Everybody, my Polish friend tells me, should have a best friend, somebody to whom they can say everything. This is a Polish idea, “although it could be Russian or something else as well.”
My friend has had six best friends during his life. He sees the current one every day for coffee and has done so almost every day for 20 years.
You must be explicit about a friend being a best friend. The best friend must, my friend insists, be somebody you admire. You must be able to say everything—no matter how embarrassing or demeaning—to the best friend, and he or she must be able to say everything to you. Your best friend must see you as his or her best friend. The bond is confidential, sacred. Usually the friend will be of the same gender and sexual orientation—to avoid sexual feelings complicating the friendship.
It is, my friend says, the best form of psychotherapy and will, I conjecture, prevent most of the need for professional help.
Best friends are not necessarily for life. They may, of course, die, but they can be demoted or displaced. “Isn’t that,” I ask, “like being unfaithful to a spouse?” It seems it isn’t, often being mutual. And second best friends can rise to be best friends when the best one dies or is demoted.
Isn’t most people’s best friend their spouse? The Poles don’t count spouses as best friends. They have a different category. You don’t expect to say everything to your spouse as you do to your best friend. But spouses come before best friends.
I don’t have a best friend, and I don’t think many Brits, particularly males, do. I do have friends, although men over 30 are famously not thought to have friends, but not a best friend. Indeed, I associate the idea of a best friend with adolescence, when teenagers, perhaps particularly girls, have friends ranked from best to fourth or fifth best and often change the ranking.
But I can see the attractiveness of having a best friend, an unconditional friend. Should I ask somebody to be my best friend? It would seem very unBritish to do so. Perhaps I need to find a Polish best friend.
PS. I wanted to add a picture to this blog, and so I tried to think of a famous example of best friends. I couldn’t and had to resort to Google, where in a list of best friends one pair astonished (not too strong a word) me–Groucho Marx and T S Eliot. They were pen-friends between 1959 and 1964, and shared a love of literature, cats, and puns. But pen-friends could not achieve the level of friendship required by my Polish friend for a best friend. It interested me that I found it so hard to think of famous best friends, but then I came up with David Hume and Adam Smith–because I read about Adam Smith a few days ago. What does it mean that it’s easy to think of historical examples of lovers but hard for best friends?