As a child, I always had a best friend. In elementary school, it was Naomi –- our best friendship was so exclusive that one of my teachers expressed concern that we were alienating the other children at my parent-teacher conference. Halfway through middle school, I moved to a new state. Despite our truly valiant letter-writing and mixtape-making efforts, the move effectively severed ties, and set a precedent for all my successive best friendships.
Today, I don't have a best friend. This means a lot of things. For starters, no one's going to hold my bouquet for me when I get married. There will be no slightly funny, slightly embarrassing, but totally heartfelt speech at the reception. And should the need arise, no one will fly in from Atlanta on a redeye midnight flight to help me kill Earl.
My high-school best friendships all ended in the expected ways — I moved away or she did; she started dating an asshole or I did. Things happen. People change. But this best friend turnover rate has left adult-me without a real, honest-to-goodness boon companion. I don't have late-night hours-long chats and I can't even remember the last time someone drunk-dialed me (please, drunk dial me! I find it hilarious and life-affirming!).
Sure, I have some friends I've known for a very, very long time, and I keep in touch with my younger self's best friends. But best friends are like significant others -– it has a lot to do with proximity and frequency of contact, and you're not really supposed to have more than one. Like dating, the decision to be exclusive -– or "best" –- is not to be taken lightly, and can't really be forced.
But unlike romantic relationships, friendships are often ranked according to age –- your oldest friend is usually your best friend. But since all my old best friends have moved on and replaced me with newer, shinier models, where does that leave me? Our society may view romantic relationships as the only kind of relationship worth actively pursuing, but there's no good reason why we shouldn't have to work at friendship like we work at dating.
Pursuing a friend –- best or otherwise -– can sometimes feel a little creepy. What's a best-friendless girl to do? Not having a best friend means that to everyone in my life, save family and my special ladyfriend, I can only ever rank in second place. My pursuit of a best friend goes a little like this:
I meet a nice girl or boy. We hit it off, and I get friend-butterflies (frienderflies!) and begin to think, "Could this be it? Could this be my new best friend??" But then, casually, s/he will drop the best friend bomb. We'll be swapping childhood stories, perhaps, or telling lies about our wild college days, when suddenly, out comes the best friend. "So my best friend and I were at this shindig when all of a sudden (insert funny anecdote here)," she/he will say.
I'll laugh it off, but inside my heart will sink. "Oh," I'll think. "Well then. I guess I'll only ever be second-best to this person."
Certainly, I have a litany of good friends. Great friends, even. Amazing, funny and responsive people who I'm happy and grateful to have in my life. But like with almost everything I do, I harbor a secret, gnawing desire to be the very best. I want to be the best to someone –- not just anyone's best, but someone who's worthy of being my best's best.
But of course, having a best means automatically seconding everyone else –- best by its very definition also means only. Best friends create a hierarchy that makes everyone else feel less than best. It leaves the best-friendless wondering what's wrong with us. Are we not worthy of a friendship pedestal of our very own?
And maybe that's what's wrong with the whole idea of a best friend in the first place. Maybe expanding the idea of soulmates beyond the realm of the romantic (where, let's admit it, it's caused enough problems already) into the jurisdiction of the platonic isn't such a great idea.
I don't know that I could find a single, perfect friend willing and able to supply everything I need out of a friendship -– someone to both drink and work out with, a wild partier and a driven achiever, an encourager and a hard-truth-teller, a shoulder and a confidante, a spontaneous free spirit and pragmatic tether. Instead, I have a small circle of friends each of whom fill different roles in my life.
Maybe it's time for me to set aside the notion of a best friend. Unless, of course, anyone wants to be best friends?
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