A little over 20 years ago, I attended my first day of kindergarten; to say I was not excited to be there would be a massive understatement. As part of the first day of school experience, our parents also attended in order to help us adjust to being full-time students which, as someone who never attended preschool, was turning out to be quite the culture shock for me. I spent almost all of that first day crying and holding onto my mom for dear life while my parents worried that I would have to wait another year before taking that big leap into kindergarten.
The defining moment of that day came when the teachers began gathering us kindergarteners together to take us to the cafeteria to show us where we would be sitting for lunch. As I began to cry harder at the prospect of being separated from my parents (and as I’m sure my parents lost their last bit of hope that I could make it through the day) a girl walked up to me and said, “You don’t need to cry, I’ll be your friend!” and held out her hand to walk with me to the cafeteria. This gesture, as small as it might have seemed at the time, helped me overcome my fear of kindergarten and led me to my first friend, Elisha.
Fast forward to today, and I still count her as my oldest and best friend. For the past two decades, we have been through the pangs of adolescence, the loss of loved ones, lackadaisical summer jobs, and more. No matter where life takes me, I know without a doubt that I can turn to Elisha for support, encouragement, or, if needed, a sarcastic comment.
It’s a friendship that, based on traditional gender stereotypes, should not have lasted or, according to rom-coms, turned into something romantic. For whatever reason, society has tried to make us think that men and women cannot have close relationships that are securely and happily based in the friend-zone; in fact, that term has made it seem like there is something wrong with a man who finds himself in the friend-zone with a woman, as if being there to support someone you care about without any ulterior motive is a bad thing.
I feel lucky to have found a friend so young in life that made me realize how ridiculous that concept is; friendship should not be based on gender, but rather the character of the people involved. Growing up in a small town, that was not the typical way friendships were viewed, but I feel lucky to count Elisha and my group of friends from home as exceptions to that way of thinking. I think it is part of the reason why we all remain close and very involved in each other’s lives, despite the fact that some of us have moved away.
In a few short weeks, Elisha will be getting married to an incredible person. When I first found out about their engagement, I could not wait to attend their wedding to celebrate with them and all of our loved ones back home. However, my excitement increased tenfold when Elisha asked me to stand up there with her on her special day as her Man of Honor.
It was just another moment in our long friendship that makes me proud to have her in my life. The fact that she would choose to add me as part of her special day to fill a role that is traditionally filled exclusively by women makes me all the more excited to celebrate this occasion. With her cousin serving as Maid of Honor, this has become a wedding that embraces relationships and people rather than what tradition dictates. I would have happily celebrated this day from a seat in the crowd, but I am thrilled that I can do my part to make sure Elisha’s special day goes off without a hitch.
I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Elisha or any one of the other incredible female friends I have. By surrounding myself with people I genuinely care about and enjoy spending time with, regardless of their gender, I have been able to build up a fantastic group of inspiring and amazing men and women to call friends, who time after time have been there to provide whatever I might need.
What’s more is I can trace all of these friendships back to that one simple gesture on that first day of kindergarten, to the girl who didn’t turn up her nose at the crying boy who was too afraid to go more than five feet from his parents, but instead held out her hand in friendship. I’ll be forever grateful for that moment and it’s that one moment plus a million others from the past 21 years that make me ecstatic to stand by this woman’s side as her Man of Honor in a few short weeks.