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"Friends are the family we choose for ourselves" is an oft-repeated quote that is usually attributed to journalist/crime author Edna Buchanan.

It's a nice idea, isn't it? If your own family is abusive, neglectful, unsupportive, intolerant, or simply never existed, you can go out into the world and find that sister or brother from another mother. If your family is nice enough but they just don't understand you and your dreams, and you go home for the holidays and feel isolated even though you're surrounded by people ... you can go out into the world and find kindred spirits to make up your own tribe.

It is the nicest idea ever.

For better or worse, I never had a brother or a sister; neither of my parents had any siblings, either, at least none they knew. My relationship with my father is distant and difficult, and has been most of my life. After my mother died, my next closest blood relatives were some second cousins thrice removed who never really considered me to be family and dropped me after Mom was gone. It's becoming increasingly clear that I will never have any children of my own, and I will never be able to afford to adopt.

So, friends, right? I can't make a family, but that's okay, because I can make friends! Friends are great. Friends are found family; they are the family we choose for ourselves. Right?

I want to believe that as fervently as I wanted to believe in Santa Claus when I was little.

My oldest friends and I have known each other for over 25 years at this point. That's a long time. Are we family? They're certainly more my family than those second cousins ever were. But, if you compare the bonds I have with them with the suboptimal relationship I have with my father ... no, they don't look so much like family. 

The problem is that friendships seem to lose their strength over time in a way that relations with close blood relatives do not. My relationship with my father is what it is; it hasn't changed in 15 years. Unless I actively take steps to sever our relationship, I'm sure it'll continue pretty much as it is until one of us is dead.

Meanwhile, my husband and I met some folks about six years ago whom we gradually got to know online. We hung out at conventions and got on fabulously. Two years ago, knowing we didn't have family of our own to spend the holidays with, they invited us to spend Christmas at their family's place in Michigan.

"We think of you as found family," they said. And then, true story, we had a group hug. It was a great weekend, and one of the nicest holidays I've ever had. 

In the two years since then, life kept on going, as it does. We stayed in touch, but people got busy with jobs and projects and so on.

I found out the friends would be in up in the Mitten for Christmas again this year, and I emailed to see if they'd have time to get together. 

"Sorry," they said. "We're going to be too busy with family stuff."