This week, the children of Boston will arrive at school for the first time since summer vacation, bracing themselves for a monumental decision: where to sit during lunch. As they stand in the cafeteria, clutching their trays and trying not to look too concerned, they will wonder who their friends will be this year, and what they’ll need to do to find them in the crowd.
Each September, these moments unfold across America, as the nation’s young people undertake the exciting, stressful process of picking allies and identifying kindred spirits. It’s a process we remember vividly into adulthood, in part because the companions we choose as children—and those who choose us—often end up having a permanent impact on our lives. But looking back, most of us are faced with an enigma when we ask why exactly we ended up with the friends we did.