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Unpacking the ‘best friend’ myth

WORDS BY EMMA MAIDENS

Myspace is long gone, so why do we still feel the need to rank our friends?

Throughout my life, I’ve always thought I needed a best friend, a partner in crime, a sister from another mister or whichever cliché you want to call it. Growing up, I had my baby sister permanently glued to my hip through the trials of teasing and tribulations of trampolining. In year eight, I met my high school best friend and we soon became inseparable inside and outside the classroom, until she betrayed me and got a boyfriend.

The thrill of being the third wheel tends to wear off quickly, so it didn’t take long before I reignited the best friend flame with a childhood pal, and we spent the next few years of young adulthood sharing the torment of toxic love and bottles of cheap vodka. However, between breakups, babies, and moving to a different city, I now find myself without a go-to person.

Although I consider myself a strong independent woman who is perfectly happy navigating life while being single, I regularly find myself lamenting not having the type of ‘ride or die’ best friend every rom-com assured me I would. As always, the content we consume plays a huge role in what we perceive as ‘normal’. Instead of looking inside ourselves to determine what will make us happy, it’s easier to look for external reference points.

What we see on our screens forms our perception of what makes a successful, fulfilling life, by default creating an internal checklist for happiness. Best friend? Check. Partner? Check. Career? Check. House and two kids? Check, check. Throw in Adam Sandler and you’ve got all the makings of the next box office let down. However, if you ask around, it’s still the reference point most people use to determine their worth in society.

Slowly, more narratives have become available to women that portray alternative lifestyles to that of the white picket fence dream. It’s becoming more common to see the perspectives of career-driven women and those who harness their sexuality instead of hiding it (we can thank Sex and the City for introducing us to both Miranda Hobbs and Samantha Jones).

But there’s still an ingrained belief that any woman worth knowing will have a best friend by her side. Watching Clueless, teenage girls across the world pined over more than just Cher’s wardrobe, but also the friendship between her and Dionne. Between shopping, parties and boys, they were living the teenage dream. Thelma and Louise is often referenced as a pivotal moment in feminist social history, with their unbreakable friendship being as integral to the story as their iconic convertible.

Even one of today’s most progressive, rule-breaking, in-your-face female empowerment television shows, (yas queens, I’m talking about Broad City) follows the adventures of Abbie and Ilana, two best friends who are wholeheartedly devoted to one another. Friendships of the intensity portrayed on-screen are difficult to recreate because real life is busy and complicated. Everyone is balancing some combination of children, partners, demanding jobs and other friends.

It’s not just mainstream media that we have to blame for unrealistic friendship ideals. Traditional milestones in our lives also hinge on the idea of having a single best friend. When we have a child, we’re supposed to choose a godmother.

On our wedding days, we’re expected to have a maid of honour. I don’t know about you, but the thought of looking at my entire group of close friends and picking one who’s more important to me than the others sounds like a nightmarish task. From day one I’ve known that should I ever get married, I could never choose just one maid of honour.

The duty would instead be shared between my sister and best friend. But, as I continue to meet more friends that I can’t imagine my life without, my hypothetical wedding party grows increasingly large. (Side note, what does it say about me that I’ve put far more thought into this than who’s waiting for me at the end of the aisle?)

I believe that if you’re relying on one person to drop everything for you at any time, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. In an already hectic life, hinging all your friendship needs on a single best friend puts unnecessary pressure on both you and them.

There’s a quote by the writer Jedidiah Jenkins, that has resonated with me ever since I first read it: “I was asked last week, ‘who is your best friend?’ I don’t know. I don’t use language like that anymore. It doesn’t fit. I have friends that hold the keys to different doors of my personality. Some open my heart. Some my laughter. Some my mischief. Some my sin. Some my civic urgency. Some my history. Some my rawest confusion and vulnerability.

“Some friends, who may not be ‘the closest’ to me, have the most important key for me in a moment of my life. Some, who may be as close as my own skin, may not have what I need today. It’s ok if our spouses or partners don’t have every key. How could they? It isn’t a failure if they don’t open every single door of who you are. The million-room-mansion of identity cannot overlap perfectly with anyone. But I will say, my closest friends have a key ring on their hip with lots of keys, jingling.”

I no longer have a go-to person who I share everything with, but a rich tapestry of people woven throughout my life. I’ll try a new bar and will immediately know which friend to take, or I’ll read a book and automatically know which friend needs to read it next. I have some friends who I love to travel with, and some that I know will always have a place at their dinner table for me.

Sometimes it can be hard. I forget to tell people about important things. At times my mind is full of a million open tabs, trying to juggle remembering every birthday, wishing good luck on first days at new jobs or checking in when someone’s having a rough week. But the reward is worth it. The reward is a full heart and an endless supply of new perspectives and experiences.

There will always be times where I wish for the inseparable friendships of my youth or idolise the on-screen antics of best friend duos (because really, who doesn’t want an Ilana in their lives reminding them they have “chocolate brown eyes and an ass of an angel”?) Despite this, I’m confident now that the jingling key ring on my hip is far less likely to tarnish over time compared to the other half of a Diva-branded ‘best friend’ necklace I once coveted.

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