Living without Best Friends§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: April 25, 2018; revised: April 25, 2018; readers in past month: 1028

Richard Stringer (right)

A best friend, to me, isn’t the best of my friends. Instead, it’s a friend of the highest level: we understand each other well and we are always there for each other, at least as long as we are best friends. Better friends are similar to best friends, but we aren’t as integrated into each other’s lives. We don’t speak as often and are fine making decisions and changes in our respective lives without consulting each other. Good friends are people I enjoy when we’re together, but don’t want to spend too much time together. We might be willing to do favors for each other, but don’t connect well and are not included in the major aspects of our lives.

I have almost always had good friends and better friends. Most of my life I have had at least one best friend — sometimes more than one. And there have been times when I didn’t have even one best friend. I don’t like when I don’t. For the past year or so, I find myself without a best friend. I miss having one.

My first best friend was a Japanese boy who went to my school and lived in an apartment near me in New Orleans. His name was Mitsu. We were both around five years old when we first met. I suspect I connected initially with him because he was an outsider. I identified with that aspect of him. We were friends for a year or so, until he moved away. After that, I went about two years without a best friend.

I found a poor replacement, John, when I lived in Massachusetts, when I was about eight years old. We went to the same school together and lived on the same street. When I changed schools a couple of years later, we quickly drifted apart. I saw him a few years later: he changed so much that I could not believe he was the same person and wondered how we were ever friends.

My next best friend was a gay boy named, Sean Higgins — at least I think he was gay. We were close friends for at least two years, but I didn’t treat him fairly. It was complicated: he may have had a crush on me, which I did not reciprocate. I changed schools again, lost track of Sean. I did make a new best friend, Zdeněk Mayer — he was from Czechoslovakia; another outsider and foreigner.

A year later I moved back to New Orleans and started at a new school, now in high school. I lost track of Zdeněk. It took at least another year to find a new best friend, but was partially satisfied by being around my cousins again. They were not good alternatives: I could not trust them and we did not think alike. In time, though, I acquired three best friends — probably in case I lost one or two. One was called, Greg Shepherd. We met at school in the science fiction club. Sadly, he was tragically injured in a car accident after we graduated. I am in part to blame for his accident: I felt immensely guilty for that.

The other two best friends I made in high school were Mark Butler and Mike Mazier. I was friends individually with Greg, but Mark, Mike and I were friends together. The three of us seemed to get each other and enjoyed each other’s company. Still, we drifted apart after high school and college: they moved far away to pursue their careers. Lately, though, I have reconnected with them, in particular Mike. We’ve met a few times in New York when I’ve been there this year and last year for work.

Getting married and having kids took me away from any friends I had previously. One could say that a wife or a girlfriend is also a best friend. That may be true, but they’re not the same. Wives have expectations about their husbands. For instance, a wife wants her husband to have his head on straight all of the time. You can falter sometimes, but generally you can’t keep a spouse or girlfriend for long if she can’t count on you to do your part in the relationship — especially if you have children together. Also, I can’t easily tell my wife that I’m feeling like it may have been a mistake marrying her and expect her to react only in the capacity of a best friend.

Best friends allow you to speak freely about things going on in your life, how you feel, as well as about your spouse or significant other. This last part is important so that you can understand yourself in relation to your wife or girlfriend, so that you can improve the relationship without upsetting her or making her feel insecure. Yes, some things are best discussed between the two spouses, but some things are best aired first with a friend, a best friend who understands you and can bring your attention to aspects you may not see. The best friend is on your side without necessarily having a biased, vested interest in the relationship. Sometimes it’s nothing and there’s no need to upset the spouse. Sometimes it’s good for you to understand yourself by talking to the best friend first, before discussing the problem with your spouse.

Anyway, after getting married, I went a few years without a best friend, trying my best to do without one and to immerse myself in the spousal relationship and my family. But I was unhappy; I was miserable. In time, fortunately, I acquired four more best friends: Richard Stringer, Michael Zabalaoui, Ed Kiefer, and Rusty Osborne — in that order and over a few years. They were excellent best friends. They were very different from each other and from me — although I had something, some perspective on life in common with each. My friendships with them lasted for many years, over a decade.

Unfortunately, on January 7, 2004, Ed died of cancer. I wasn’t as close to him as I had wanted, but he got me in a way that no one ever has. I miss the clarity he gave me about myself, as well as the times we spent together.

On December 4, 2005, Richard Stringer, perhaps my best friend to which I was closest and spent the most time, died of cancer. I saw him in October of that year, before I moved to Italy. He seemed to have known that he was dying when we met that day. He gave me a hug when we parted. That’s the first time we ever did that. One of my better friends, Rickey Adams was with me at the time. I told him as Richard walked away that I didn’t think I would see him again. I never did. I still miss him very much.

Living in Italy led to Michael and I drifting apart. When I was living in New Orleans, we both went through divorces and other life events at the same time. We ate lunch together almost every day and talked often. We’re still better friends, but we don’t seem to be best friends, not like we were when I lived there. When I visit New Orleans, we always meet a few times. But it’s not the same. He’s gone on with his life and I with mine.

I remained best friends with Rusty for many years after leaving the U.S. This was in part because we continued to work together — that’s how we first met. A few years ago we stopped working together, though. Knowing I might lose her, I created a web site for her husband’s business that she worked at part-time, so that we would have a practical reason to interact. But a couple of years ago she moved the web site away from me and she became more involved in her husband’s business. We speak less and less. We went from discussing every aspect of our lives each day to speaking in the past year or so only once every few months.

So here I am, without a best friend. I have friends: good friends and better friends, but no best friends. Unforunately, I have very few friends in Italy. I have a girlfriend with whom I am able to discuss almost anything. We enjoy talking with each other about almost everything. But she lives in Moscow. We see each other often, about ten days every month and we text chat every day and do a video call every few days. But, it’s not the same as having a someone else as a best friend, in addition to a girlfriend.

I feel lost, adrift these days: work related aspects of my life are stagnant and I have little interest in any personal activities, other than spending time with my girlfriend. There are a few reasons for my current state. However, a best friend would help get me on course — on a good course. Not having a best friend has led to losing my way. I’m like an old sailing ship on the ocean with no wind and no means of propulsion. I try paddling sometimes, but it’s hopeless and I’m exhausted. My provisions are almost gone. There’s no wind, no current to pull me along, nothing.

At first I told myself it’s good that I learn finally to be more mentally self-sufficient, that I was maturing and growing from this period alone. But I find myself becoming more depressed — and at a time when my life is the best it has ever been (i.e., best professional situation, best life style, and best girlfriend). I need someone to give me the psychological strength to do something — before someone sinks me or before I do something drastic and stupid in an attempt to wake myself.