I don’t have a best friend.
According to my unofficial poll on Instagram, 35% of women say the same. That sounds about right to me. When it comes to the women in my immediate family, my sister and my mother have real true bona fide best friends and I don’t. So about one out of every three women may relate to how I feel about my state of being bestie-less.
My mother met her best friend, Jennifer, on their first day of college. They were assigned to be roommates and if you ask Jennifer, she’d say her first impression of my mom was that she was stuck up. Apparently, my mom didn’t greet her when she came into the dorm room. She fully denies that.
More than a few decades later, it’s hard to know who to believe. Either way, the two managed to recover from their awkward first encounter and have been tethered souls ever since. They’ve served as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings and are godparents for each other’s children. From shared vacations and holiday celebrations to joint garage sales and tearful relocations. These two have formed a bond that has connected their families for life.
But no connection has been stronger than that of their daughters, one of whom is my younger sister, who were born just seven months apart.
Those two little girls, Joelle and Alison, are now grown women. They grew up together, studied abroad together and gave Maid of Honor speeches for each other. They even lived in Virginia, of all places, at the same time but for different reasons because their entire relationship is just that serendipitous.
Today, they live halfway across the country from each other, one in Minnesota and one in California. But when your friendship is built on three decades of shared experiences and the purest most rock steady best friend love I’ve ever witnessed, distance doesn’t mean much.
One of the last times I was with them, they were discussing a trip to New York City that they’re planning to take together to celebrate their 30th birthdays.
I felt a pang of jealousy.
I mean, it’s just not fair. I’ve always wanted a lifelong best friend and my sister had one plopped right into her lap. She basically inherited Alison at birth! The friendship of their mothers and their closeness in age practically guaranteed that their sweet union would flourish into what it has become.
The thing about a best friendship is that it has to be completely mutual. For example, I would call my sister my best friend. But that doesn’t really count because her best friend is Alison. I get to be in a category of my own as her sister and sure, that’s nice and special. But it’s more of a siblingship than a best friendship.
Over the course of my life, I’ve had several “best friend” types. We’d be attached at the hip for months, sometimes years, brought together by the similar stages of life we found ourselves in. For a time I’d even think…
“Maybe this is my person”.
But as the next life phase came along, the friendship would fall away. Sometimes with feelings of bitterness and other times with a fond affection but also a silent understanding that our season had passed.
While I treasure those friendships and the memories I have of them, I always knew they weren’t the real deal because I’ve had the examples of my mother and my sister to compare to for my whole life.
Here I am fifth wheeling with the two pairs of BFF’s in my life, a common occurrence.
I’ve long accepted that not everyone gets to have a lifelong best friend. Part of it is pure luck and timing. Just practically speaking, after a certain age, the window for that title of “lifelong” friend closes. At some point, there’s just too much catching up to do and not enough time to do it in.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I feel like it’s the same for best friends. It takes 10,000 hours of celebrations, tears, and everything in between to lay the foundation that a best friendship is built on.
But what grown woman has that kind of time? Between the demands of a family or a career or both, we barely manage to shampoo our hair and return a text, much less to connect on a meaningful level with potential kindred spirits.
The other night, I ran into a friend of mine at the gym. She wasn’t in a hurry and wanted to talk. I could tell it would have easily turned into an hour or longer if we got started. While I yearned for that friendship connection, it was after eight o’clock and I actually said to her, “I’m sorry. I really want to do this but I have to go home and recharge or I won’t be able to do my life tomorrow.” (It’s all about going to bed early when you have a one-year-old with inconsistent sleep patterns.)
Thankfully, a mother of two young ones herself, she understood.
And that’s why this isn’t a sob story. I do have a handful of really good, understanding and supportive friends. People who will keep my secrets and I theirs. But much like my sister, most of my close friends have another friend they are even closer with…a best friend. It’s not something I’m jealous of but I’m aware of it. I know where I stand.
Or perhaps, like me, they don’t have that one “person” either but we’re both just too deep into the glorious mess of our lives to have the time to really lay the groundwork. Without fully realizing it, we may even be resisting the pursuit of a closer friendship due to the effort we know it would take to maintain (guilty of that). So we remain close but never become “best”.
That’s another thing about best friendship; it can’t be forced.
While I admire the friendships that my sister and mother have with their best friends, I’ve learned to appreciate the relationships in my own life for what they are. Even beyond my close friends, there are many more people that I’m very “friendly” with. Maybe we’ve never been to one another’s houses or make plans to spend time together on the weekends, but we have a connection based on a shared passion or interest, and we genuinely enjoy spending time with one another in that realm.
For me, that realm is the group exercise studio at the Y. This is where I find myself bopping around from person to person, sharing quick hugs and “how are you?” ‘s. I find myself feeling energized and truly happy in this space, with these people. Many of whom I’ve been meeting in this space, or spaces like it, on a regular basis for years and years.
That’s worth something.
One dollar bill or 100 pennies, they add up to the same amount. Maybe you are lucky enough to have that dolla dolla bill BFF. That’s awesome. Cherish that. But if, like me, you find yourself with a few quarters, and lots of pennies…don’t dismiss them as chump change.
There’s the same amount of value there.
Close friends are the quarters. Much like a best friend, they love and accept you. They will celebrate your wins with you. They’ll let you cry on their shoulder. Maybe you haven’t known each other since childhood or lived together or been in each other’s weddings. But if you have all those other things (love, acceptance, support) that’s what matters most. And hey, if you have a few close friends, the chance of at least one being available in a time of crisis is nearly 100%!
As for the pennies, those people who are a step or two above acquaintance but not exactly on the level of “close” or “best”? Treasure them.
Some of the most encouraging words and best compliments I’ve ever received have come from these types of friends. My sincere hope is that I’ve offered the same for them. This type of casual friendship has the potential for a lot of impact. Friendliness, words of encouragement, compliments…they plant a seed, they start a love chain, and it keeps going and going. And who knows what could happen? Under the right circumstances, a close friendship could develop.
One of the women I count as a close friend is someone I met only a couple years ago. We don’t have a shared history or mutual friends. But we met when we were ten days apart in our first pregnancies at a yoga & confidence retreat. Sometimes meeting someone at just the right time in just the right way can leapfrog your relationship straight from strangers to soul sisters. You never know!
There’s a lot to envy about those BFF relationships. The understanding that must come from so much shared history. The inside jokes, the confidences held, the embarrassing stories. I especially think about the amount of forgiveness that must have taken place to string together decades of closeness. Because when they’re your person and you’re theirs, forgiveness is the only choice. That’s a beautiful thing.
But when you don’t have a best friend you remain open. Open to possibilities. Open to growth. Open to inspiration. Open to change. Open to newness. Open to independence. Open to leadership. And that’s a beautiful thing, too!
I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I am meant to be a “people” person, instead of a “person” person. Maybe that’s why I was drawn towards a career in group fitness. I quite literally spend all of my time and energy facilitating the gathering of people in uplifting environments, to socialize and move and laugh and sweat. And I love it.
So here’s to those without a BFF! Lacking a bestie doesn’t mean your life isn’t full. It just means we have to work a little harder to reach out and make plans when we’re feeling lonely. Because sometimes it is lonely, and that’s okay. We’re okay.