This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
My best friend is my best friend, but I’m definitely not theirs. They don’t outright say that, but they have a group of friends that they consider their “best friends” and I often feel like I’m an outsider clawing my way inside their inner circle. I try my best to manage what I can only describe as jealousy, but it’s difficult. They recently became close with someone really quickly and it’s difficult not to compare myself and our relationship with this new intense friendship.
I also found out recently that they lied to me about something that I asked about directly. I truly believe it was to spare my feelings, but regardless it’s difficult not to take it personally. I’m struggling to know where to place this relationship in my head and in my heart, and wondering if my persistence in holding onto this relationship is actually hurting us both.
Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Hey there, ND!
Thank you for being the first letter of 2024, and welcome, one and all, to yet another year of Papi. I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship over these past few days. I recently and rather unexpectedly lost a good friend, an event that’s left me reflecting on what it means to know someone, and what it means to be in someone’s life.
I apologize for bringing up such a tragedy in response to your letter. I did this in my last response as well, when my grandfather’s passing was fresh. 2023, it seemed, wasn’t done with me in the loss department! But I do think that I’ve been given a unique perspective to appreciate certain aspects of friendship that might serve you in this scenario. I hope you don’t mind me thinking out loud for a bit.
I don’t know what the specifics of your relationship look like, and I can’t make the call on if it’s worth fighting for or not. But I do know that friendships are veritable jungle gyms for our insecurities, and that they can coax out deep-seated fears. As I write to you now, I’m thinking of my late friend, wondering if I could have been better, wondering, now that there’s nothing left to do, if I was any good at being his good friend. It’s a perennial anxiety of mine: Shouldn’t I be closer to people?
But how do you measure how close you are to someone? I guess I just don’t know. Maybe this someone isn’t the person we’ve known the longest, or the person we’d call first in the wake of awful or wonderful news. But maybe we love them all the same. Maybe we have incredibly specific jokes with each other. Maybe there’s a certain heaviness we recognize in each other, and on days when it’s unusually burdensome, we know exactly who to turn to. That’s special.
Naturally, I’m thinking of someone specific, someone who’s gone now. The total and absolute goneness shocks me. I just don’t understand how an entire category of conversation in my life can be here one day, and not the next. In my head I see his face, bright and smirking, and I know, I just know that he’s here. That I can text him or walk over to his apartment. I almost feel like if I were to do just that, the everyday order of things would side with me, and he’d be there, and nothing, really, would be different after all.
He loved to cook; he was unparalleled in the kitchen. He’d give me spices and jars of this or that if he was done with them. He loved literature and expensive clothes and art. I thought I traveled a lot, but not compared to him. I would ask him where he was, and he would say Amsterdam or Marrakech or Edinburgh. He had plans for more travel in the near future. He even had tickets, I’m pretty sure.
Where does all that go? His name announced in an airport in a final boarding call? It seems wrong. His absence feels like this perverse charade we’re all going with. I almost wish we would stop, as if that would make it all untrue, and undo what’s been done.
I really hope you don’t mind me sharing all that, ND, both because it’s maybe the only thing I can write about at the moment, and because I want to impart to you a notion that’s getting me through right now: that there are so many different ways to love someone, so many different ways to appreciate them and to have them in your life.
The heart is a fragile instrument with many strings. Each person in our lives, if we let them close enough, pulls on different ones, and makes a different sound that’s distinct to them. Think of someone you’ve loved and lost, and you’ll hear it in your head, their telltale notes. Whether we’ve known someone forever or for just a little while, that’s how it is.
I can’t say I don’t know how you feel, ND. It sucks! Of course we want to feel like we’re important to the people we consider important. Relationships, as I said, can be fraught playgrounds for our insecurities, and our approach to them tends to reveal the things we’re afraid of, the things we want the most, the things that we think we don’t have or can’t give to ourselves.
But we shouldn’t be fear-first in our friendships. Life is too short for that.
Have you tried having an open and honest conversation with your friend about these feelings or about this lie you mentioned? It could lead to resolution of some kind, or to clarity. Meanwhile, though, I think you should do away with this idea of “best” friends and hierarchies of that sort. I think if you stop comparing your dynamic to others and you focus more on growing and building the ones already present in your life, as well as on finding new ones, it will serve you better.
When you see an opportunity to share yourself with someone, to show support, to deepen your bond, take it. Every friendship changes with time. They wax and they wane, we get closer, and we drift. I have seen hardship make some of my relationships stronger than ever, and I have seen blessings inspire jealousies and bitterness.
They are living things, and like all living things they grow and age and move, and like all things that move they eventually go still, and then they’re gone. What matters, ND, isn’t that these people ever took the place of “most important friend,” but that they were friends at all, that we met, and that our meeting made a sound.
Whatever you choose with this person, if you determine it’s not healthy and let go, or if you discover a way forward, I hope that either way you can appreciate the time you spent together, and I hope that warmth finds you, and that there’s beautiful music in your future.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on January 4, 2024.
Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.