Back in primary school, it was customary to have one best friend. For a girl, it usually was another girl. I had one, too.
We would always sit next to each other in class. She was “the one” to turn to when I had a secret to share, a worry to release or a new game to play.
The chosen friend — one level of importance higher than everybody else.
That first female friendship conditioned me for years because it planted a very strong idea in my mind: that it is natural to value certain people over others. That there must be some kind of a hierarchy within my social circle. That there are friends who, once labelled as “best,” deserved the biggest chunk of my attention.
As if we had some sort of a sacred agreement.
And indeed, there were unwritten rules between us that we agreed to obey — even though we never spoke them out loud. There were secrets that only my best friend knew about me. When she got into an argument, it only felt natural that I take her side. I also thought I should prioritize spending time with her over spending time with others. And so on.
I followed the drill — until I realized that it was really more of a drill than genuine friendship. It appeared as if being best friends with somebody translated to a very specific code of conduct — and I felt increasingly reluctant to follow it.
When I said these things to her, it must have come out really harsh. I only wanted to let her know that I’d rather consider her equal with other friends I had. I wanted to step down from the “best friends” pedestal and feel free to connect with other people as well. But I think it came out as something like: “you’re not my best friend anymore.” Then, as we argued, it easily transformed into “I don’t want to be friends with you.”
This was our first real argument — and also the moment our friendship started falling apart. I thought I was the one to blame.
Luckily, these days I don’t have to choose who my “best” friend is. But that old imprint of feeling obliged to act in a certain way with the people I call “friends” — that still haunts me.
I know I am still not fully myself with others. I build some aspects of my relationships on what I think “should be” said and done — rather than on the uniqueness of our interaction. I am still learning how to let it be, rather than trying to bend reality to my arbitrary standards.
But considering one friend to be “better” than another, or even picking up someone who’s “the best” — that already seems like insanity. I don’t think it is healthy for either of the parties.
I am lucky to have very different friends who play very different roles in my life. That’s one reason I could never compare these people to one another. My relationships with each of them are just too diverse.
There is somebody whom I’ve known since teenage years. We met briefly during a summer camp and all the odds were against us ever meeting each other again. But we did. What makes us relate are our spiritual connection, a shared sense of humour and similar unresolved inflictions we like to discuss.
There is somebody from college, with whom I bonded through our travels together. It may be the most “girly” friendship I have. Sometimes we may not talk for a month, and then we come together and reconnect as if there was no break. We help each other by serving as mirrors to another’s worries or insecurities. We also share the passion for always chasing change.
There is somebody whom I hardly ever see — but when I do, I get to be 100% honest with that person. I also meet my dark side built up from insecurities, which I almost never show in front of anybody. This friendship is less polished by social norms and manners and can feel blunt at times — however, it doesn’t lack gentleness and love either.
Bottom line is: each friend is unique to the point that I can feel like a different person in front of them. That makes it impossible to differentiate between who’s a “better” and who’s a “worse” friend — because there aren’t even common standards that I could measure them against.
I could only pick the “best” based on with whom I feel most comfortable. But that wouldn’t make much sense — because friendship is not about looking for the least amount of friction. I think that each relationship is a gift in the sense that it reflects a part of me. And sometimes, that reflection may be uncomfortable.
When it is — should I deal with it by simply running away? Or rather seize the opportunity and take a look at what is it that this particular person is showing me about myself?
My ultimate #relationshipgoal is to be able to engage with anyone I meet in the most authentic way possible. To participate in my interactions wholeheartedly and honestly. To eventually stop labelling people as friends, strangers and acquaintances — because all such labels are based on my projection of a relationship — rather than on what is going on in the present moment.
When I am present, a newly met stranger can feel like a close friend — and the other way around. And I want to appreciate that as valid.
Putting a label of a “best friend” on somebody may also cause a burden to that person. Once we decide somebody is “the best” for us — we usually start putting an immense amount of pressure on them.
The “best friend” label is supposed to be a badge of honour. But I think that what happens more often is that it becomes an unwanted responsibility. If I decide one person to be my best friend, I will likely start to rely on them for a number of things.
If I feel sad and lonely? My best friend is the one I want to run to.
If I want to spend the weekend outside the city? The first person I will approach is my best friend.
And if I want to ask for advice, share a story, eat out, gossip… you get it.
By deciding one person to be special in my life, I would start to demand a disproportionately big chunk of this their attention. Rather than having my social needs spread across a few people — I would bring all of these demands to my “chosen one.”
I think that this can never be healthy if continued beyond a short period of fascination with somebody (like falling in love). And to the person I designate as “best friend,” it will always become a burden, sooner or later.
I dream of evolving myself to the point when all people in my life are equals. Not in the sense that I spend the same amount of time with everybody, or enjoy their company in equal measure. Obviously, certain individuals are always going to act as the main characters in my story. Others will only come on stage for bit parts and then disappear forever.
It is not about keeping each and every person in the same proximity, which would be impossible. I don’t intend to control who and when enters and exits the script of my life — because I am not in control of the script.
But what I am in control of is how I show up in each of the interactions. How I engage with the person who is in front of me right now.
All my life I’ve been taught to filter people through prisms such as “friend,” “colleague,” “family member,”, “neighbour” — and to act accordingly. But that implies favouring some of my encounters over others. Pulling certain people towards me, while pushing others away.
And I don’t want to do this anymore. Why? Because I am aware that the authentic connection that I am after can be found in any interaction. It may arise with someone whom I’ve known for years, as well during a random exchange with a “stranger” at a bus stop. The potential for connection is infinite and unforeseeable — so I need to stay alert not to miss it.
Because I can’t afford to keep missing the most important component of life any longer.