Can We Be Friends?” By Rebecca Frech. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018. 160 pages. Paperback: $16.73; Kindle: $14.93; Nook: $10.99.

In early 2018, a preschool in Massachusetts caused quite a stir when one of their four-year-old pupils came home and told her mother that she would no longer be allowed to call one of her playmates her “best friend.” Apparently, the school was discouraging such designations because, as they said in a letter to the parents, “It has been our experience (which spans decades) that the use of the term ‘best friend,’ even when used in a loving way, can lead other children to feel excluded.”

The jury is still out on the validity of the school’s position, but one thing is sure; the incident resulted in a very lively discussion among parents, professionals and the media about the importance of friendships in our lives.

Although written before this story appeared in the press, Rebecca Frech’s book, “Can We Be Friends?” is a timely exploration of a topic that, as it turns out, is at the very core of what it means to be human.

From a strictly scientific point of view, friendships are vital to our health and well-being, both physical and mental. “[H]uman beings are herd animals and therefore have an instinct to congregate in groups for safety,” Frech notes. In fact, through the ages, being together in groups has sometimes spelled the difference between surviving and not.

But even more, she says, “The need for people and community is hard-wired into our psyches. Studies of human brain activity show over and over that the presence of a close friend releases dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin into our brains. … We need our friends to help keep us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. Just as nutritious food feeds and energizes the body, our friends feed and energize our minds and souls.”

Having established the importance of friends, Frech spends the remainder of the book focusing on the different types of friendships that we form at different stages throughout our lives. She pays particular attention to how we cultivate friendships in adulthood, when the natural avenues for forming these relationships, previously provided by school, are behind us. “Up until adulthood, we had only to look around and pick out the people we wanted to be our friends,” she notes. “But all of a sudden, the options seem to disappear. Instead of looking around, we have to actively seek out potential friends. It’s no longer a smooth transition, but work.”

She also clarifies the true definition of “friend,” a term that social media sometimes blurs rather than enhances. The people we often refer to as “friends,” she says, are actually acquaintances, and they too have a place in our lives. But a friend, especially one that lasts through a lifetime, is something quite different. “We only have room for one or two of these friends in our life at any given time,” she says. “These are the few rare friends who manage to cross over into becoming family, the ones we really, deeply love, and they become a part of our soul.”

Frech also includes some very valuable chapters discussing the moments in our lives when we need to let relationships go. She spells out “red flags” to watch for in both ourselves and others that can signal that it is time to move on to other, healthier relationships, or ones that are more appropriate to a particular stage in our lives.

In the end, we need both to have and to be friends, not only with other people, but also ultimately with God. While other human beings can be quite awesome, “[w]e each have a space in our soul that can only be filled with the love and presence of the most-high God,” she concludes. “Until we invite him into relationship and companionship with us, that hole will remain, and we will always have an instinctive loneliness that no amount of socializing will be able to fix.”

Author bio:

Rebecca Frech is a Catholic author, speaker, CrossFit coach and the managing editor of The Catholic Conspiracy website. In addition to “Can We Be Friends?” she is the author of the best-selling book, “Teaching in Your Tiara: A Homeschooling Book for the Rest of Us.”

A co-host of the popular podcast The Visitation Project, Frech is a columnist for The National Catholic Register. She and her husband live outside Dallas with their eight children.