Don’t Let Best be the Enemy of Good

I was six years old the first time I asked my mom who her best friend was. She told me she didn’t know, and I was shocked. I had a best friend – in fact, I was in a fight with another girl, because she and I each had the same best friend. Choosing my best friend had been a long and seriously considered process, and it took up so much of my time that I could not conceive of how my mother had lived forty-three years and not know who her best friend was.

“I suppose your father is my best friend,” she told me when I pushed her for an answer, but this too was unacceptable.

“Daddy can’t be your best friend. He’s your husband.”

“Well, maybe he’s my best friend and my husband,” she said. I still remember how uncomfortable that thought made me. A best friend should be obvious. It should be best. A husband was part of your family. A best friend wasn’t family, it was something more special, more powerful. It was a commitment and a promise and a deeply personal, almost frightening title to bestow upon someone. It gave them the power to hurt you, because of course they could only be your best friend if you were also their best friend. Now, a quarter of a century later, I realize that all of those descriptors do describe a husband or life partner. At the time I only knew that when I thought of the title “best friend” it was with reverence.

Best is Perfect

Eventually, I did form exactly the sort of best friendship I had always dreamt of. The girl I had fought with as a first grader (for sharing my best friend, who eventually went on to hurt us both in an effort to become “popular”) shared my love of books, my need for control, and my passion for really living life. We fought like sisters, planned events like spouses, and shared secrets like – well – best friends. I knew everything about her: what could make her angry and how to pacify her temper, what boys she liked and why she would never approach them, what scared her and how to help her find her courage. I was constantly amazed at how well she knew me. We weren’t just best friends; we were Best Friends.

We spent ten years building our friendship before I graduated high school. During those years we had never spent more than nine days apart – never more than five days without speaking. We spent the summer talking about what college would be like, planning out how we would visit and when we would talk on the phone, even discussed options for how to allow new friends into our lives. Her older sister still considered her high school best friend her only Best Friend – her college best she referred to as her “favorite.” We agreed to adopt the practice.

When Best isn't Enough

My sophomore year of college got off to a rough start, with a breakup and a bad roommate situation. My Best Friend was the only person I felt I could talk to, and she was far away in another state, at another school.

Eventually, a casual acquaintance heard about my roommate woes and offered me a spot in his eight-person suite. I accepted and met my new roommate – a girl also leaving a terrible roommate situation, also just ending a terrible relationship. We bonded immediately. We spent most of the semester together, as well as the next two years.

I can’t tell you how much I struggled with what to label her in my head. I read that sentence and recognize how ridiculous it sounds, but I truly feared that my Best Friend would be hurt if I called my roommate a best friend. As the years went by, my Best Friend and I drifted apart, and still I couldn’t handle giving anyone else that title – yet I managed to build a community of caring, loving friends whose company I enjoyed and secrets I shared. I avoided the phrase “best friend” at all costs, out of fear of disloyalty.

Good is Good Enough

I don’t know when I realized that my close friends were all, in a way, my best friends. I’m not sure when those relationships shifted and grew, but I remember the day learned how important they were to me.

I was sitting in a church, at a funeral for Larry, a very close family friend. My father was giving the eulogy. He stood, tried twice to speak and couldn’t, and then finally managed to say “today I lost my best friend.” As he spoke, tears coming down his face, his eyes were locked with my mother’s. I remembered her saying that he was her best friend. I thought of how hard this funeral was, and how much my father loved Larry. I could not even imagine how he would have gotten through the eulogy without my mother – also his best friend.

Since then, I’ve realized how many areas of my life have been affected by this need for the “best.” Best is for dog shows. Relationships, and work, and hobbies, and really every other aspect of life isn’t about finding the best, it’s about finding the good.

Voltaire said it (best?), “don’t let best be the enemy of good.”