Friends are the family we get to choose for ourselves

November 24 | Guest post by Liz Gubernatis
Wedding quilt square
Thanks to Chacksy for uploading this quilt square photo to our Flickr pool.

My family is like a quilt. An old, used, well-loved quilt. That's, of course, the kindly, gentle way to smooth over the rough patches, the split seams, and the threadbare spots. There's me, of course. Then there's my husband, Kevin. We're a family of two, and plan to remain child-free. We're also neatly stitched in to a larger quilt, mostly of friends, their families, and the occasional extended family shindig.

There are a couple of clichés that get that way because they're so damn true. Some that have been true for our family of two is that friends are the gods' apology for families, friends are the family we choose for ourselves, and friends walk in when everyone else walks out.

Like many people in a weary world, we each grew up with rough stuff. Different flavors, but same crazy Kool-Aid. Like many people, we placed premiums on the relationships with others who showed us kindness, who cared for and about us, who returned our earnest affections, who befriended us. We're both lucky enough to have made best friends whom we love and who are like siblings, without the rivalry. Kevin calls my BFFs his sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I think of his besties as friends and brothers-in-law, too. We're family.

We get all the benefits of close ties without the baggage of childhood regrets. If I need a heart-to-heart, I call a best friend. Whether she's doing a monkey dance to cheer me up, or he's hearing me out and then meting out hard truth, they're the ones who've always had my back. If I'm flailing like a muppet, they're picking me up. If I'm crying a river, they're buckling on the life preservers. If I'm happy and I know it, they're clapping their hands along with me. And I'll always do the same for them, too. That's family.

I've been blessed to be adopted into friends' families so seamlessly that small children aren't sure if I'm not just Aunt Liz. I've gotten to join my families for holidays, celebrations, sorrows, and joys. I get to watch high school plays and band concerts, to giggle at my "other parents" teasing each other about what's for dinner or on TV, and to whoop and holler for dance-offs on the Xbox. We spend quality time together just being together, and that's family.

We've also been blessed to stitch together some awesome grown-ups to look up to. My uncle and aunt have adopted us, in god-daughter style, so we have a home to go home to when we travel back there. It's always a treat to see them, spend late nights talking past bedtime, and just hanging out watching movies, going thrifting, or eating something amazingly delicious. Kevin's home-base is a couple who've gently reached out and folded us in to their family, too. Their advice and warm welcome, when we come to watch Game of Thrones, bearing Chinese food, is comforting. These people are big parts of our family.

We choose our friends, and we nourish those relationships, because there's a spark of love. There's something that says – this person is my kindred spirit, this person is my kin. My family is a patchwork of friends, extended family, complicated relationships and simple love. Family doesn't have to be your parents, siblings, children… family is bigger than bloodlines. It's sometimes as convoluted as a daytime soap opera and often just as frustrating, but there's a lotta love. There are skeletons in closets, sabers to rattle, and heroes who come to the rescue, but so much of family is just being there and loving you back.

Think about your friends, and how far you'd go for them. I think you'll find in your heart, that if what they say is true, and friends are the gods' apology for family we're born with, then all that's left to say is, "Apology Accepted." I'm so thankful for my warm, snuggly, patchwork quilt of family. I love you.

(This post originally published on Offbeat Families. But we wanted to re-open the discussion again over here.)

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  1. I was talking to my friend one day and I mentioned that I consider her family (we are related by marriage so she is actually family). She was upset because she thinks of family as something negative. She does not have a good relationship with her family of origin so having the status of "friend" meant more to her (i.e., choice vs obligation). On the other hand my dad's best friend (who we called our uncle) was closer to me than my dad's sister. My dad is closer to members of my mom's family than his own (and more than ten years after my mom passed away this is still true). So family to me has been those that we choose to include.

    I am trying to expand my husband's family's definition of family. More or less everyone is from a nuclear family (prior to my husband's generation there was only one divorce, and that person did not remarry until his children were adults). However that is starting to change in my husband's generation (there are three blended families, and a couple of divorces). They had a hard time getting used to my family of origin (I have a step-mother and step-siblings). They believe family is blood. I don't think my MIL does it to hurt anyone but she still treats her granddaughter differently than her step-granddaughters (when you call her out on this she says she doesn't or that she only treats her differently because she's the youngest). My husband's aunt and uncle have told their DIL that something will be dealt with within the "family" and then excluded her from the conversation (and clarified that it was being dealt with between "siblings" – the other siblings' spouses were also excluded) even though it had to do with her husband and her children. Another time my husband's uncle told his son that there are just things that he can't tell his wife (the DIL). The cousin said that he doesn't lie to his wife so he would be telling her.

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  2. I just went to Amanda Palmer's book tour in Seattle, and she said something that really resonated with me: "everyone has a biological family, and a logical family".

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  3. Awww my wedding quilt! I love that it is paired with such a thoughtful article.

    Also, weird coincidence, I also refer to my husband as an urban viking because of his sword collection.

    2 agree

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