastard Wade yesterday…” He went on to tell me about the incredibly slow foursome in front of them, but I’d already received the only two pieces of information I really needed: (1) Chris and Wade have a deep and abiding friendship, and (2) Wade shot lower than Chris.

Women, on the other hand, will go much further, adding an entire synopsis of a relationship for clarification. A college friend told me a story about someone I know vaguely, and it went something like this:  “So Betsy — you remember Betsy? She was that Tri Delt who dated Rob when he was living in the blue house on the corner by that weird burrito place, and then married that creepy business major from Greenville and had eleven bridesmaids at that country club with the wrap-around porches where we went that one time for dinner on the trip to Charleston?”  Yes, yes..that rings a bell…Betsy…yes, I think I do remember.

Life would be easier if friendship was broken down, much like animals and plants, into subspecies. It would save us women a lot of time and energy and adjectives, none of which we can really spare. So, as a favor to women everywhere, I’ve created a list to help us get started. Feel free to put it up on your fridge.

The Archivist: This friend knows you better than your own mother does. She knows the names of your nieces, nephews, first boyfriend, and the cat you had when you were a kid. She understands that your current boss looks like your former stepmother, and exactly why that’s distressing. Mention a boy you dated ten years ago for two weeks, and she’ll chime in with “The one who rock-climbed in France on Spring Break, right?” Yes, that one. This friend is your first choice for a road trip, because you don’t have to waste time filling in the blanks.  She knows that the Psychedelic Furs song from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack reminds you of Spring Break ’86, and she knows why you get teary-eyed when you see Moon Pies on the shelf at 7/11.  The Archivist is the forward arrow on the webpage of your life.

No pop-up ads. Just content.

The Extractor:  This friend is a tough cookie, and can be counted on to tell you exactly what she thinks, no matter how painful it is to hear. Are you irrationally upset? Over-reacting? Exercising bad judgment? About to get in deep with a man everyone else knows is a jerk? Pursuing a career that is all wrong for you? This friend will tell you, in no uncertain terms. The Extractor minces no words and takes no prisoners; her weapon of choice is a giant pair of forceps, which she uses to pull your head out of your ass.

Bend over. 

The Good-Time Gal: This friend is on-call for any and all reasons to celebrate.  Got a new job? A raise? A clean biopsy? She’s there, with wine.  It’s Thursday? Let’s party. Sun came out? Uncork that bottle. She knows you hate trendy cocktails and prefer to kick it old-school with a six-pack or bottle of wine, and she can be counted on, not only for laughs, but also to bring snacks.

Miss me with this fruity crap, fam.

Pollyanna: This friend sees the world through rose-colored glasses, and a conversation with her is the soothing balm you need after a tussle with The Extractor. Everything, according to this friend, will be all right. You blew up at a colleague?  It can be fixed! Missed a golden opportunity?  Another will come around! Hate your life? This, too, shall pass — just wait and see! The dulcet tones of this friend’s voice are like your mom’s cool hand on your feverish forehead: soothing, comforting, and reassuring. She’s your blankie and your binky, all rolled into one.  

A benevolent presence…looming overhead….floating in the sky…

Obviously, this is just a start. I can’t be expected to classify all of the subspecies at once — I’m only one person. But I believe that, using this shorthand, we’ll all have much more time for important things, like chatting on the phone with our amazing friend from college — remember her? She lived in that nice apartment building near the grocery store where we cracked up when we saw that potato that looked just like the guy who always sat in the front row of the Ethics class taught by that brilliant professor whose crazy wife used to jog around campus with that big slobbering Great Dane?

You know exactly who I mean.


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