How do you find a new best friend?
November 4, 2007 6:00 AM   Subscribe

As the title says, how do you find a new best friend?

Just over a year ago my ex broke up with me and ever since then I feel like I've been lost. Not only was she the love of my life but she was my best friend. She used to want to know everything about what was going on in my life, how my day was, how I was feeling and, as much as that used to annoy me, now that I'm without it I realise what I had and would now give anything to get it back.

I've been trying different approaches but nothing seems to work. Is there any way you can seed a friendship to go in that direction when you think you've found someone you can get close to and open up to? It doesn't neccessarily need to be in a romantic sense. I guess I'm just looking for a little validation as a human being now and then.
posted by Talez to Human Relations (12 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds trite, but to have a friend, you must be a friend. Are you willing to also listen to someone else to the degree you want to be listened to? Sometimes friendships are light and fluffy, some are deeper. Deeper takes longer. What about volunteering and validating yourself that way? Offering service to others with greater needs than you can sometimes be very fulfilling. Dogs are also wonderful validation creatures, but you need time to give a dog--rescue an adult dog from a shelter. It will usually have some training and grateful to be out of the shelter. Having a dog will force you out of the house for long romps, which will boost your mood. Join a bookclub? A gym? You have to get yourself out there to meet other folks who might share an interest that you could build a friendship on. Basically I guess what I am trying to say is you need a way to self-validate. Try and find some other ways to fill your soul until the next good friendship comes along.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:36 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, man, I know exactly what you mean. I've never actually had a romantic relationship where I depended on the person that way, but I have had friendships end for whatever reason (she gets a new boyfriend and disappears, moves, has a child) and it is really hard at first when that happens. You have a go-to person - the one you pick up your mobile to call when something happens - and then they are gone and you have no one to "report" to. I actually think that is one of the most important things in life - having someone to tell about your day.

I'm in the same situation. About a year ago my best friend, my go-to person, started dating a guy and completely dumped me. I was really, really hurt and confused, but I have used the time since to rely on myself, and it works. You actually don't "need" anyone...having someone who cares what is going on in your life is a luxury, not a need. When you start depending on yourself totally, it is actually very liberating and strengthens you as a person. To me, it does not feel lonely. I feel empowered instead. If you need to talk about something, journal it.

However, we do need to hang out with other human beings, even if they aren't our best friends or soulmates. To that end, you should join a group - a running club? A cycling group? Kayaking? - I find the sports clubs to be very friendly, with social people who are welcoming and like hanging out. Obviously, you aren't going to bare your soul to these people, but you will sit around joking with them and having a good time. Maybe, over time, you will find a best friend from the group, but maybe not...the social interaction, however, will be good for you. People come in and out of our lives, and we just have to appreciate them while they are around.

Good luck!
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 6:43 AM on November 4, 2007 [14 favorites]

Deep friendships are hard. And they get harder the older you get because people are more wary and tired and jaded, I find. The only real thing you can do is connect more and open yourself up in hopes of bumping into someone who connects with you - it's a numbers game.

if you've found someone that you think you could identify well with, all you really can do is demonstrate a willingness to make the jump. If you use MSN/AIM, drop them a line to start inane conversations and see if there's a flow to the conversation that indicates reciprocal interest. Invite them to a smaller gathering of friends, or a meetup outside your normal context - e.g. if they're a book club friend, go see a show with them instead.

Another thing to keep in mind is that - as harsh as this might end up sounding - you're not only looking for people to validate you. You're not waiting for people to decide you're worthy of being a 'best friend' - you are also judging them and choosing whether or not they fit your mould. So while you do these things and hang out with them, have fun and enjoy their company, but don't get lost in the euphoria of friendly interaction after prolonged isolation either. Think of taking the initiative to ask them to more outings as a chance to evaluate them, as well. =)

Good luck!
posted by Phire at 6:47 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

For the moment, start writing a diary. You are human and therefore all you do and say is 100% "valid." Sometimes it helps to just get it out of your brain, be it to a friend or just down on paper/blog.
posted by softlord at 6:48 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I see from your profile that you're a guy. While I think/hope it's a trend that's changing, I think it's still often the case that men are a lot more likely than women to (try to) get all their friendship and emotional needs taken care of by their romantic partner. Does this maybe sound like what you did?

It's not clear from your question whether you already have some friends, but you're not sure how to make them, or a couple of them, into best friends, or whether you didn't really have anything but acquaintances and friends through your ex. If you already have some friends, depending on what they're like, deepening those friendships is probably the best way to go. It would also mean meeting more friends of your friends, which is often a good pool to find sympathetic, compatible (platonically or romantically) people among.

If you are finding yourself now basically without any friends, or with a group of friends that you really can't see deepening the relationships with, then it's probably time to really think about the way you are in the world and the way you interact with people. Being and having good friends takes emotional work, that takes time and energy, even when it's fun and rewarding. Have you been putting in that work and are you ready to?

A good kick start might be some kind of short term but intense gathering, that's likely to be filled with locals. I'm thinking something like an adult version of camp, where the nature of the gathering facilitates quick friendships. Maybe something like a three day bike ride, or an adventure retreat, or a spiritual retreat, or whatever you're into. The trick will be both to be open with people while you're there, and to do the emotional work of keeping in touch with them and making plans after, if you're lucky enough to find some friendlike people. At the very least, you should have fun!

Unfortunately, I have to say, even as a person who is thankful everyday for my amazing friends, it seems a lot less likely to find that kind of best friend as an adult, that I had in high school. The friend where it's normal to talk on the phone every day even after you've spent time together in school, to share every banal thought with, etc. People are just busy, and more likely to prioritize their emotional energy on their SO's (the way you and your ex did with each other). I think that that dynamic has a lot to do with why there is so much importance and urgency placed on finding and keeping a romantic relationship - the way our culture is structured, it's really not so easy to have a 'best friend' outside of one.

Still, there's a LOT between perfect and nothing, and I'm sure that you'll be able to make good, fun, sustaining, friendships!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2007 [7 favorites]

Also, if you already have someone in mind - you have to spend time with them. It's all about time. Invite them to stuff, make plans together, that's what's builds a friendship. Call them up just to chat and see what's up. At least some of the time has to be either one on one or in a small enough group that there's really intimacy.

Anyway, what do I know! But good luck!!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:53 AM on November 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm in a not dissimilar boat, having gotten out of a long term relationship last year and have a sort of space in my life where the person I told everything to used to be. I've had what I consider to be decent success NOT feeling that there's a hole in my life, but I'm not sure I've gotten to the "oh I have a best friend now" part but here are things that worked

1. no more moping about former best friend -- me and the ex had an amicable breakup and used to spend some time together just hanging out which was fine but I think having someone to have the "Oh good, how's your mom?" conversations with, comfortable conversations, was keeping me from reaching out to get that level of friendship with other people
2. reconnected with earlier friends and family -- even though you didn't want to, you probably emotionally moved other closer friends a little farther away when you and your SO were together, this is sort of natural (now it's a whole diffeent kettle of fish if you've just gone from SO to SO without intervening friends) now you may want to try reconnecting. This doesn't have to be like "OMG be my best friend RIGHT NOW" but you can begin to reconnect, write emails, etc. I've also started spending a lot more time with my sister who is one of my favorite people, and keeping in better touch with my parents.
3. Find ways to tell your stories to people who might want to hear them -- I found some of my new friends through MetaFilter actually. I met some people in Flickr who lived near me and said "oh hey, those photos are of my neighborhood" I have a professional blog and attend professional conferences and follow-up with people I meet who I really like. The big issue is that good friendships, for me anyhow, require more cultivation than just dating someone and often this translates into stuff that feels like work. It's also important that you work on friendships because you like the other person, not because you have some glaring emotional need that needs filling and you're interviewing candidates.
4. consider a distributed model -- when I was in my last relationship, my SO was the go-to person for a large percentage of my daily emotional output. I live in a small town so this was even more exaggerated. I've found that in building up friendships I have different ones that sort of serve differnt purposes for me. I have activity pals, geeky late nice chat pals, professional pals, older folks in the community to have dinner with, friends to write letters to, friends who write letters, etc. None of them is the end-all-be-all One Friend To Rule Them All person in my life, but combined they add up to most of what I'm looking for in other people.

Additionally, this has all been looking at you you you, what do YOU need? Consider that a way to get some validation as a person and also have people to talk to, etc is to befriend people who are themselves needing something that you can provide. Through my work I get to know a lot of older people in my community who don't have a social network that is as wide as mine and I foten get together with them for meals. I get out of my house and get to eat dinner with someone who has fascinating stories to tell me about the town I live in and gives advice on good books to read, and I bring stories from the places that I've been and my own advice on books to read etc. I think we both sometimes feel that we're doing the other one a bit of a favor but at the end of the evening we've both had a really nice time.
posted by jessamyn at 6:59 AM on November 4, 2007 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: I have no problem being there for the other person and to be honest I am better at listening than I am at talking. I guess now I've started to mature and it's easier for me to say stuff but I've not got anyone that I feel comfortable talking to about stuff.

I have no problem putting in the time, the effort and the work it takes but I can't seem to make that connection that puts you down that path with another person.
posted by Talez at 7:03 AM on November 4, 2007

It sounds like you have a specific type of person in mind, the type who actively wants to listen to you tell them about stuff going on in your life, your feelings, problems, worries, etc ... Not everyone is like that, obviously, and from my experience (being one of those "listener" types) it must be fairly easy to identify someone of this nature fairly early on in your acquaintanceship - at least, I -often- find that people I've only known for a little while get into telling me all about what's going on with them awfully darned quickly. And that, I think, can be both a plus and a pitfall for you: on one hand, you might be able to spot potential candidates pretty quickly just based on the types of conversations you two naturally fall into (and after all, a lot of advice about seeking a romantic partner suggests that you figure out the things you're definitely looking for and things you definitely don't want; why shouldn't the same be true in seeking a new best friend?) - but on the OTHER hand, as Steven above said, seeking too actively could destroy what chances you have. I know the most off-putting thing people can (and often DO) do with me is to "push" too hard to focus our relationship on, eh, me listening while they pour out their thoughts/feelings/problems, etc - for someone who IS dear to me I'm -more- than happy to listen to them as often and as long as they need, but for people who haven't yet reached that status I end up feeling like a "dumping ground" - the other person comes cross as presumptuous to me when they try to "steer" our relationship in a direction like that before ever really getting to know me, and once that happens they get permanently categorized into the "Keep At Arm's Length" group in my mind.

Of course, I could be misreading what it is you want in a new best friend, in which case perhaps the only things in that last paragraph I'd advise you not to disregard are the idea of a) figuring out what you want and don't want in a best friend so that your "searching" might be more effective, and b) the principle of -not- pushing things lest you ruin a very good potential. As 45moore45 said, make sure you're being a good friend yourself - a person will be far, far happier to listen to -you- and how you're doing \\\if you make it clear to them that -you- care how -they're- doing. Beyond that, just keep yourself open for new possibilities. Some of my dearest friends are people I've known forever, and some are people who just "came out of the blue" one day but we somehow just clicked almost immediately. I guess you really never know when someone will enter your life and become extremely important to you - but odds are that it -will- happen, and probably sooner rather than later. Good luck =)
posted by zeph at 7:06 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

This obviously isn't the same as a face-to-face connection, but in the interim, maybe you could try developing some platonic relationships online? That is, if you are already part of or are willing to invest the time into joining some kind of online community. I've found, off and on over the years, that sometimes the fact that online friendships are based on extensive "verbal" (i.e. typed) communications means more information/feelings exchanged, and therefore deep bonds can be created. YMMV of course, but it's worth a try, at least until you find yourself becoming closer to people offline.
posted by justonegirl at 9:17 AM on November 4, 2007

As many people have noted, it's hard to make these kinds of friends as an adult. I think this is partly (largely?) due to lack of shared experience. Think of the close friends you had as a kid. Probably they were school friends or neighborhood friends. You and they shared daily -- hourly -- experiences that were fraught with meaning: Mrs. Agnew's pop quizzes, Mr. Jone's scary dog.

Adults try to replace these experiences with politics-talk and work-talk, but it's not as intense or meaningful. Politics is not personal enough. It affects you, but at least in America, it doesn't affect you every minute of the day. Work would seem like a better candidate, but there are too many obstacles -- business being the main one.

Some adults solve this problem by joining groups: volunteer organizations, book clubs, etc. This seems to work for some people. I doubt it will ever work -- for most people -- as-well-as school, because you're forced to go to school and school takes up many more hours a day. It's has more impact. (An adult "camp", as someone suggested, would be a better school/neighborhood surrogate, because you and a bunch of other adults would be forced together for a long period. For the same reason, the military often works.)

Sorry for the depressing take. This is a problem in my life, too. My wife is my best friend, but I fear what would happen to me if -- God forbid -- she died.

The best solution I've come up with so far is to rekindle lapsed relationships with old, childhood friends. And the Internet has made this easier than it would have been in the past. There are three people with whom I lost touch -- for as-much-as 20 years -- that I now correspond with daily. One of them lives in my city, so we see each other in person, too.

I really value these friendships. They are unique in that they benefit from an interesting dynamic that emerges from a mashup of our time apart (time to grow wiser) and our shared history (that childhood thing).

Do you have any childhood friends -- people you lost contact with -- that you could contact? I've contacted (or have been contacted by) about thirteen people from my youth. All of these contacts were interesting and fun, but only three have worked as permanent adult friendships. So you may have to try a few times, with a few different people.
posted by grumblebee at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Great comments - i totally second jessamyn and salamandrous' comments.

I too am in a large boat with no one to row but me and it has been such a long time that I have gone out for a beer/coffee/etc. with someone, I wouldn't know what to do if the opportunity arose.

Therefore I am not one to give advice on these matters, but I will say this - whatever you do, just enjoy the moment. Don't go in with expectations that this person you are talking to will be your new best friend.

If it happens, it happens.

And if it doesn't, do what sondrialiac says, and see a therapist - not because you think you need to change, but just to let things out. Just to get a shoulder to lean on. I have done so from time to time; it's not a buddy to have a beer with, but at least I can get things out in the open.

Good luck to you and may we all find the companionship we desire and deserve!
posted by bitteroldman at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

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