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Debunking the best friend myth

By Ariel Hekier

I’ve always disliked the “who’s your best friend?” question. Throughout middle and high school, I always hesitated before responding. I rarely, if at all, felt like I had one singular friend that trumped everyone else. Answering with just one name felt like an injustice to a handful of other people I was close to.

Similar to the way we fantasize about meeting our romantic “soulmate,” we also like to believe in the notion that everyone should have one singular best friend, one confidant, one partner in crime. We tell ourselves that once we find them, they will fulfill every wish. We will spend all of our time with that one person, tell them every detail about our lives, and count on them in any and every situation. 


We often want to have one best friend because we like to be validated. We crave the sense of security that comes with having a best friend. Everyone wants to feel like they are the most important person in someone else’s life. It makes us feel wanted and boosts our self-esteem. 


When we have this idea in our head, we often get disappointed when one person cannot actually do it all. Because that’s the truth: no single person can be everything we need all of the time. 


For most of my adolescence, I envied girls that seemed to have one particular best friend. I longed to have one of the half-heart necklaces from Justice where one said “best” and the other said “friend” like everyone else. Halloween was considered a failure if someone didn’t ask me to do a matching costume with them. I always felt like I was in a competition against other people who claimed that the person I deemed as my “BFF” was also theirs and felt left out when I was the second, or third or fourth, choice friend.

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During my gap year before coming to Duke, I spent the spring traveling across the Western US with twelve other gap year kids from all over the country. Since none of us had previously known each other, there were a limitless number of conversation topics for us to discuss. At night, after long days of hiking and other outdoor activities, we would often have long talks about life, school, relationships, family, and everything in between. I often look back on one particular night when we talked about our best friends. We piled into one hotel room near the Grand Canyon, sat in a circle, and described our best friend from home to the group one by one. I can remember a few people having a difficult time narrowing their responses down to just one person. It was comforting for me to hear others say, “Well he’s sort of my best friend, but I have this other friend, too…” or  “I don’t really have one single best friend.” I let out a sigh of relief as I realized I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t pin down one person.

Halloween Circa 2013

Since the trip, I’ve realized that it’s completely normal, if not more healthy, to have several “best friends” instead of one. I met some of my favorite people on that trip and still talk to several of them on a regular basis. We are all so different from each other in the music genres we listen to, the political atmospheres we grew up in, and the ways we process emotions, just to name a few things. I’ve learned more from all of them together than I ever could from just one person.


Realistically, there probably won’t be a person who watches all of the same TV shows as you, shares all of your hobbies, agrees with all of your opinions, and laughs at all of the same jokes as you. 


We cannot and should not put the pressure of satisfying every single one of our needs onto one friend. In my experience, placing this burden on another person leads to tension, disappointment, and burned bridges.  In high school, I had one friend that I did everything with and told everything to. We were essentially attached at the hip until our expectations for each other became too much to handle and we had a falling out. Practically nothing from our friendship was salvaged.


I’m not arguing for quantity over quality. I still very firmly believe that having a smaller number of genuine worthwhile friendships is preferable to a large number of surface-level friendships. I just think that by straying away from putting all of our eggs in one basket and avoiding expecting one person to tick every single one of our boxes, we can build more sustainable relationships. 


We can also prevent wearing ourselves out by trying to meet all of someone else’s needs, too. It’s a two-way street: no one person can do everything for us, and we can’t do everything for someone else. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with every little detail about a person’s life, support every single one of their endeavors, and be there every time they need support.


The friend that comforts you when you’re bawling on your dorm room floor may not be the same friend you have intellectual conversations with over Cookout milkshakes in the middle of the night or the one who holds your hair after you’ve had a rough time at Shooters. Embrace it. They are all equally valuable. 


Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and author of a blog that contains a plethora of relationship advice, recently wrote a blog post titled, “5 Myths We Tell Ourselves When We’re Dating.” Among other things, she says “there is never going to be one perfect person whose love is so powerful that it checks every box, heals all our wounds, and makes us want to delete all the apps.” If it’s unrealistic to expect our romantic partners to be perfect then why would we expect one friend to be perfect? 

So here’s to the friend that I count on for boy advice and vice versa. And the other friend who sends me soft texts at least ten times a day. And the one who consoles me when I cry at the smallest inconvenience, the one who screams every Noah Kahan song with me, the one who makes me laugh until I pee myself, the one who drags me out of bed when I act like I don’t want to go out, and the one that will answer my phone call at any hour of the night. I have a different relationship with all of them, but that doesn’t make any one more important than the rest. They all make me better and I would not be who I am today without every single one.

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