Turning Friends into Best Friends
September 28, 2016 6:51 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a best friend? I'm well-liked in a few circles, and I have lots of friendly acquaintances and a good number of friends. But I don't have that one friend you hang out with several times a week, share clothes with, constantly text with, closer than a romantic partner bff. How do I turn a good friend into a bff?

Difficulty level: I'm autistic but very high functioning and I've made social skills kind of my thing. I've had many best friends, but they're all at the "good friends" level now because of distance. Every friend, good friend and BFF I've ever had have seemed like irreproducible, magical accidents.
posted by sleepy psychonaut to Human Relations (24 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You know, once your in your 20s or thirties most people don't have that one friend... You may have a romantic partner that close, but it's not common the idler you get. Just my observation.
posted by slateyness at 6:59 PM on September 28, 2016 [38 favorites]

How old are you? The whole BFF thing becomes less and less as adulthood grows because people have much more independent lives, than say highschool or college where you may spend all day in class and then all your free time with your friends. It's no reflection on you, it's just the BFF thing takes a degree of time devotion that people with jobs and families can't fit into the already busy schedule. Being well-liked in a few circles is already doing really well if you're in your mid-to-late-20s.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:59 PM on September 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

Oh yes, part of these friendships' beauty is that they seem like magical accidents.

It does seem like you increase the likelihood of these accidents of happening when you meet people while engaged in mutual hobbies.

I wouldn't put too much pressure on yourself to find this sort of relationship. The longest friendships aren't forced.
posted by cacao at 7:01 PM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think a lot of people have that friend, so don't feel bad if you don't!

That said, I've found that my "best" friends are people that I meet who are in similar stages of life as me. There's usually also a personality type that I tend to click with very easily. So think about what that personality type is for you. and also keep in mind that just because those two things are true, doesn't mean you'll become "best" friends.

Basically I don't think you can force it--just like a romantic relationship.

I also agree that it's less common as you age, but I also don't think that's necessarily healthy. A lot of people (men especially) "hole up" when they get into a LTR or get married, but I really don't think they should.
posted by Automocar at 7:02 PM on September 28, 2016

posted by anderjen at 7:05 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a friend that recently went from "pretty friendly" to "text all day basically every day." This changed after many years of working together - I invited her to something that meant we would be together all day (not just drinks after work). We had a great time, and have gradually gotten closer and closer since then.

We are both introverts so it just took a long time to open up, I guess? But yes, it was definitely a slow build.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:32 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

They are kind of magical accidents. I'd say I have two best friends, and I didn't "convert" them from being a regular friend to a best friend. We just hit it off pretty much immediately and talked for hours. It's not that different from finding a romantic partner, except for the physical attraction part. You just have to meet enough people until you seriously click with someone. It is a lot harder after school, and it's really only possible for us because we don't have kids or significant others.
posted by AFABulous at 7:33 PM on September 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not everyone has a friend like that, or has that friend forever. You might want to think about more of a distributed model of friendship, where you do some things with one person, some things with another. I do have a BFF, but they live far away, so we don't text all day and go through closets together. Meanwhile, I have a bunch of different more local friends, some of whom I have dinners with, some i go hiking with, some I have coffee and talk shop with, etc. It's OK to not have one bestie.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Help a friend with a project, or ask/pay a friend to help you with one. A renovation, putting up a community theatre play, planting a garden, painting a house, recording an album. Friendships form easily over shared work. Especially if there's some adversity- a wall falls down, a director is a pain to work with, you get rained on- working through adversity together can really glue a friendship together.

Be extra friendly to people who are new to your town- they are probably kind of lonely and dislocated, lacking a close group or routine- so often the timing is great for them to really appreciate new friendships.

Be in contact a lot. Send little funny texts and emails.

Be kind, accepting, and open about others' vulnerability. If someone is going through a rough time, like a breakup, being fired, or a death, be there for them. Call and check in. Bring them a bag of Oreos. Send nice texts. Let them talk, and listen.

Be vulnerable yourself. Share something you feel insecure or sad about. Let them comfort and advise you. Thank them after. There's a pretty wide spectrum between "not sharing enough", so others never feel that they truly know you, and "sharing too much", so others feel burdened or drained. Try to find a middle balance where you share roughly the same number of vulnerabilities as they do with you. Note that this should average over time- if one of you is in a crisis, the balance of need will shift to that person- just be aware that over a year or so, it should balance out.

Do things together. Have a standing date to walk their dog with them, or go to brunch, or invite them over once a week to eat dinner and watch a TV episode, or whatever.

Celebrate their good news, too- bring flowers when they get a promotion or cook them dinner to celebrate a life success.

Aim to occasionally spend a long time together being casual- especially lying down or kind of sleepy- rather than many formal meetings sitting up. There's something about chatting while half asleep together that really causes bonding. So one weekend of camping, or a night sharing a hotel room, is worth like 10 brunches. A day at the beach, or lying around in a park, is better than a day in the mall. Casual hangs with bad posture and lounging are a beautiful fast-track to intimacy.

Don't be uptight about mess and bodily functions. Let people come to your house when it's not 100% spotless. Be very very easygoing about their home if it's not 100% spotless. I sometimes do my best friend's laundry when she's busy. I've flushed the toilet when she forgot. We've pooped side-by-side in public washrooms, laughing the whole time. Ramp it up slowly and use lots of humour- toilet humour has a time and a place, obviously- but that stuff is stuff we all share, and when people know they can be unashamed, it really increases intimacy and trust.

In my experience, the #1 way to turn a friend into a best friend is to go on a road trip with them. Drive if you can, take the bus or train if you can't drive. Sleep wherever- camping, shitty hostels, decent hotels. On a road trip, you'll manage it all- unstructured, cozy, loungey time together, a project, adversity, long conversations, farts, and falling asleep in the same room. It is the Best Friend Express.

Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:46 PM on September 28, 2016 [32 favorites]

Unless you're nine years old, this is a tough goal. Magic when it happens, sure, but not replicable.

I've had a few "best friends" through high school, my twenties, and into my thirties. At least since the time when I've been financially independent, working, and living away from my family, best friends have tended to take the model of texting or chatting frequently in a mundane sort of way* and getting together socially every couple weeks**. I've never had an adult best friend who wore the same size clothing or had the same sartorial taste. I've never had a best friend that I was closer to than a concurrent romantic partner, though I have had times when my bestie was my closest social connection (most often because I was single).

Anytime you've had this, you were in fact very lucky in a way that can't be replicated. As you grow up, you will likely have less opportunity to have such close friendships. I think instead of trying to create the kinds of friendships that are more typical of preteens, you'd be better off maintaining the friendships that you have in whatever way they manifest.

*More often shortish exchanges every couple days than constantly.

**Usually very simple gatherings like drinks, game night, or the like.
posted by Sara C. at 7:48 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a best friend who I spend most of my time with, and I'm in my 30s, but I made that friend around 10 years ago. I suppose a practical thing is just try and schedule time together, or have a joint activity - we're in a band together, which forces us to hang out, but we also try and meet up together and with other friends at least once a week. Is there anything you can set up - a pub night, a game night, a sporting event, etc?

Plus lots of texting/Facebooking/meme sharing.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2016

I had friendships like that when I was younger but then yes, we drifted apart as lives took different courses.

I've had one friendship like that as an adult. I'm 42. I met this best friend when I was 35. We clicked instantly, spent a lot of time together, texted daily, all that, but in the end it turned bad and I ended it a year ago. I think we only became such intensely close friends because we had bad boundaries with each other. I'm now very wary of someone who wants to be superclosebestbestfriends with me.

When you have a significant other, as many people do as they get older, it can be difficult to bond that closely with someone else. I guess I'm offering an explaination for why it might not happen rather than how to do it.

I do miss that kind of friendship. I don't miss the drama that came with that last one!

Good luck! I hope you meet your magic best friend one day.
posted by stellathon at 8:18 PM on September 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Travel together! Go on an adventure/road trip, face adversity, have happy accidents, explore, mess around, get sick of each other, sleep in the same place, be goofy, make memories together. Friendship for me is grounded in experiences.
posted by cnidaria at 10:04 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think just in terms of focusing on one point you mentioned, and reframing things a bit, I'd caution you not to let distance dim your best friend relationships if possible. For me personally, I treasure my friends and yet having a job and a small child and a husband take up the vast majority of my time and I simply can't hang with a friend several times a week no matter how much I value them.

My two best friends and I live hundreds of miles from each other yet are in constant contact and keep up daily with each other through a never ending group text. We are aware of the minutiae of daily life and the big events as well. So while I do understand your desire for close local friends, I also wanted to champion the cause of long distance friendships and urge you to nurture those as well if possible. Life will have us constantly in one state or another, literally and figuratively, and maintaining our valued connections in whatever way is possible will always bring meaning and joy.
posted by JenMarie at 10:26 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I met my best friend at summer camp when we were teens, though I'd say we weren't best friends until a couple years after that summer as we slowly started hanging out more and more. While we grew up in the same place, we're thousands of miles apart now and keep in touch through email and gchat.

I also have local friends that I do the in person stuff with. I just made a new one who is new in town (I'm in grad school and she's new to the department) so she had a lot more bandwith to become my close friend right away. Definitely seconding looking for people who are new in town.
posted by azalea_chant at 10:44 PM on September 28, 2016

I think it might help to reframe what it looks like to have a best friend as an adult. The kind of friendship you're talking about sounds more like a middle school or high school thing to me.

As an adult, my best friends are people who I know I can tell my deepest worries to, who understand enough of my background that I can launch into a story about something without having to spend time explaining the larger context, and who can expect the same things from me. None of those people live near me anymore. I would say I have 5 best friends, and I talk to two of them on the phone once every 3 weeks, and with the other three, we mostly write emails back and forth. Sometimes life gets busy and I go for a month or two without contact with one of them, but we both know that's okay and that our friendship can survive those pauses.
posted by colfax at 2:46 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe I'm churlish, but I have a child and a significant other and if somebody else texted me regularly and wanted to borrow my clothes (outside of maybe a one-off for an event/emergency I would find that especially odd), see me several times a week, and so on, I would quickly distance myself.

A few years ago I found myself at Peak Friend and started quietly avoiding making new ones; I did not have as much time as I wanted to for the pre-existing friends and 'friendly acquaintances, will chat when we happen to be in the same place' was the limit (and I started being more reserved at some events, given that that is the sort of thing that leads to being friends). I felt like a real jerk about it here and there but couldn't figure what else to do.

Some people have since moved away and I have stopped retreating into corners for fear of being befriended now, but, I still wouldn't want a 'BFF' as defined here, and would not look for one; I've just got some time in my schedule for chums who live near me.

The people I think of as 'BFFs' at this point in my life (41) are people I have known for years, people I can go a long time without seeing, and then invite over for a weekend and take right back up with where we left off. In the interim there are little exchanges -- silly Facebook interactions, a series of e-mails if something significant happens to either of us, but with none of the things you mention. I think most people would find that difficult to keep up with. I really cherish the old friendships, and those are where I expend my emotional energy.

Apropos of her move I lost a good friend of eight years or so recently -- we saw each other often, talked about all sorts of things, and then contact abruptly dwindled and then she became a brick wall and I didn't get a response to anything. I've been grieving this more than I have most of my romantic relationships; I'm confused and hurt. I unfriended her and her family members on FB because it was too painful to keep the FB 'friend' when the real one was gone. Perhaps she simply tired of me; I have absolutely no idea. I mention this because putting too many eggs in one basket, as an adult, can work out quite poorly. As a child you can switch things up best-friend-wise with less upset -- certainly I was hurt when one BF moved away, and then when I moved away from another -- but we did not have decades of history between us, we had talked about less intimate things, and it is easier to make solid new friendships when you are little. As it was it was bad the good friend been a daily-texts, several-times-a-week visitor, it would have been akin to a divorce, just awful. Since she lived so close to me I always invited her round for every small get-together I have, and while there will be some 'Did you not invite...?' to come, it won't be as dramatic, and I won't have to re-visit what was a break-up and not a divorce as often, and I have been able to lean on other friends to get past it.

I feel no anger towards her, just sadness. But the horrible truth is that no matter what age you are at and how carefully you choose your friends -- she was really the last person I would've expected a dumping from -- people can and do split up. My 9yo daughter's longest friendship is going on five years. There would've been a longer one except the kid started routinely violently acting out, kicking her and spitting on her. (And would then come call on her the next day! At first I suggested patience, but that went out the window the day she came home with a boot imprint clearly visible on her thigh.) As support systems go, it is really much nicer to spread yourself out a bit -- and to not overdo that; when you find yourself hitting Peak Friend, do dial back on adding more so you don't end up being too short on time for the very good, very close friends.

I think another difference between children and adults here is that if your life goes south as an adult, it can really, really go to bad places -- if you are looking at some sort of aggressive illness, the biggest BFF in the world is not going to be able to drive you to every doctor's appointment and stock your freezer with every casserole. A number of dear friends can accomplish that by taking turns, though. Children are not nearly so dependent on BFFs as adults are -- they have (normally young and in good health and nearby) parents!

Final note: while I do enjoy the odd sack of hand-me-downs, I don't know of any adult friends who borrow each others' clothes. I think that starts at tween age and ends at uni roommate age.
posted by kmennie at 3:48 AM on September 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

As my friends become more and more geographically dispersed, and more and more weighted down with IRL obligations that prevent us from having three-times-a-week coffee-and-cigarettes hangout time like we used to, I'm finding that online hangouts are the best substitute. Other than my romantic partners, the people I'm in daily or near-daily contact with these days are friends who are also Twitter mutuals, or who hang out in the same social Slack team as me.

Another thing that changes as you get older, I think, is that it gets easier to maintain deep, trusting, secure friendships without daily contact. At this point, the people I would call my real best friends — the ones I'd call first if I was in an emotional crisis or a really embarrassing bind, the ones who know me better than I know myself — are people who have been in my life for ten or twenty years or more. I no longer need daily contact with them to reassure myself that they'll be there for me, because we've built up decades of trust in each other and decades of skill at friendship-maintenance. There are times when we do talk daily, usually when one of us is going through something difficult, and that's really nice when it happens. But there are also times when we go a few weeks or a month without talking, and then have a marathon phone call or a weekend trip together where we catch up on everything we missed. I've found it helpful to consciously reframe this from "It's so sad we don't talk every day anymore" to "Wow, it's really great that our friendship is deep and secure enough to survive a gap like that."
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:02 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It does just fall into place. I have two neighbors, both women in their late 40s, who text each other literally 50+ times a day, they see each other ever day, they share clothes, they do overnight out of town trips every day, and they have only known each other for three years.

One woman already lived in her own house, and the other woman moved in next door, and the two hit it off. But what was it that brought them together? They both love to drink together and get drunk by 10:30am weekday mornings...

So, if you can find someone that you have something in common with, very in common with, it can happen. I have a friend who I text 20+ times a day. We were "brought together" because we were co-workers and were having issues with HR regarding someone harassing her as HR was part of the problem. I quit, she followed my lead, and that was our "bond." She will be working with me again soon, moving closer, and we plan to see each other every day during and after work, she will likely hang out with my kids and wife as well, regularly. If it weren't for the &^%$* giving her a hard time at our previous job, we likely wouldn't have spoken to each other in the first place.

Can't force anything, though. That never works.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:31 AM on September 29, 2016

[...I meant they do overnight, out of town trips every few months, not every day...]
posted by TinWhistle at 6:52 AM on September 29, 2016

Do you have - or want - a roommate? I find that when I can be roommates with someone AND be close friends with them (which only works in specific friendships), a sort of "best friends" relationship follows organically - although it's always semi-dissolved into regular friendship when living situations changed. Works especially well if you have only one roommate.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:00 AM on September 29, 2016

I'm 52 now, and I've had the same best friend since we were about 15 or 16, so obviously, there was some real dumb luck at play in my case. At this stage, we see each other maybe once or twice a week, and we've never worn the same size in anything, so we don't share clothes, but we've been a unit for all our adult lives. We've had periods where we were a little distanced, like when one or both of us was in a relationship or something, but we've always been waiting at the other end. For the past twenty years about, we've lived within 5 miles of each other, and we're going to try to keep it that way for the rest of our lives. We're pretty much doing life together. I probably wouldn't have stuck with my husband if they didn't get along, because she's not optional. She's going to be around, and a problem for one of us is a problem for both of us. When she found out she needed a special diet and was overwhelmed, I did her cooking for her. When I had to take an emergency road trip, she insisted we trade cars so I could take her brand new reliable one while she drove my crappy old car. We've always been on the approved pick up list at each others' kids' schools. We don't talk every day, though, and most of our texts and calls are terse, utilitarian little messages about logistics and stuff. "Do you have enough wool socks, or should I get you some?" or "I'm stuck in traffic. Be there when I get there." We mostly socialize in person, but we always prioritize each other and will drop whatever else we're doing if one of us needs help.

That's kind of the end game, I think. Having someone you can depend on, who you know will be there when you need her, who accepts and appreciates you.

Superficially and oddly, considering we pretty much grew up together, we have very few common interests. We don't like the same books or movies or music, and there's not a whole lot of crossover in the types of things we do for recreation, but we have similar temperaments and world views or something, I guess. I have friends who I share more mutual interests with than her, but there's always a bit of tension there because none of them really think the way I do. At some level, they don't understand me and I don't understand them, really. I still care for and value them, but what makes my best friend my best friend is the fact that she doesn't always fixate on thinking I'm weird, and vice versa, even though we probably both are. Since you're not neurotypical, this will likely be a major factor for you, finding someone who at least kind of understands you and accepts you the way you are. You're not in the majority, but you're not alone either. Find someone who gets how you think. It's cool if you also like to watch movies together, but that's not really important.

So that's the most important thing, although it's kind of nebulous. You have to find someone you click with, and nurture that relationship.

When you do find someone who makes sense to you, to make them a good friend, you have to be one, and it has to be reciprocal. So don't just start doing everything for someone else if they're not doing things for you, too, but when you do have a good friend and want to keep her, be thoughtful. Help her out when she needs it, think of her. Know what sizes she wears, what things she likes and needs, and share. My friend and I pretty regularly buy things in bulk and just stop by and drop half off, and only every now and again do we both buy giant bulk quantities of the same thing and end up having to eat practically a truckload of fresh lychees before they go bad. To me, though, that's maybe the main indicator of a really good friend, just thinking of them when you're out doing regular stuff, knowing what they like and what they need, and doing little things for each other. Just to reiterate: This doesn't work if it's just one person doing things for the other, and there are some people who will take advantage of you, and others who would be creeped out by this. But if you do find yourself getting closer with someone as a friend, remember how they like their coffee and pick one up for them here and there, and if they start doing the same kinds of things for you, keep that going. So, I'm making salsa today because she brought over a bunch of tomatillos and peppers the other day, and I'm going to make an extra spicy batch for her because she likes her salsa pretty hardcore. (Thank you for asking this question, which served to remind me just how great that sort of thing is.)

Sorry for the length, but I really hope that you can someday have a friend like mine, so I'm trying to tangle out how it happened for me beyond the obvious pure luck.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, on the age train, there's a phenomenon whereby some of your casual/group friends gradually evolve into something deeper via the Magic of Time -- that is, one day you realize you've known each other 20 years, and even though you don't get together for heart-to-hearts on a daily basis, you look forward to time together, are frank and relaxed together, and keep track of each other's lives, if for no other reason than that you've become part of the fabric of each other's lives. A bit different than the Inseperable Friendships of earlier life, but rich in its own way.
posted by acm at 11:49 AM on September 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wow. A lot of different stories.
posted by sleepy psychonaut at 10:58 PM on October 9, 2016

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