I need to confess something. I have been selfish in the past about my friendships and the labels I felt it was important to put on them. I have been jealous of other people’s friendships, and I have been clingy to my own.
But God is gracious to me, and His work on my heart is slow, but sure. And He’s revealed much to me over the years about friendships and especially the titles we assign to one another. I’m still a work in progress, though, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I sometimes make mistakes in my terminology.
Probably the main reason I used to feel the need to identify a “best friend” in my life was my insecurity in friendships as a little girl. Constantly being the newcomer left me standing outside other people’s friendships and longing for them myself. I ached to be known deeply and valued closely – I wanted the recognition and status that came from the exclusive “best friend” label.
The other reason I wanted a best friend was because of the great joy I found in categorizing things in my head. I loved putting things – and people – in order and I would do this with friends all the time (that “Top 8” category of MySpace was equally devastating and exhilarating to me).
Now, there’s no denying that it’s a natural part of being human to ascertain our closeness to other humans. We will grow closer to some than others, which is how friendships are formed. And naturally we want to feel that we matter to them, which is where the comfort of labels comes in. It’s nice to know that you think of me as your best friend if I think of you as my best friend (unless you force them to acknowledge you as such, like I probably did to poor Kelsey!).
But the problem with establishing these labels is that they do become exclusive. When I hear that so-and-so is someone’s “best friend,” then I inwardly despair a bit of getting close to them because I feel slightly less important to them. Which is probably why I always wanted to comfort myself with the knowledge that I had a best friend – that way I could feel slightly less bad about myself not being someone else’s best friend.
Unfortunately, that title can also lead to jealousy when I sense that my “best friend” is getting awfully chummy with someone else – and I feel the closeness of our friendship threatened.
But I’ve had to learn that the quality of a friendship isn’t established by a specific title that we put on it. The quality of a friendship is in the amount of time and love that you invest in one another – and that can be applied to many people, not just one.
Additionally, as an adult, I’ve come to realize the joy in forming multiple close friendships – and how different friends bring out various aspects of who I am. There’s the one who understands the writer’s part of my soul – the one who understands the theater part of my soul – the one who understands the teacher part of my soul – the one who understands my walk with Jesus – and so many more. And of course, there are my sisters and childhood friend who have known me the longest, and who have stuck with me even through all the awkwardness and silly parts of my life.
If I didn’t allow these people to get close to me because I already had a “best friend,” I would have missed out on so many joys of life with them. And if I clung selfishly to my “best friend,” then I wouldn’t have allowed her to become close with other people that she needs in her life.
But of course, I still feel the need to describe relationships in my life, so what terminology do I use for these dear friendships that I really do consider the best in my life?
Many years ago, I started adopting Anne Shirley’s phrase (since we’re practically twins) of “kindred spirits.” I love this term because it signifies that there is something in our spirits that identifies with one another – something that “gets” each other and something that allows us to find great joy in being with each other. This removes the exclusivity of having just one “best friend” and allows me to be close to many dear friends who understand me and pour into my life.
Because that, I believe, is the most important aspect of friendship. Not what we call each other, per se, but what we give to each other. Case in point, this summer when I had a mini-reunion with a couple of friends, one friend asked us, “What was the most life-giving thing from your past year?” And I realized that one of the most life-giving things was her. She brings so much delight and enjoyment into my life with her intentionality and love, and I believe that’s one of the most important things you could ever give in a friendship.
If you have one friend that is a best friend more than any other, that’s totally fine. I’m not saying best friends are wrong to have, but I am saying that we need to extend the possibility of closeness to more than just one person. It’s beautiful to see the ways that we can love and encourage each other when we don’t limit ourselves to one close relationship.
I am blessed with several of those close relationships, and I don’t take a single one for granted. I’m so grateful to have people in my life who know me and who take the time for me, because they truly do make my world a brighter place. To all of you kindred spirits out there – thank you for sharing in part of what makes my soul delighted.