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Wanted: One Best Friend Who Won’t Break My Heart

Is that too much to ask??

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Elizabeth Brockway
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I met my first best friend, Vanessa, in junior high. We confessed our crushes, envied the same cool girls and planned our post-high school escape from the boring Midwest to New York City — in a red convertible. That escape never came to be. When I became pregnant four years later in high school, Vanessa quietly disappeared from my life. I was terribly hurt, but I understood. Our paths suddenly and drastically diverged. Still, I had thought Vanessa and I would grow old together as best friends. I was heartbroken.

Soon after I met Tina, a kind girl who lived in the same small town. By then I was out of high school and married with a toddler. Tina and I hung out to pass the time that drags painfully slow — as time does in small towns. Then Tina, without warning, abruptly vanished. Mutual friends confessed why: Tina was pregnant; with my husband’s baby. I admit I wasn’t surprised by my husband’s infidelity. We married too young, and it was a bad marriage from the start, filled with cheating and separations. The pain of his infidelity was only a minor ache, but the loss of another close friend cut deeper, leaving a gaping hole that would take years to fill.           

Putting the divorce and loss of my friend behind me, I remarried a nice, polite man whom I deemed solid and secure — until learning he had sex with my new best “friend” Mary. Mary and I were both in our 20s, both with little girls, both working our way through the same college. Bright, pretty and inquisitive, Mary asked about my family, complained about her marriage, asked about my husband (a lot, in hindsight). I babysat her daughter, braided her hair and bared my soul. The pain my husband caused me was nothing compared to suffering the loss of yet another best friend. I was gut punched, winded and left with a scar that would never heal. Although I learned through years of painstaking work and the passing of time to trust a man again, when it comes to women, I just … can’t. Through the years, I’ve found it easy to replace a man, but much more difficult — impossible, even — to replace a best friend.

Decades have passed, but the void left by the absence of a BFF remains. I look on with envy and longing as other women laugh over mocha lattes and happy-hour cocktails, or come to yoga class in pairs. Writer Miles Franklin, author of My Brilliant Career, said, “Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings.”

This is what I’ve missed: a trusted confidante, a sounding board with whom I could share embarrassing secrets and boring details from life not meant for a husband. Someone to encourage my ambitions, question my opinions, or just drive me to a colonoscopy. I feel the absence keenly as I sit isolated these last few months, with only my house cat to listen to my complaints and dreams. A husband, even a solid Joe, isn’t meant to replace a bestie. While I have a circle of work friends and writing group friends, the yearning for one BFF still remains — all these decades later. As I grow older the ache for one close female friendship — a best friend — is palpable.

The blame falls squarely on me. To have a friend, you must be a friend, yada, yada. But the thought of putting myself out there — even meeting someone halfway, letting another woman into my life — is, for me, paralyzing. When a new acquaintance has come toward me, I back away. If invited to coffee after gym class or half-price happy hour, I balk. It’s just too dangerous. I offer no explanation, just slowly creep back into my fortress, lock the gate and lick my scars in the safety of my aloneness, though heartbreakingly lonely.

As I grow further into my 50s, the sharp edges from past hurts in my 20s have worn away, faded into a haze. Perhaps when the pandemic is over, I’ll walk into a coffee shop or yoga class and instead of turning away from female laughter, I’ll veer toward it. Cautious, but willing. Perhaps somewhere out there is an old best friend I just haven’t met. I think I would like that.

I think I would like that very much.