The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

Never a Best Friend?

Trust and intimacy between best friends develop over time

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I don't know if this is a strange question or if many other women have the same issue as me. I have a lot of friends that I'm very attached to, and enjoy spending time with. I'm not outgoing, but I'm not a shy person, and find it easy to meet and befriend people. I get on well with a wide range of people and have always had plenty of friends in my life. My friends tell me I am funny, clever, good company, a good conversationalist and a good listener, caring, intuitive, generous and make people feel better about themselves. I often receive cards and letters from them thanking me for my help and friendship, so I definitely feel appreciated.

Yet at no point in my life have I ever been someone's BEST friend. I've had women in my life I considered my best friend, but they never saw me that way in return. I always seem to be the second-best friend, the back-up friend, or just another friend in the group. On some level, I feel that friends keep me at a slight emotional distance, and although they are happy to share their problems with me, nobody seems to be too comfortable hearing about mine.

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I had a best friend in grad school, and soon after that we got married, so although that's lovely, he didn't only want friendship from me. In college I had a female best friend who turned out to be bisexual and expected us to become a couple - when I said I only wanted to be her friend, she soon found a companion who was more on her sexual wavelength (another close friend of mine so I lost both of them). In high school I had a best friend and I believe I was her best friend as well - two months later her family moved 500 miles away. She soon found a best friend at her new school, but I never did.

As far as I can work out, I am a very likeable person but not a lovable one, or at least it's hard for me to find people who will love me platonically and not move away. I'm in the second half of my life now and I've accepted that it's not likely I'll ever be someone's best friend at this late stage. I'm grateful for the friendships I have and I know I'm lucky. But not only do I secretly feel a little jealous when I see two female friends sharing a close bond and pouring their hearts and minds out to each other, I also wonder why it is I have never had this except for 2 months at the age of 14?

You know a lot about women and about friendship - can you tell me what makes a woman "best friend material", and what reasons could there be that I just don't cut it as a BFF?

Sincerely,

Terri

ANSWER

Dear Terri,

It sounds like you already know all the qualities of being a good friend---mutual respect, caring, loyalty, trust, and supportiveness, to start---and that you are one! Those same ingredients are key to becoming a BEST friend. However, for two people to become best friends, they need to desire the same closeness with each other and to work at it over time.

The friend who is bisexual wanted a romantic involvement with you while you didn't. It's understandable how that put the kibosh on building a best friendship. In the case of the short-lived best friend who moved away, distance often makes it challenging to deepen a friendship when there isn't a long shared history. Since you've desired a best friend for a long time, however, it's probably not solely a matter of you consistently making poor choices and/or of logistics getting in the way.

One thought that comes to my mind: Could you possibly be guarded with other people and reluctant to self-disclose, perhaps because you have had a hard time forming intimate friendships with women in the past? Such a tendency, which is common, could inadvertently create an emotional distance between you and a friend. If your friend feels you are holding back, it will cause her to do the same.

Conversely, trust and intimacy develop slowly when there is a give and take. Two friends begin to feel so in sync that they can comfortably share their innermost feelings and thoughts. You might try selecting one promising friendship and approaching it in a different way than you have with others (that have remained more superficial) by allowing yourself to gradually get closer over time.

Another possibility is that you are, in some way, intimidating your friends, which also creates distance. Two best friends don't have to feel equal in every way but there needs to be a sense of balance between them: That overall, each one is giving as much as she is receiving. Perhaps, you're portraying yourself as more successful and self-assured than you are.

Of course, these are just two possibilities, but since the problem you describe is persistent and remains troublesome to you, it may be worthwhile to talk to a counselor or mental health professional who can give you some helpful feedback specific to your situation.

In the meantime, although you don't have a BEST FRIEND at the moment, you are fortunate to have good friendship-making skills, a group of friends who appreciate you, and many potential candidates for a best friend. Over time, one of these friendships may eventually become the special relationship you are longing for.

I hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

 

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Ask The Friendship Doctor: Irene@TheFriendshipBlog.com

 

 

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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