If we did the “best friend” thing right, we find ourselves in our mid-twenties, a basic life partner somewhere out there in the world (with all our life secrets tucked in her mind, like a safe). We wait till these five stages turn to six: when we can retire as next-door neighbors, both with screeching cats and a sincere, continuous love for Don Draper in our ancient bones.
1. The Tentative Stage. Will We? Won’t We?
We meet our best friends when we don’t really know who we are, yet, in the world—when we’re unsure what our path will ultimately be (through middle school and high school and ultimately through college). All we know is what Seventeen magazine will tell us, and thus: we hover over the magazines with our brand new friends, whispering secrets about the boys we like and gaging their reaction.
Am I weird to you? We seem to ask. And she seems to wonder the same thing. We laugh, unsure. We don’t realize we’re making one of the most decisions of our lives, sitting by this girl at lunch. But then, stage two steps in.
2. The Giggle Stage.
After we’ve sufficiently braced ourselves for the idea of best friendship, we find ourselves in high school—ah yes. Finally. We’ve made it.
At this stage, things are both far more humorous and far more life-or-death than ever before. We find ourselves at eleven at night at prom, clutching our stomachs and laughing hysterically over something that we will never remember ten years from then (slash now).
And assuredly, we find ourselves crying hysterically over our lost love. (Seventeen years old and so, eternally sure that THAT boy was ours, forever. Our best friend is there with us, ready to call him whatever bad words we require to feel whole again.)
We hold no ideas for the future, because high school and this best friend were all we really wanted. And so: we gage the rocky, ever-hilarious waters of high school. And then, boom. Stage 3 hits, so unassuming.
3. The Gap.
This is the scariest stage of all, during which: we lose sight of each other during the first months of college. We’re trying to figure out who we want to be in this fresh reality, and we have to “break up” with our past selves for a minute for re-growth.
But always, during these months, there’s something missing. We don’t laugh as easily; we don’t feel the same link with others we did with our lost best friend. When we look in the mirror, we don’t recognize ourselves as readily without that person somewhere on the other end of a text conversation.
Sure: we learned to take shots; we learned to date college boys. We learned that college is ridiculous in a few different ways—that missing families and comfort and even the concept of “home” is nearly essential to our way of life. But we don’t have our best friend anymore; and this, beyond anything else, makes us feel like we’re floating, helter-skelter, unsure if we’ll ever touch the ground.
4. The Assured Reunion.
If we’re lucky, we meet up again sometime second semester freshman year and realize—whole-heartedly—that our best friends have been the missing link during this raucous first year of school. From then on, between parties and classes, we eat crappy food and feel sort of sad together for a bit, thinking about the youth that is quickly escalating from us, churning us into this thing called “adulthood.” (Think of it: all this feeling even as we still have those “meal points” in our pocket, ready to buy us all the sad dorm mashed potatoes we please.)
If we’re lucky, we move in with each other in later years (alongside other girls who never really “get us,” even as we love them wholly and assuredly). We laugh and cry and stay up all night, striving for a degree that will probably guarantee no real success in the “world.”
We get really, really used to sitting on the floor with oatmeal in small bowls, our makeup smeared over our faces and an empty pit in our stomachs, knowing that graduation is approaching. We don’t even think about saying goodbye. For real, this time. Rather, we make jokes about the world that don’t hold as much “giggle” to them as they did when we were sixteen, seventeen.
We watch each other fall in love with people who might mean more to us than ever before. We realize these boys might be “the ones”, in the same way we realized—all those years ago—that we were essential to each other’s survival.
5. The “Step Into the Real World” Wide-Eyed Stage.
Graduation day, we sit in our small college house swing and try to figure out all that just happened. One of us is heading abroad, to a different country and a new way of life, and another is pursuing medical school—something she’s been passionate about since that first or second year of friendship. We’re wide-eyed as we sit by each other during the ceremony, casually cursing the fact that the years went so fast, that we can’t giggle over Seventeen magazine or even eat oatmeal on the floor (usually hungover) anymore.
We say goodbye in the only way we know how: in a way that screams of “see you later.” And then: we move to separate worlds, to separate countries, to separate people. And the other side of our body aches forever, between Skype sessions and between Facebook messages.
We know the world is a good place because of our best friend. We know the world is valid and beautiful. And we know that we can keep striving to better ourselves, with each other (figuratively) by our sides.