March 2021

The other morning, while eating breakfast with my mother at the breakfast bar, we were encountering a period of awkward silence. And being the type of person who thrives in such situations, I decided to ask her one of a slew of random questions going through my head. I asked, “What makes a best friend?”
 
I am fully aware that this question is difficult to answer in the span of a single sentence. Yet, I was amazed at the length to which my mom discussed her multifaceted opinion regarding how friends change over time. Of particular interest was why I had asked the question in the first place. She wanted to know if I had any idea of what a friend or a best friend was. Here is what I told her:
 
There is a well-known saying that birds of a feather flock together. Therefore, by that definition, my friends should be similar. They should likewise laugh at a good meme and yell answers out to the TV during an episode of Family Feud. However, there is also a contradicting saying that states that opposites attract. According to this alternative logic, my friends should instead be those who are contrasting. Perhaps the reasoning is that they complement me in the ways I am deficient, and the same for me and their shortcomings. Following that logic, because I am a horrible cook, my friends should instead be great cooks. While I have several friends that fit both these descriptions, I do not think that being either type makes them necessarily closer. It does not seem right in my head either.
 
Then, think about all the people I wrote off early on but then later became close with. I’m not saying that the longer you interact with a person, the tighter friend they come, but that some people surprise me that we are friends. Like in my head, I do not know what distinct randomly made choices ended up pulling us together. Was it all determined in fate after making one haphazard decision years ago that put me in the exact position to be friends with the person today? I do not know, but maybe in an alternate universe, we are not friends at all. Then I think about those whom I thought were my close friends in the past but now are relegated to receiving a happy birthday post on their Facebook wall as communication.
 
In the media in general, there are many different ideas about what makes a friend. Dionne Warwick’s 1985 song, “That's What Friends are For,” emphasizes friendship in its lyrics, stating that a friend is someone you can always count on when you are feeling down. That type of friend is one who brings out the best in us when we are in a tough spot, providing support when we need it the most. And the long-running television sitcom The Golden Girlsgives the impression that friends are those you can be 100% honest with. That idea of friendship is emphasized in the iconic opening song about how a friend is a pal and a confidant. 
 
In the end, I closed by telling her that I still do not know if I have a best friend. My mother found this fact fascinating. How could a 25-year-old not yet know what a best friend was? Yes, I have many friends. That is not the problem. I can even identify the differences between an friend, acquaintance and stranger. Yet maybe distinguishing if someone is your best friend is like determining if you are in love: you do not know it is there until it is lost.
 
Do you have any idea what a best friend is?
 
 
Vanessa Davis is a master’s student in the Department of Public Service and Administration.

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