Everyone wants that one friend. The one always in your corner. The one who holds your spit bucket. The one who believes you can win this next round. There’s just one problem with this kind of friend.
They don’t exist.
Except maybe in the graveyard of your expectations.
Our desire for this kind of kinship can blind us. I’ve been down that alley. For a while, I had a best friend. She was the type who liked to take damaged birds under her wing, and keep them there.
She was the type who stole your boyfriend, then made you feel guilty. “Not everything’s about you,” she might say.
You continue to be her friend. Because she’s interesting. She’s fun to be around. She’s a little wiser and more successful. Hanging out with her makes you feel good. She’s everything you want to be.
Scratch that. She’s everything you already are, just afraid to show everyone. So you let her steal your boyfriends, and your ideas.
Most importantly, she makes you feel special. Some people are great at becoming the best friend we want so desperately. They like becoming the only person you depend on.
Watch out for these pirate friends. They want you to need their help. They keep you around as long as you amuse them.
Your friends can’t always help you.
Friendship entitles you to nothing, and that’s the healthiest view. Anything else dead ends with disappointment. This truth hit me hard halfway through college. At the height of my mom’s schizophrenic meltdowns, I drove to a friend’s house and asked to stay for a few nights.
“Just until I can find an apartment,” I begged.
My friend declined with an awkward apology, so I left for a hotel — feeling pathetic for making myself so vulnerable. That week I asked all my other friends for a place to stay.
The answer was always no. They liked Jessica the quirky girl on backpacking trips. Not a needy, open Jessica seeking shelter. So I found my own place through some work connections, and wound up renting from a low-level drug dealer. And I was better off for it. Sort of.
My friends were never going to let me stay with them. What they could do was tell me where to rent, and when they knew about a friend of a friend who needed a roommate. The ugly lesson is that nobody wants to help you when you’re desperate. You can’t have a best friend unless you’re capable of being one, and I wasn’t.
You have to be your own best friend.
Sometimes, you have to wade through your own mud. Most of my friends had never dealt with abuse or trauma before. They were frolicking through their late teens and early 20s, finding themselves.
Anyone who did understand my problems had their own to deal with. At best, we could complain together over cheap drinks at the only dive bar in town that served minors. We could have sympathy sex. That was about all. And it didn’t exactly help, except as a distraction.
None of us can expect our friends to show up when we need them most. They don’t have bottomless pockets to bail us out of financial jams. They don’t have an extra bedroom, or a therapy license.
They might even give up on you for a little while. Count you out. Even say snarky things about you at parties.
After all, they’re human. You might even choose to forgive them later. All frenemies serve their purpose.
Unfortunately, you can’t always afford to burn bridges — even with the ones who let you down.
Just don’t rely on them again.
Your friends can always help you move furniture. As long as you give them two weeks notice. And throw them a pizza party. Anything more than that is a game of roulette. Your mistakes in friendship aren’t a total loss. They’ll make you a better judge of character, and eventually you can learn to tell who you can trust up front.
Help happens by accident.
Not everyone sets out to do you a huge favor. My best friend technically introduced me to my spouse. She never expected us to walk down the aisle. When we got engaged, she started scheming.
She took my fiance out drinking to “vet him.” In reality, she wanted to ensure he was cool enough to hang out with her.
He was. In fact, she found him attractive. So she flirted with him. When he didn’t reciprocate, she grew indignant. Even jealous. Over coffee she asked me, “Do you really want to marry someone that stiff?”
My best friend suddenly started inviting us out every night. When we declined, she accused us of being antisocial. She wanted us both to devote our attention to her. Not each other.
At the rehearsal dinner, she stood up for a toast. “You’re welcome,” she said. Then sat down. That’s it. That was the toast.
My best friend was all about the bachelorette party. She corralled us all into a strip club, and started tagging us in scandalous shots on Facebook. When I asked her to take mine down, she pouted.
“Marriage is already making you dull,” she said.
To the ceremony, she showed up an hour late. She’ll tell you she showed up “on time,” as in ten minutes before the procession. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to end the friendship. She did that for me. Everyone finally became too dull for her. That’s fine. Friendships last as long as they should. If friendship entitles you to nothing, it can also bear unexpected fruit. Should you be grateful to a friend who introduced you to your spouse, or grateful to yourself for not letting the same friend derail the engagement? Maybe you have to save the bathwater, and toss the baby.
Free yourself from transactional friendship.
We don’t even know what we mean when we call someone a best friend. It seems to mean everything from standing by you during a difficult time, to knowing you the longest.
Your best friend might simply be the one who has the most dirt on you, because you keep each other’s secrets.
What are best friends entitled to — blood, an organ? Your life? That’s a tall order, even for family members.
These days, I feel liberated from the need for a best friend. Instead, I simply have friends. Each of them come with their own strengths and limitations. Some friends excel at advice.
Others tell great stories.
Still others can make you think differently.
A few can help you out in a jam.
My closest friends actually haven’t done anything for me. We simply struggled through grad school together. We formed a team. Sometimes we collaborated. Other times, we just got drunk and gossiped.
One good friend and mentor from grad school simply made me demand more from myself. She gave me honest, often brutal insights into academia. She pulled back the curtain.
When I needed help with my tenure case, she actually left me hanging. It kinda hurt. Then I remembered.
Friendship entitles you to nothing.
You might like this approach. Try it. Accept your friends as they are, or don’t. You can’t make your friends conform to your expectations. You can only decide who to trust, and how much.