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Sometimes Growing Up Means Growing Apart; How to Let Go of Your Best Friend

August 6, 2013

imagesI will never have another best friend.

When I was little I used to manipulate other people into doing things I wanted by promising to be their best friend. You’d be surprised how often it worked, most people needing little more than an “I’ll be your best friend!”to convince them to part with the best items in their lunches. I never said it maliciously, but I did say it flippantly, promising something I knew I’d never really have to give. Even as a 1st grader I knew you couldn’t measure intimacy.

As I got older I stood by as my friends abused the power of friendship, laughing along as we ditched a girl who wanted to sit with us at lunch or watching safely from second place as my friend rotated best friends every few weeks. There were plenty of times I was more afraid of my friends’ judgments than of my enemy’s, powerless as we carelessly threw about best friends in order to figure out who we were. Teenagers want so much to be loved, it was easy to seduce each other with promises of friendship, even easier to hurt each other with them.

Somewhere along the way I realized that nothing good ever came from those two little words. Best friends always grew apart, always let each other down, always hurt the people around them. I still can’t think of one instance when publically calling someone a best friend has been used for good. Sure whispering to a significant other that he’s your best friend or even mentioning it to a good friend when they’re feeling low can be a good thing, but naming a best friend to the world does little more than hurt the runners up, forcing all of us to evaluate and compare our relationships in ways they were never meant to be. Friendship isn’t a game or a competition; I’m not the Bachelorette, I didn’t sign up to find the one friend who is right for me. It doesn’t make any sense to rank relationships I never have to part with; my heart is big enough to love a ton of people in a ton of ways.

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine got engaged and named me her Maid of Honor. I’m thrilled that she loves me and I have no problem helping her out in whatever way she needs, but it still freaks me out to think of our relationship in comparison to others. It is sad to think of all the other people in her life who love her and didn’t make the cut, it makes me even sadder to think about all the time I haven’t spent with her that I like to think she is spending with other people who love her even more. Suddenly I feel like our relationship is less organic, like this title of Number One Friend somehow brings with it a new set of expectations that I owe it to her to try to meet. Suddenly I feel like I’m in a relationship with someone who said I love you too soon and I’m supposed to either lie to them or break up.

That is ridiculous, and it sucks that a phrase that is supposed to be good brings with it so much bad. Obviously I’m not going to break up with her, but still, am I supposed to lie and say you’re the one friend I can’t live without?

gfdNot to be narcissistic, but I have a lot of close friends, a ton of people who I love dearly and dearly love me.  In the last few months I can name 4 people who have called me their best friend and that isn’t including any of the naughty princesses or two of my closest roommates from Seattle. Am I supposed to tell them all that they’re my one and only? How can I measure love? What purpose can it serve to name one the best? What does best even mean?

Maybe it’s true that I don’t let any of them all the way in, that I’m missing out on one great friendship (and I know significant others are a whole different story), but I hope that isn’t true. I hope that it means that I make an effort to stay in touch with people I love, that I refuse to let go of people who I no longer see every day. I like to think it means that our relationships aren’t tied to anything other than the two of us, that no matter what else in our lives changes, our connection will always exist.

The thing is, as hard as I’ve worked to keep that phrase out of my life, this weekend I realized that I did have a best friend. And that I officially have to let her go.

She and I met in 3rd grade and were mostly inseparable throughout the next 7 years. Sure we had other friends but we lived in the same neighborhood and liked the same things, so every night always distilled down to the two of us. In middle school we had sleepovers at least 2 nights a week and she’d call me to remind me to do my homework and I’d tell her which boys were looking at her during classes. In high school we captained our basketball team together, both of us making varsity when we were sophomores. We took the same classes, liked the same music and even worked the same summer jobs. We spent less time together after she got a boyfriend sophomore year and I branched into new interests, but she was always the person I’d see across the room and smile, the person who’s back I always had, the person I knew always had mine.

We rarely called each other our best friend then, but only because it didn’t matter. We were close and saying that phrase out loud only hurt the people around us. We were friends and that was all that mattered.

When we went to college things changed. She’d always had trouble being genuine with people, putting on a front when she was feeling insecure, so when we met up for Christmas and it took me a few extra hours to get her to open up, I understood. It is hard for plenty of people to spend time away and jump right back where we left off, I get it. But when I hopped on a plane to visit her for Spring Break that year and was met with a person I didn’t recognize I realized things were going to be different. I won’t go into how she treated me or the ways she held me at bay, but it hurt to be the focus of things I used to be able redirect. In high school I’d known her well enough and she’d trusted me enough to keep those things from me, now here I was only a few months later demoted to what felt like a surface level friend(though instead of using my name all week she called me Best Friend). With her the line is so clear between real and putting on a brave face, it felt like she was throwing knives at me every time she spoke, especially when she called me by a name that was supposed to convey intimacy. I couldn’t believe everything we’d had could be gone so fast and how hollow and cold the words best friend had become.

Over the next few years things didn’t get much better. I’d see glimpses of our old friendship and a few times I’d even get a few hours with the real her, but it was always a struggle, a real effort I’d have to make to remind her who we were, how we could be.

How-I-Lost-YouI went to visit her in California a few months ago and she wasn’t there at all. We spent a few days exploring her town and we did little more than politely complement each other and promise to call more. Sometimes it felt like we were nothing more than acquaintances, though on more than one occasion she introduced me as her best friend. This weekend she came home to visit me and her family and I cleared my schedule to try and break through. We were busy the whole time, if we had taken pictures our Facebook feeds would have made it seem like our friendship was at its best. But instead of the genuine reunion I crave from her, I spent three days with a person who’d given up on getting to know me, getting to know herself, and getting to know us. Any time I tried to talk about something real she’d pull away, remarking on the weather or our next activity. In moments of silence she’d make surface level conversation, repeating things we’d already discussed. When we had a real chance to go through some of our old stuff and reminisce or even reconnect she turned on a movie both of us had already seen.

When she dropped me off on Sunday night and my parents asked how our weekend had been I cried, trying to explain how terrible it is to sit across the table from someone you love and not be able to talk to her. How helpless I feel when I try to help her remember how wonderful and brilliant she can be, but am only met with resignation. Talking to them I realized I’ve said all of this a hundred times before, that she and I hadn’t been best friends for a long time. I realized that I hold her to a higher standard than I do the rest, that I’ve fought harder for her than I have for anyone else, that as badly as I want to help her find that spark she used to have, there is nothing else I can do.

So this weekend I said goodbye to my best friend. I’m not losing a friend, I know I’ll always be friends with her and I know I’ll always love her, but as of today I’m not going to look at her and hope to see someone she used to be. She isn’t my best friend anymore. Maybe if I’m able to let go of who she was I’ll be able to find ways to appreciate who she’s become.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2013 9:26 pm

    I agree that the title of best friend isn’t very useful, especially as we get older and have more (and more varied kinds of) friends than we did as kids. I remember how important it was to have one in elementary school though. It was devastating when I got those matching half-heart “best friends” necklaces for the girl I thought was my best friend, and when she lost hers on the playground later she didn’t even look for it. Clearly, I wasn’t as important to her as she was to me. Friendships can be awkward. And there are definitely those people that you used to be so close to and then…you drift apart. I know that is or will be happening with several people in my life, but it’s not the end of the world. Like you say, they’ll always be my friends, that just may look different than it did a few years ago.

    • August 7, 2013 8:56 am

      i had so many of those necklaces. I was the girl who probably lost your other half. being a kid is hard.

      and you’re right, a little different is fine, but too much change and I cry all the time. i wonder how to bring up this topic to a friend that has changed. does pointing it out only make it worse?

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    August 7, 2013 2:08 am

    Hey, Booty- thanks for your post. I am sorry about your friend. Also, yeah, I agree that ‘best friend’ can be dangerous words. My biggest association with those words is from middle school- where I had two good friends, Maddie and Marcia. We had sleepovers, watched movies, all hung out. But at some early point Marcia decided that Maddie was her ‘best friend’. The title didn’t really mean anything, but it hurt– suddenly our trifecta was off-kelter. Marcia seemed to think her and Maddie had something she and I could never have, where in my secret heart I thought that Maddie and I were the true friends. Looking back, everything in our friendship would have been better if Marcia had never thrown around those few powerful words.

    I don’t think it is always bad though. I think best-friends should only be used if it is self-evident. My mom moved out to Washington from Wisconsin after she married my dad. A bit later, her best friend came too. They’ve had different lives, but my mom’s friend now lives down the road from our house and will pop by any given morning to have coffee and chat. They are clearly, undeniably, best friends. They’ve been through thick and thin together, and though they will fight they always know the other is there, a pillar struck straight through their life. Every time I talk to my mom, she always tells me what her friend is up to, as though it were details in her own life. I think that some people really do have a ‘best friend’ and there is no reason to not say what is true- but yeah, it shouldn’t be an offer, a commitment, or a boast for others- it should just be obvious.

    • August 7, 2013 8:59 am

      Very true, when best friends make an effort to keep that same amount of intimacy they’re wonderful. I guess I just haven’t seen many best friendships last. I’m glad your mother has one; she’s lucky. It’s funny because in theory I understand why I want to be that close with someone, but practically I don’t think I’m built for it.


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