whenever this world is cruel to me

When I was thirteen, my best friend found a new best friend. After five blissful years connected at the hip—it was a rare weekend that didn’t start at one of our houses and end at the other’s—it had become clear that we were no longer appendages of the same person. It was painful, to be sure, but it was also a relief to withdraw, for the first time, into myself. I began to discover the pleasure of spending weekends alone.

I haven’t had a best friend since. I refer to a rotating cast of people in my life as my best friends—I’ve got my best friend who goes to law school, my best friend who lives in Mississippi, my best friend who is training to become a midwife, my best friend the singer-songwriter—but none of them would rank me their first call in prison or their number one on speed dial.

And God forbid I ever become one of those people who calls their mom their best friend. I love my mom. She’s an excellent mom and one of the two people I ever speak to on the telephone (the other is my dad, who is similarly excellent and also not my best friend). But I think that the fact that at various times in the past, she’s grounded me, forced me to pay her money for complaining, and given me a piece of packaged American cheese that I was to eat before I would be allowed to play with my dolls, would preclude her from being my best friend. (Also, I’m just saying, a best friend would never ground me for something silly like getting caught drinking underage at a roller disco-themed party in someone’s backyard.)

On that note, don’t even get me started on people who call their significant others their best friends. My feelings on coupling haven’t changed since I entered into a relationship. I still go to restaurants alone and I still go to 6 A.M. spin class alone and my boyfriend is NOT my best friend because Christ, having someone all up on you while you’re trying to sleep is enough of an intrusion on your personal space without having to classify them as your number one brunch date, too.

Generally, I’m okay with this, but as a particularly self-conscious member of the Facebook generation, being a loner can start to feel like being a loser. “I still get irrationally angry and hurt whenever a close friend calls someone her best friend,” a friend of mine admitted recently. “Because then I am not the best friend. And then I want to crawl away in defeat.” She and I are engaged in a similar mental battle: I don’t want to be someone’s best friend, but to acknowledge that I’m not and never will be the best is… well, it’s not my style.

The problem is that I’m not the “best friend” type. It’s not a role I, as a loner and a fairly selfish person, play comfortably. Much of what the Internet tells me I should do for a best friend—or that a best friend should do for me—are tasks that frankly, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of on my own. (Moreover, some of this is downright unhygienic. The day I let anyone else use my toothbrush is a cold day in hell indeed.) Contemporary best friendship is characterized as a competition: who does the most of your bidding? Who listens to the most of your whining? Personally, I prefer to share the wealth of what I’m unable to shoulder on my own among all the people who have some modicum of willingness to aid me in my incompetence.

Most of the time, though, I prefer to take care of myself. Case in point: the only time I ever had to take Plan B, I happened to be in Las Vegas without my car, and it was the height of summer and I had to walk to not one but TWO drugstores in the hundred-degree sunshine to ultimately locate it at a pharmacy in the middle of a retirement community, where the unfairly attractive pharmacist felt the need to repeat my request audibly in front of a lot of obviously judgmental old biddies. That was a character-building experience that I wouldn’t have undergone had I subjected myself to the indignities of best friendship as delineated by Thought Catalog. I also assemble a lot of furniture on my own because I’m not willing to call anyone else to help me. (This has the unfortunate consequence of my apartment being somewhat of a structural hazard. I should probably rethink this particular commitment to independence.)

Much more than best friendship, I value meaningful social interaction with whoever is in my life at a given moment. Little pleases me more than conversation over a languorous meal with someone who lives an interesting life, whether that’s my boyfriend or one of my rotating cast of best friends or someone I haven’t seen in months or years. To me, friendship is about sharing the human experience, not about competing to be somebody’s one and only by—by what, precisely? By letting them call you at four in the morning because they can’t handle their own shit? When I’m a mess, I prostrate myself on the floor and cry. The floor is my best friend. The floor doesn’t let me down and I don’t have to hold the floor’s hair back when it drinks too much or help the floor select matches on Tinder.

I am lucky to have a rich and wide social life that spans multiple states and even continents. I have friends who provide me with invaluable social and emotional support and a boyfriend who fixes my poorly built furniture and a mother who had the good sense to ground me when I got caught drinking underage at a roller disco-themed party in a stranger’s backyard. But I am too selfish to commit myself to being anyone’s best friend. Does this make me inferior to the kind of people who are selfless and kind and willing to pick up the phone at four in the morning to lend balm to someone in need? Maybe, but I like the way I live and I like the way I interact with people. I’ve been accused of holding people at arm’s length and perhaps that’s true, but if you ask me, arm’s length is a perfectly comfortable and fulfilling distance. 

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4 thoughts on “whenever this world is cruel to me”

  1. There’s a Chinese saying that goes “君子之交淡如水”, which approximately translates to “friendship between gentlemen is light like water”. It preaches the at arms length distance for friendships as a healthy distance. Good friends need not necessarily share everything.

    I’m similar in that I’ve had best friends fade into mere acquaintances I email once every few years. Best friends from pre-school or high school no longer share the same intense connection we had as children. People move on, or grow up and find other people on a similar path or think along the same wavelengths. I used to think losing a best friend was a sad thing. Now I see it as a necessary part of growing up and changing.

    This post is beautifully and eloquently written. I enjoyed the entire piece. It’s also a good reminder to appreciate the mom that grounds us for our good. I get resentful sometimes, but perhaps our childhoods differed somewhat.

    It’s great you’re so independent. I envy that strength.

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    1. You know, I’m proud of my independence and I value it, but sometimes I envy people who are able to be more vulnerable and open themselves up more in their interpersonal relationships. I often wonder what it’s like to be that kind of person.

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