Can Women Survive Adulthood Without A BFF?
And is it normal not to have one?
Women and their BFFs have been iconic symbols of female power and solidarity for decades.
From Lucy and Ethel to Thelma and Louise, Laverne and Shirley to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, I grew up assuming part of womanhood was having a best friend to share my joys and challenges. I’ve had besties almost my entire life. They haven’t always been the same person, but at any given age, I had one important somebody I considered my best friend.
Yet suddenly when I turned 40, my friendships began to change, along with what I wanted from them. The close relationships I had — some beginning in middle or early high school — seemed less meaningful and less fulfilling. I drifted away from friends I had been close to for decades, feeling a lack of connection or differing interpretations of what friendship means. While I knew making new friends is harder as you get older, I still began a search for a new best friend I hoped could become my fellow Golden Girl as we aged together.
I won’t sugarcoat it — it was hard at first. I felt uncomfortable and lonely on the unfamiliar island of those who are BFF-less. I saw social media posts daily of besties sharing good times and supporting one another through the challenges of life. I often blamed myself for having impossibly high expectations of friends or not being a good enough friend myself.
I attempted to forge bonds too quickly with women who didn’t match my friendship style or my personality, and the cracks in those relationships soon saw the friendships crumble. I eventually decided to stop trying so hard and go easy on myself. I deserved friends who respected and supported me, and I was a loyal and understanding friend myself.
Perhaps life without one bestie friend wasn’t as unappealing as it seemed at the time. I still had friends during this time period whom I enjoyed, so I decided to invest my time and energy in cultivating those relationships. Despite women being socialized to feel they “need” a BFF through the examples of female characters in TV shows and movies, I began to see I was genuinely happy with my circle of friends as they were. I realized those fictional best friend characters validating worthiness and sharing all of life’s good and bad didn’t have to come from just one person.
While science has confirmed the benefits of friendship and platonic intimacy with another person, none of those studies state that one person must provide everything we need from a friendship. The services of confidante, appearance stylist, therapist, relationship adviser, entertainment director and countless other nonsexual roles can be spread out among as many people as I have the time and commitment for.
Writer Heather Jones shares, “When I was young, I moved frequently, which necessitated making new friends often. It was a pattern I sustained even when my social circles became more stable. I have a few friends who managed to make ‘the cut’ over the years, but I still don’t have just one BFF. I’m OK with this because I have a solid group of friends. Having social anxiety means I gravitate toward online friendships, and social media has allowed me to curate a select group that meets my needs in different ways. Instead of one person I go to for everything, I have a group of specialists. I know who to turn to when I’m struggling with a challenge, who would most appreciate a humorous anecdote, and which friend gives the best advice. I don’t have a BFF; I have a network I love dearly.”
Andrea Traynor, a content creator and digital consultant, remembers having best friends in elementary school, but by high school until this day, she has always had a small but mighty collection of great people as friends. She explains, “Perhaps it’s about self-preservation (you can’t lose a BFF if you don’t have just one), but I think it boils down to having my friendship needs fulfilled by a variety of people who I can turn to situationally. One person might reach me on a soul level, but another may be the life of the party. I find balance in this approach.”
Professionals also generally support whatever works best. Psychotherapist Kelly Bos says it may actually be an age factor because we change as we age, so it’s natural that expectations of friendships would evolve organically as well.
“As we age, we become more complex,” Bos explains. “Different friendships meet different needs, and friendships can be affected by a number of variables — like moving homes, changing jobs, ending or starting romantic relationships or having a family. A variety of friends can often ‘fit’ better into a busy and multifaceted life.”
Despite a rocky start to being BFF-less, I’ve come to find great satisfaction in having several close friends who individually provide differing connections yet collectively fulfill almost all of my friendship needs. I wouldn’t call any of them my “best friend,” but I also would not want to do without one of them.
It has been a relief to find acceptance in this concept, and to know that instead of a singular person being my friendship everything, I instead have multiple women I love, respect and support. In turn, they reciprocate those emotions. My high expectations are being met — by a band of smart, strong, powerful women who bring gifts to my table that I doubt I could find neatly packaged in just one person.