By Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C
I recently attended the funeral of my best friend’s mother in Miami. During the months leading up to her death and during the funeral and shiva period, I have been thinking about the role of “best friend.” Diane and I have known each other since we met at overnight camp at age 16. We were roommates in Israel for a year when we were 18, and our lives have become inextricably entwined over the last 35+ years. Many people commented about how nice it was that I went to the funeral for my friend. For me there was never any thought or choice not to be there. Diane’s family is our family, our family is her family. As my friend grieves for her mother, I grieve as well.
What does it mean to have a best friend or to be a best friend?
Best friends start out as friends. Wikipedia describes the value of friendship as “consistently demonstrating mutual understanding, compassion, empathy, trust, positive reciprocity and the tendency to desire what is best for the other.” It’s striking that all those words have the idea of “sharing” in common. In fact, without being told, we just know in our gut that deep and lasting friends share these qualities and commitment with each other.
What makes a “best” friend different from or more special than a good friend? Ask anyone who has a “best” friend and you’ll hear that a best friend is someone who you know is going to stick with you through “thick and thin.” A best friend is also likely to be the first person you call to share good (or bad) news.
Many children and teenagers form close bonds with a particular peer and will swear eternal loyalty to their “best friend.” They tend to spend a lot of time together and communicate often. These friendships are often intense, and flourish because of shared interests and experiences and compatible personalities. As they grow up and change, and as life takes them in different directions, some of these friends grow apart, while others, like Diane and me, continue to be close for years. If you don’t live near each other, you may not see each other as often, but you keep in touch, and when you get together, you feel that sense of comfort and familiarity with each other based on what you’ve shared, and you just “pick right up.”
Can you find a new best friend as an adult? Absolutely! Whether it’s through moving to a new community, meeting someone at work or through a shared interest or activity, one of the best gifts of adulthood is that we do acquire new friends.
In a recent New York Times article, “Making Friends at a Certain Age,” Alex Williams maintains that forming close friendships like those made in late adolescence and college becomes more challenging as we get older. I would think it would be the opposite. Wouldn’t common sense indicate that best friends are those we choose when we are a little older and wiser and more settled in our lives? On the other hand, maybe when we are younger, more mobile and starting out in our lives, we are more open and accepting of new friends, people who may be similar to us but yet different enough to attract us to them. That was certainly my experience. The friends I have made over the last 20 years or so have been those with similar careers and values, or whose families are similar to ours.
Thinking about Diane and me, I realize our lives are completely different now than they were when we met as teenagers. How is it that we have stayed so connected throughout the trials and tribulations of college, dating, graduate school, marriage, childbirth, raising children, careers, and death of parents? It’s really staggering when I step back and think about all of those milestones we have shared. For some reason Diane and I really do understand, trust, and care for each other in a profound way. The value of a best friend is immeasurable, making the good times that much better, making the bad times just a bit easier and providing the consistent encouragement and support to help us through our lives.
By Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C, Senior Manager, Volunteer Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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