In the seventh grade, my best friend, Alecia* decided she wanted to expand her social network. We’d clung to each other’s sides for two years and although I didn’t consider myself a possessive friend, I still feared her venture outside of our little bubble would refine a truth about myself I thought I had outgrown. The truth (or rather, insecurity) that there are people far better than me out there. People that are more outgoing, funny, white, popular with the boys, and of course, people who are more interesting. Once she realized that, I’d go back to spending recesses alone, and asking teachers whether I could sit in their classroom to read during lunch hour.
With my parents’ frequent and spontaneous moves, I was thrown into a handful of schools. A new city to navigate, another teacher making me stand in front of the classroom during the ice-breaker game, and days scattered having to paint a wide grin on my face so to appear likable. I wanted to build more deep and intimate friendships, but there was always this weight of a clock’s ticking, reminding me not to get too close before I am told we are to leave again.
This home we landed on, however, came with a new promise that we’d bunker down for a while. Both cautious and elated, I treaded lightly into this nuanced world that carried possibilities of consistency and deeper connections. Alecia welcomed me straight away. The moment I walked in, she greeted me with a warm hug, squeezing my hands as if she’d been awaiting my arrival. The fears I had of entering a new territory diminished as she strode towards me with her head held high, claiming me as her own. Like a puppet, I happily followed suit.
A curvy frame that stood at a height of 4ft, glazed with olive skin and bright hazel eyes, I was taken aback not only by her beauty but the poise with which she glided through the halls. I felt standing by her side, perhaps I could grasp on to her charisma by default. She introduced me to her family who took me in as their own and we spent nights eating layers of chocolate, gushing over boy bands, and IM-ing our latest crush.
I was living inside of the friendship fantasy I had always longed for. But the exclusivity of best-friendship I wanted so badly to be a part of was now on the brink of falling through the cracks. Alecia had her eyes set on a new girl who began to take more and more of her time away from me. When I asked her if we could all spend time together to get acquainted, she coyly admitted her new friend didn’t seem to like me.
“She kind of thinks you’re weird, but she doesn’t know you! I still want to hang out, but maybe we could do it more secretly,” she suggested.
I shrugged, “I guess.” What other choice did I really have?
As the weeks went on, I saw less and less of someone I once considered family. Our secret hangouts grew to be frustrating for me until one day I snapped. I told her I didn’t want to be friends with someone who felt embarrassed to be seen with me. She denied this truth, pointing the finger back around.
“You’re asking me to choose a side and that’s not fair. I don’t want to do that,” she exclaimed.
I shook my head. “It feels like you already have.”
We didn’t speak again after that.
I seamlessly readjusted back to the existence I had before Alecia’s entrance. My best friend was gone, but devouring books during recess was a more familiar and comforting life to fall back on than I had imagined.
Over the years, I’ve had friendships blossom, end, fade, and shift. None of them have felt quite as linear as I had once imagined. Some faded only to resurface months later, others became loving acquaintances, a couple left me bruised and defeated, while a few stood the test of time.
This notion of having one best friend began to feel a bit unhealthy to me – that is, after I tried it out a few more times. Not all of my best friend endings looked like Alecia’s, but they were all equally as heartbreaking. My expectations of this fantasy friendship would get crushed and I would be left on my own time and time again. In hindsight, I understand that just as you would want to have a full and rich life outside of your romantic relationship, leaning entirely on one friend to be your everything is problematic in the same sense.
My therapist suggested I create a friendship circle, one that identified different groups of friendships I had and what our relationship entailed.
I don’t suggest everyone do this, but it is something that has helped me more than I’d like to admit. It allows me to reflect on what I need from my social interactions and how different types of relationships can serve me depending on the circumstance.
Sometimes, when things feel too overwhelming, I want to be around a more lighthearted group of people where I can distract myself for a few hours. Other times, I need a friend who will gulp down a glass of pinot and cry next to me. There are some friends I love to brainstorm and problem-solve with. Some tell me I’m right no matter what I do, and some just say it like it is. Some are stimulating intellectually. Some friends can be many of these things. Then there are those who just feel like home.
At first, this concept felt a bit detached to me. As a sensitive person who likes to feel deeply connected, I was appalled at the suggestion. Placing my relationships into a wheel in which I dissect our dynamic makes me feel like a bit of a disconnected a-hole. I should just be able to feel it out, I thought – but clearly, that hasn’t been working in my favor.
I had a similar reaction the day an ex-boyfriend told me that he scheduled our time together in his Google calendar so he wouldn’t forget. I wasn’t just taken aback, I was enraged by the idea. Was I not important enough for him to just remember? Was I just another item on his to-do list? How DARE he? Slight overreaction, I know.
Do I see it in the same sense now? Not exactly. My ex managed two of his own businesses while writing a screenplay. Putting me on his calendar wasn’t an act of dismissal, but rather his way of placing importance on the time we spent together. He always made sure he didn’t miss anything, showed up early each time, and planned out details of our date nights secretly in advance. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about me, it’s that he did, a lot.
As unromantic as it is to schedule your partner in when you have a busy schedule, tiering your friends to acknowledge and reflect on your relationship with them doesn’t have to mean you care about them any less. For me, it has surprisingly felt the opposite. Understanding the varying dynamics I have with others helps me manage my expectations. I know what to expect when a friend needs me or when I am in need of them. As someone who is also pretty introverted, this has been a useful tool in being intentional with the social interactions I have.
The circle can also be re-adjusted and labeled to whatever suits you best. You can include family, childhood friends, strangers, or women you meet in the bathroom. Although this perspective still recognizes that some relationships are deeper and more intimate than others, it also showcases the value that other dynamics hold. Over time, people who were once acquaintances can grow into a deeper connection. Deeper connections can fade out. This circle isn’t meant to remain stagnant and fixed. It’s simply a tool I use in order to remain intentional and reflective.
As much as I enjoyed relishing in my best friend fantasy, I realized that for me, this desire came from a need to be validated by another. It was the fluttering prospect of being chosen that I oh-so-wanted. When the dynamic between us shifted, the rejection I felt cut deep into my self-worth. My hidden fears of losing people, being unwanted, or disposable filtered my expectations, and digging up the root of these ideas hasn’t been the easiest thing to digest.
Letting go of ideas you have about the way things should be is never a simple task. What I’ve come to notice, however, is that in holding space for different types of relationships and remaining flexible with them, I feel my heart is better equipped to handle life’s fluctuations (and take them all less personally).