Your best friend and those other ones

"My best friend" is a term I read and wonder, What does this person mean?

To me, it's more like the Oscars. There are many "bests": for deeply connecting talk; for off-the-leash fun; for parsing difficult situations; for giving unvarnished feedback. There are several persons I could call in a crisis. The exclusive "best friend" label imposes a pecking order.

I've noticed that as I age, women have instead used terms like great friend, close friend, true friend— they see that ties wax and wane. My best friend from high school (and we have the yearbooks inscribed in purple ink to prove it) are still in touch, but we are not best friends today and are happy to let that responsibility fade along with our old Polaroids.

I could be shortsighted. Some women I know need, tend and treasure a best friend, and the BFF is happy and proud to take that place in her heart. Should that status erode, usually one of them suffers, but some have been bonded for decades.

Another trope is the assertion that one's life partner is the "best friend"; along with "soulmate", the term is common as "pop of colour". That depends on your definition. Le Duc is something more complex and intense than a best friend—and he is not going shoe shopping with me, ever.

Friendship runs on charity, an open-hearted donation of one's attention, time and occasionally, evening wear. A close friend notices and reflect the dimensions of our selves; they see us from all angles. That can't happen in the superficial relationships we call "friends" on social media.  A "like" is not giving, it's reacting. Perhaps the bestowal of best friend status is an attempt to address the online world's corruption of friendship.

Facebook "friends" also have weakened the real-world ties of community. A Susanfriend who suffered a stroke has recovered, but has some minor impairment. She recently joined a church in her small semi-rural town, though she has for many decades chosen a very different practice. "People are patient with me when I can't find the word, and they listen", she said. She has found what is increasingly rare, the acceptance and welcome of fellowship.

We know that loneliness shortens lives and makes us unhappy. I am not sure we need best friends, but we need real friends and even acquaintances, like the young woman at the coffee shop who knows your order and points out the freshest cookies.

My presence on Facebook is minimal these days. I keep a page up so old friends can find me, but I am now thinking, Am I going to spend the limited time of my life here?

P. S. This post was published on Wednesday, a day early.


Madame Là-bas said…
I cringe a bit at the term "best friend" because I don't have a scale by which to compare friendships. It seems to me that as we age, we need to have a "continuous intake policy." Some acquaintances become friends and some "long-time friends" become less relevant.
What we need in our older lives (I think) is people who care about us and for whom we can care. Enjoy your break!
We also need new friends, and especially somewhat younger friends. I'm active in an association in the neighbourhood so that keeps a fresh flow. Obviously only a few will become close friends, but it keeps windows open.

And of course not all close friends are women. I have several close male friends, with no romantic implications, though I'd say a majority of them are straight.

Not that we can assume that the women we speak of here are straight either; certainly some are lesbian or bi...

When I was younger, a large divide developed between those who had children and those who didn't, at least among my group. Nobody planned on that or excluded friends with or without children; it just happened.

And then, there is my wee black cat.
Beth said…
People, and especially women who've reached our age, are each unique: comparing them isn't fair. I'm delighted to have, and to be, very good friends with several women, each of whom is dear to me and brings special qualities to our friendship. Each one is my best friend during the time we're together, because she's doing what I treasure: being completely present.
Beth said…
People, and especially women who've reached our age, are each unique: comparing them isn't fair. I'm delighted to have, and to be, very good friends with several women, each of whom is dear to me and brings special qualities to our friendship. Each one is my best friend during the time we're together, because she's doing what I treasure: being completely present.
Duchesse said…
Mme Là-bas: I am not taking a break till just before Christmas; I'd written this post and up it went! It is in fact Thursday's post.

lagatta: I used to have more close male friends. than I do now, and I think that is because I'm no longer in the workplace, where I met more men who became friends. You are lucky to have a natural "feeder group".

Beth: Being completely present is a gift. That phrase reminded me of a friendship that waned, in my old city. My friend was on her phone continually when we would have lunch or do something. She just could not be where she was, and others noticed it too.
LauraH said…
Maybe it's just me, I find it difficult to make friends. In the past few years, a couple of women who I thought were friends have faded out of my life. Both are married, maybe that has something to do with it. Or maybe we didn't have enough in common, I'm really not sure.

Loneliness can be very challenging, especially when faced with so many movie/tv/social media etc depictions of close friendships. These relationships are presented as the norm, something that women are very skilled at and that survive all manner of ups and downs. In my real life, that hasn't been the case.
Jean Shaw said…
So glad you mentioned social media. I am oh-so-close to ditching Facebook altogether. I keep it because it lets me know how some far-flung friends and family members are doing, but ... as you note, it is a poor solution for real contact. (And I definitely need more real contact!)

Duchesse said…
LauraH: Making a friend takes energy. Some older persons don't have it, or they have it to begin a friendship, but then do not maintain it. Then there is simply the occasion to meet people. (After 7 years in classes, my French is not much better but I have made several friends there.)

Sometimes I've met someone and enjoyed that meeting, and then find that other qualities or behaviours get in the way of the connection moving beyond an acquaintance. (I need a reasonable level of considerate behaviour.) And I think it has sometimes happened from the other side. As a friend who is a therapist once remarked to me, "Some relationships are limited, and that is fine."
Duchesse said…
Jean Shaw: I am not so much concerned about my personal data (I worked for years for an internet service provider and saw exactly what an illusion privacy is, on the Net), but think it's a waste of the limited time I have left. The ads, the inflammatory political posts, the commands to "like" or "share" somebody's post... just no. I do enjoy friends' photos and animal videos.
LauraH said…
Thanks for the words of wisdom.
materfamilias said…
Just to say I read this and found myself nodding vigorously in agreement in several spots. And chortled at the comment about Le Duc being "something more complex and intense than a best friend "-- and never going shoe-shopping with you, ever!

I've relaxed considerably about a perceived need to build new friendships here in the city. Two years into the move from a smaller community in which I'd raised children, taught university, lived on a small island, and had many friendships built over several decades, I'm finally settling into a recognition that my social needs can be met in different ways -- I still have several very good friends in my previous city and it turns out that I'm managing visits with them at least every other month, really committed visits so the exchanges are satisfying, authentic, high-quality. And otherwise, I find that looser, more casual social exchanges fill in -- my weekly French class or watercolour drop-in or an hour choosing knitting supplies with the women at my local yarn shop. To get to this point, I had to separate myself from the images of friendship that persist in many popular representations -- exactly the "best friend" of which you speak, for one . . . and to realize that while I didn't have a really good friend in my immediate neighbourhood, I'm actually quite content with my current balance (including, of course -- she says, wryly -- all 183 of my Facebook "friends").
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Thank you for that wisdom about social needs being met various ways. I return to my former city (7 years away, now) several times a year to see old friends and colleagues. Sometimes it's for a specific occasion or I am invited, sometimes I take the initiative. So true about "images of friendship", and the notion that one "should" have a best friend. I have heard happily single for life friends say they had to confront another pervasive image, that of being coupled (and if not being viewed as deficient).

I wish FB did not call them "friends" (but to be fair it does allow for categories) but that is social engineering to make persons spend more time there.
Unknown said…
As always, your thoughts and insights are so rewarding to read.
I feel that I am lucky to have a number of dear friends, known from different times in my life and different cities I lived in.
I had fairly major surgery this year, and six friends (only two of whom knew each other) from six different states were the team ready to come and help me as needed. Along with my two children, I felt like I had such good fortune in support and care.
I closed my Facebook account about a year ago and feel that it is a life enhancement. It's not a very satisfying way to keep in touch with people. And I knew one person who kept getting hacked and inadvertently passing along security issues.

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