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‘I Wish I Had a Best Friend’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

I’ve got the friendship blues. Obviously, the pandemic has done a number on everyone’s ability to see one another. Friendship looks much different now than it did a year ago. I have a close-knit group of people who have been my friends for years, and I love and treasure each one of them, but they all seem to have someone that is their “best friend.” It’s never me.

Now, I know “best friends” feels so elementary school, but it’s a problem I’ve had for most of my life. Every time I feel I’ve found a person that may finally be that best friend I’ve been looking for, it’s blown up in my face and I’m left at square one.

I’m really starting to doubt myself. I’ve gone to my therapist and my friends, and they’ve assured me that I’m a healthy person to be around, I communicate my needs clearly, I’m a good listener, and have all of the skills necessary to facilitate my own, healthy friendships. But I’m starting to worry there’s something wrong with me, that I’m not capable of having a best friend.

There’s so much advice out there about romantic relationships, but all I want is a stable, healthy, platonic one. Is wanting to have a best friend immature? Should I just stay content with the friends I do have, even if those friendships aren’t as close as I want them to be? Why is this so hard?

Sincerely,
Second Bestie

Hey there, Second Bestie!

Who allowed you to touch on one of my insecurities like this? That’s actually my job. Well, we will certainly never be besties now. Job thief.

But yes, as we creep out of our hovels after a long stretch of isolation, it seems we (or at least many of us) are being reintroduced to pesky social anxieties we haven’t had to deal with in a while. Were there worse, more mortal fears that replaced them? Probably. But that doesn’t make these ones any easier to deal with.

When I first began socializing again a couple weeks ago, I had several troubling epiphanies. I realized many of the people around me had immediately grouped up to ride out the dark times together, and some of them were people I’d imagined a certain closeness to, people I could have sworn would have wanted me in their circle.

I met some quarantine sexting buddies in person. Immediately upon walking up to them, the desire melted away like a flimsy, wavy mirage. I’ve been to a couple events now, and I swear that I can feel the “un-special” practically oozing out of me, the certainty that, in general, I am a quickly forgotten face who will disappear from people’s minds the moment I leave the scene.

But I can’t pin this all on the pandemic. I’d long suspected there was something about me that wasn’t quite there enough. I didn’t experience utter unwanted-ness or anything. It was more like I was a perennial afterthought, a person who it’d be nice to be around, nice to have over, nice to see, but never necessary, never the first person to call, never the one we need to be present.

And I think, Second Bestie, that most of us would like to be needed. We want to feel indispensable. It’s a desire magnified by a corporate world that sees us as entirely replaceable. All this is to say, I understand. You can have a good group of friends and still think, still worry, “I’m no one’s number one.”

But let’s step out of that feeling for a second and think about how friendship works, Second Bestie; what it feels like and what it gives us. It has been the case that seeing a friend, a familiar face whom I haven’t seen in months and haven’t even kept up with, has felt like the very pinnacle of happiness. I’ve thrown my arms around an acquaintance, overjoyed to see each other, to be in contact.

Certainly, there are people who know more about us than others, people we would turn to first, people we see as “best friends.” But affections, warmth, respect, laughter — these things are difficult to rank on a list. The reality is, different people bring different things to our lives. Relationships can arrange themselves into any number of dazzling shapes, curves, and lines you’ve never seen before, each one unique, each one an altogether different alchemical phenomenon.

I feel like the people in my life bring out different aspects of me. I’m constantly discovering new things, appreciating elements to myself and to the other person that I hadn’t before. Even if we don’t have many friends, and even if it doesn’t get said very often, every bond we make is a sacred thing.

Meanwhile, if you’re comfortable, you could tell the people in your life how you feel about them. You can affirm the good thing you’ve got going, tell them what you appreciate about having them in your life.

You could also take initiative. I know a lot of people who wait to be invited to things because they want proof they’re being thought of. But you are also that person to someone else! You can invite people to things. You can reach out. You can make it a priority to spend quality time, in person or not, with the people you’d like to deepen your dynamic with. Acquaintances have become lifelong friends for me in that way.

And ultimately, Second Bestie, we’ve all been through a lot. We need plenty of grace and mutual support at the moment. I think many of us, whether we admit it or not, are confused and afraid right now, even as we’re engaging in activities we’ve been dreaming of doing for over a year. You’re not alone in your anxieties. I bet some of the people you see as having perfect relationships are struggling too.

So be gentle with yourself. Pick up the phone. Don’t think so much about trying to be someone’s “best friend” and think more about how you can nurture the relationships you already have. Friendship isn’t Mario Kart. It’s Club Penguin.

I don’t know what I mean by that.

Buy my book.

Con mucho amor,
Papi

Originally published on May 29, 2021.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, out now, here.

‘I Wish I Had a Best Friend’