The last time I had a best friend, I was in sixth grade. Jenn and I talked about our crushes, performed in the school play together, had sleepovers, went to the mall—you know, typical best friend stuff. When school ended in June, my family moved from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Within a year, I lost touch with Jenn and all of my childhood friends. At the same time, I had trouble connecting with people at my new school. While I made some friends, I had no one single person who made me feel 100 perfect comfortable sharing anything (and everything) without fear of judgment.
In junior high and high school, I was so sensitive I didn’t stand for any chance of embarrassment or negativity, like the time Jaymi told my crush I liked him, or when Jenny made snide comments about my brother. After those instances, I basically cut them out of my life. In high school, I made efforts to socialize with anyone and everyone, but I kept things very surface level. I’d put up walls and not let anyone get too close to me. That way, they couldn’t hurt me.
When I left for college—my dream school in Illinois—I hoped things would be different. “Friendships develop when there’s a sense proximity and community. That’s why friendships in college are so easy and natural,” says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix. That wasn’t the case for me, unfortunately. Although I casually chatted with people in class or the dining halls, I figured keeping to myself was my greatest defense. School was black and white; it couldn’t gossip about me; it couldn’t turn its back on me. I preferred to spend my down time by myself, walking along the lake, cooking, reading, or talking to my mom. We talked almost every night, which may not be so uncommon. According to a 2015 survey of 1,000 millennials, 55 percent of them consider a parent a best friend.
In adulthood, I have developed friendships through work, yoga, and friends of friends. It’s been easier for me since we have something or someone that I really care about in common. This allows me to start with “safe” conversation topics and then, if I feel I might be able to trust them, slowly start opening up about more personal things, such as dating. I’m OK with being vulnerable now more than ever, partly because I’ve developed a thicker skin and am more confident than before. Still, I face ups and downs, including losing a group of friends after a breakup, and being completely shut out by a woman I was very close to, with no explanation.
I continue to test the waters with friends and I’ve become closer to some, but I’m still without a BFF.
Turns out, I’m not alone.