The Problem With Reducing ‘Best Friend’ to a Hashtag

In today’s social media driven world, there seems to be a hashtag for everything, including the oh-so coveted best friend relationship. There are countless hashtags for denoting who holds the glorious title of “bestie” in your life including but not limited to: #bestfriend #bestie #bff #partnerincrime #bestfriendgoals #friends4life #bffl #bestfriendstatus #bestfriendsbelike #bestfriendagirlcouldaskfor #myperson

You get my point. It’s everywhere. On social media, in pop culture websites, in daily conversation and even in Buzzfeed quizzes. (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t just take that quiz. Your girl loves a good Buzzfeed quiz!) It’s also on your favorite TV shows. Meredith had Christina. Cory had Shawn. Lorelai had Rory. Blair had Serena.

I, too, have had my share of best friends, some friendships where it was more so me wanting the best friend title, some scenarios where the other person led the charge and others where it was a natural, two-way street. In kindergarten, there was Lisa, who I just thought was so pretty, smart and kind. 5-year-old me thought Lisa was the ish, and I knew we just had to be friends.

Flash forward to seventh grade, and there was a new girl. (In middle school, everyone notices a new kid.) I remember her trying to navigate the halls of Bates Academy, a place I had called home for the past six years and knew all too well. I wanted to help her find her classes and make sure she had someone to sit with at lunch. We were best friends for a solid two years, and then, high school happened.

Regardless of our well intentions, we were growing up and changing. With that came changes in our friendship. At the time, I remember being sad at the distance between us even though I saw her every day at school. Looking back, I realize it was growing pains, new school, new classes, new clubs, new friends. We were naturally growing apart, and it was no fault of hers nor mine. Today, she is still one of my oldest and truest friends.

Later on, I made a best friend in high school, a friendship so genuine and pure. My dear friend Felicia and I met freshman year of high school and gradually we reached best friend status. Beginning of junior year of high school, my parents moved my brother and I to Oklahoma. I was devastated (cue dramatic teen angst), not only because I was moving cross-country half-way through high school but because my best friend was sick.

Felicia was in cancer remission when I met her freshman year. She wore scarves around her head and had the biggest smile you can imagine. Sophomore year, she opted for a short, curly fro, but the contagious smile stayed the same. That first year when I moved to Oklahoma, Felicia and I talked all the time. She sent me a voicemail singing Happy Birthday, and how I wished to this day that I still had it. She had the most beautiful voice.

The summer before senior year of high school, I came home to visit, and Felicia was in the hospital. She was sick again. Yet, she didn’t want to show it when I was there. She tried to be strong when I visited, but the chemo made her so tired.

16-year-old me didn’t know what to do. I sat quietly in the hospital room watching my friend rest. My mind flash backed to sophomore year when Felicia came and found me in the girls’ locker room to tell me the cancer had come back. We stood there, and I held her as we both cried. I didn’t know what to do for my friend but be there.

In the fall of my senior year of high school, Felicia passed away. Although I knew she wasn’t hurting anymore, my heart ached with the thought that I wished there was something I could have done to help her. I still imagine her singing sometimes. Her voice is so comforting.

Losing Felicia changed something in me when it came to friendship. I felt a little more guarded, like I couldn’t use that word lightly. At my new high school in Oklahoma, I made a lot of really good friends, many of whom gave me their “best friend” trophy title. I couldn’t reciprocate it though. I never refuted when they called me their best friend. I smiled and accepted it, not wanting to hurt their feelings.

Yet, in my head, I would ruminate with questions: Is this person my best friend? What does that mean exactly? Do we know each other well enough (I’m talking the good, the bad and the ugly) to use that title? Is this just another fleeting friendship that won’t last? If someone calls me their best friend, am I obligated to reciprocate?

College happened and again it was a new place, new people and new friends. I have never been the type of person to gravitate toward cliques. I look for individuals, the people who stand on their own two feet, the people who know who they are and who aren’t afraid to be that person. I made a friend who was exactly that freshman year of college, and we became inseparable.

We were one in the same, fiery, smart, independent girls with the “sweet, girl-next-door” persona invisibly tatted across our foreheads. We laughed together, cried together, prayed together, traveled together, refused to shop together (because we both hated spending money on things), saw movies together and talked about guys, career aspirations and our faith together.

This friendship meant so much to me. This was the first friend I ever shared with about my mom’s illness, the friend who saw me through some of my hardest and scariest days. The friend who I ran to when I needed to feel safe. This friend checked every box on my list. We were by all means the best kind of best friends.

But then life. Oh, how life and time can change things. We grew apart, and I had to learn to let go and trust the process. I had to learn to forgive myself for the things I did wrong and to forgive her. We recently spoke for the first time in six years, and even though it’s been so much time, it’s funny how some people leave such a deep imprint on our lives.

She just graduated from med school. I remember her and I stressing in undergrad, me about getting a big girl magazine job in NYC and her about pre-med classes and whether or not she would be a doctor. It’s been six years. Yet and still, my heart was elated to see she had accomplished her dream. Talking to her felt like coming home after a long trip away.

Two weeks ago on June 8, it was National Best Friend’s Day. (Another Hallmark created holiday to make us spend money.) It and recent friendship growing pains have left me wondering what a best friend truly is and if it is OK, in fact, if you do not have one. One of my friends always makes me laugh with her disbelief in the idea of having a best friend. I used to label her a cynic, but lately, I’ve been starting to think if maybe she is right, if maybe the “best friend” label is something so pressured and pushed upon us that we often feel incomplete if we don’t have it.

So I started thinking about the people I’ve called best friend throughout the years. I think back on the names and faces of past and present friends who have made such an impact on my life. Some who have left scars and others who have helped heal them.

Twenty-Something Advice (for anyone): “Your value does not depend on your #bff status. A best friend is a rare and special gift, not to be taken lightly. It is not a one-size-fits-all prototype.”

There are the friends who have called me out on my crap and pushed me higher. There are the friends who have helped brushed my hair back on tipsy nights and others who have held me as I wept, heartbroken about some guy. There have been the friends who have helped me hold onto hope during some really hopeless times. There are the friends who I have had so much fun laughing with that we never ever remember to take photos. There are have been the friends who’ve exchanged music with me and helped me expand my own collection. There have been the friends who have been there through breakups, job losses and the pains of adulting.

I believe in best friends. 100 percent. I have seen it exemplified by other people’s friendships and have felt it myself. People crave companionship, in the form of family, love and most importantly, friendship. I believe it is a rare and special thing.

I also believe that sometimes we crave best friendship so much that we hastily throw the phrase around without understanding what it really means to be a best friend. Sometimes, we use those words without truly taking the time to get to know a person, the good and the bad. Sometimes, we shuffle through best friends as if they are disposable. Sometimes, we get caught up in the cultural phenomenon of having a “bff” because we want to feel included. We want to belong.

I jokingly tell my closest friends, “You know this friendship is real because I get on your nerves at times and you get on my nerves. You know my bad parts, and I know yours but we still love each other.”

Friendship is not something to be feigned nor is it something to be taken lightly. When we reduce a best friend to a hashtag, cute Instagram captions or a photo on Facebook, we in essence minimize the value of what a true friend is. They are someone who loves you at your worst, who isn’t afraid to be honest with you even when it’s hard, someone who forgives you, someone who shows up for your biggest accomplishments and on your hardest days. They are your biggest, most loyal supporter. A best friend is so much more than just words. It is action.

If you don’t have a best friend, then that is perfectly OK. In no way does not having a best friend make you less valuable or worthy. Perhaps, you had a best friend, and the friendship is no longer working. If you have done all you know to do, then it is, in fact, OK to let a best friendship go. You can value the friendship for what it was and yet hold it with open hands. A friendship ending or growing apart doesn’t have to break you. You can choose to learn from it.

Out all of life’s treasures, I believe true friendship is the best gift you can ever give someone. (After all, it is free, and I love free things.)

-Stephkt

 

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