Through ups and downs and thick and thin, my childhood best friend Sarah and I continued our best-friendship well into our adulthood, until her sudden death from an aneurysm four years ago. I was bereft for many reasons but one was that having always had her in my life, I'd always had a best friend. She and I talked about every single aspect of our lives, including mothering, work, marriage, our shared childhoods, the loss of our parents (we'd known one another's parents well), etc.
True, I've also had a very loving husband in my life, and he is definitely a wonderful "best friend." But I met him as an adult, and he and I hadn't shared our childhoods, and I missed that bond. Also, he is a decidedly male best friend, and I believed that I needed a female best friend in order to feel complete. I found myself longing for one, and whenever anyone casually mentioned to me that they did have a best friend, I felt envy.
I have a fair number of women friends, some of whom I'm very close with and love, and others to whom I'm less close but am much more than an acquaintance. Since Sarah died, whenever I got together with any of my friends, I would find myself assessing their best-friend potential, even though I would tell myself not to, and to simply enjoy them on their own terms. I told myself that this was schoolyard stuff. But I couldn't help myself. I was on the lookout.
Among my friends are three or four midlife moms like myself, with whom, nowadays, I mostly talk about mothering 'tweens. These mom friends and I have honest and deep conversations and we offer advice to one another, on how to get more sleep and how to deal with the feeling of being less needed as your child grows more independent. The strength of our friendship is in our shared motherhood. But I find myself always a little dissatisfied — I want the whole kit 'n' kaboodle, I want to be able to talk about everything and be understood instantly, the way I once had been.
I've noted that the opposite occurs with my writer friends, some of who are child-free (some by choice, others not). We discuss the ups and downs of tying together the many threads in a novel, giving readings, and dealing with editors and agents. But I rarely go into detail about the trials and tribulations of daily mothering, and sometimes I wish I felt more "listened to" when I do venture into that territory.
On the other hand, with my friends who are both writers and mothers (in some cases, the mothers of grown children, whom I look up to immensely, and whose advice I value immensely, since they've been through it all) I talk freely about both — the mothering life and the writing life. But they haven't shared my childhood, didn't know my parents and siblings, and so something is still missing for me, something I had with Sarah.
I have other friends who are neither moms nor writers, some of whom are single, some divorced, some living happily (or not) with their partners. They are yoga teachers, psychotherapists, visual artists and schoolteachers, etc. Our conversations range across such topics as our childhoods (although they have not been shared), our travels, our work, our politics and our various relationships.
The truth is that I have spent so much time grieving the loss of Sarah (and I will always feel her loss), and yearning to replace someone who is irreplaceable, that it has taken me quite a while to see that I don't need a single best friend any longer, when in fact I have so many — each of whom is "best" in her own way.