You will rarely, if ever, hear me say “they’re my best friend.” Instead, you’ll hear “they’re one of my best friends,” or similar. Why? There are several reasons, and I’m afraid this post is going to be very long, so buckle up!
It’s important to remind you that I have autism, but that I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 27 years old. Knowing about my autism, and looking back on these stories, I think it helps shed a light on why some of these events unfolded the way that they did. I will add more about this at the end.
(None of the photos in this post are mine, I found all of them from Unsplash or Pixabay.)
In early elementary school, there were 3 people I considered “best friends:” K (boy), J (girl), and M (girl).
I met K on my first day of kindergarten (which was actually in October because we had moved in September so my parents let me adjust to the new house before starting school), and we hit it off right away. We were friends from age 5, until age 15; Then there was ridiculous drama and I decided the friendship wasn’t worth pretending to be someone I wasn’t. We had been friends for over 10 years, so I was pretty upset when the friendship ended, especially because of how it ended. (Brief summary so you understand why I was hurt: his parents ultimately decided that knowing who I was as a person for 10 years was less important than a decision I had made in my life, and told K that if I didn’t change that decision then we couldn’t be friends anymore. Changing that decision in the way they wanted me to would have been a blatant lie, so I decided to end the friendship. A year later, K started dating a friend of mine that had made, essentially, the same decision and his parents didn’t like her but didn’t make him end the relationship.)
I met J in 2nd grade. She was the first girl I’d ever been close with. We were pretty much inseparable. In 3rd or 4th grade, M moved to our school. Originally, I was jealous and afraid that M would tear J and I apart. But soon, the 3 of us were inseparable. I did feel a bit like a puppy dog following them around as opposed to an equal, but I cherished the friendship. Originally, I think that “puppy dog” feeling was more of how I perceived things than how they felt, but by 6th grade I don’t think I was imagining it anymore. Then, another classmate decided to lie about something I “had done” (I hadn’t) and it broke up my friendship with J and M. The fact that they chose to believe this other classmate instead of the person they’d been hanging out with daily for several years still bewilders me. I felt horribly empty, confused, betrayed, and truly heartbroken. I’m still social media friends with J, and I think we may have grown apart anyway. However, they’re still friends with each other, and I always get upset when I see them hanging out because I will always wonder if it could have been different.
The start of seventh grade was the start of a new school, junior high. The junior high had students from the nearby elementary schools, so I was excited to meet new people and escape my bullies. In PE (physical education) class, I met a new girl, M, and we hit it off pretty well. Some of her humor annoyed me at times, but we were in most of our classes together, and we became good friends. I ended up as part of a larger friend group: a large group of girls with some boys that would come say “hi” and join us for parties and such.
My birthday was coming up (it’s in March) and I was excited to have a group of friends that might come to my party because they actually wanted to instead of being forced to by their parents. I convinced my parents to let me clean my room so that we could also hang out up there (this was a big no-no) and we even rented a helium tank to fill up balloons! I was so excited, and loved the decorations, and then it all went to hell in a hand basket.
Part of the group of girls decided they wanted to go chat in my room. Fine, whatever. I went up to my own bedroom to hang out, and they told me I couldn’t be in there because they were having a private conversation. I was a bit shocked, but figured one of them was upset by something and didn’t want to ruin my party, so I left. Before leaving, I told them I wanted to open presents and do cake in roughly 10 minutes. I don’t think they heard me. How my parents house is laid out, you can hear almost everything that happens in the entryway from my bedroom. I was sitting on the landing, upset, because I kept asking them to come down so that we could do presents and cake. My other friends were confused about why they wouldn’t come down, and I was upset because they were being rude about not coming down. My mom was like “Hey Elizabeth, let’s do cake” and I barely managed to not cry when I told her that we couldn’t because they had barricaded themselves in my room and wouldn’t come down. I can’t remember who got them to come down, but they were beyond angry the rest of the party.
Everyone also decided to suck the helium out of the balloons no matter how much I pleaded with them not to. That did make me cry, and my parents locked some balloons in their room so that I could have decorations for the next few days (which included my birthday).
The next school-day, they were saying I had called them bitches and were livid about it and turned everyone else against me (including classmates that hadn’t come to the party). This lasted for several weeks. I spent a lot of time crying. I never in a million years would have called them bitches because I wasn’t allowed to curse and my parents would have heard me and I would have been in so much trouble – my parents likely would have ended the party right then and there. But, there were so many of them saying I had, and I was the only one saying that I hadn’t, so I was alone again. I had considered M and several of the other girls in the group my best friends, so here I was again being ostracized for something I hadn’t done (or something trivial) by my “best friend” and I was again heartbroken and confused.
For some reason, M and I actually stayed friends into high school, as well as some of the girls from that friend group (and others decided to ghost, but that was fine with me). It was a toxic friendship, however, and dissolved the moment we no longer had classes together.
Near the end of eighth grade, I met a guy I fell head over heels for, and we started dating. He was my first “real” boyfriend (one I actually did stuff with instead of just hung out with at school), and ended up being my first kiss. The two of us were inseparable, and I hung out with him and his friends. Another one of his friends (a guy), T, also became good friends with us. The three of us became inseparable. We did a lot together. My boyfriend was in trouble a lot, so he couldn’t always hang out, but T and I spent the summer riding our bikes around town (with my boyfriend when he could). I thought I finally had best friends again, and that this may last.
The first day of high school, my boyfriend broke up with me. Shortly after that, T asked me to be his girlfriend, so I said yes. I found out my senior year of high school, when I started dating my first boyfriend again, that T had been pressuring him to break up with me so that T could date me. T started getting jealous and possessive, so I broke up with him; he threw a mixed tape at my head so hard that it shattered on the wall behind me (I dodged it). I’m glad I broke up with him when I did, but it was painful to once again have no “best friend” to turn to.
My freshman year friend group consisted mainly of a mix of people from junior high and one from elementary school, C (a boy). The original group started including people from their classes that they became friends with, and so the group grew. One of the guys from junior high, X, was someone I very much considered my best friend. X, a girl named MG, and I were pretty much inseparable.
This next story I think happened my sophomore year, but I can’t actually remember:
I was going over to MG’s house after school one day, and X said he had to get home. Then, I pulled my cell phone out of my bag later, and saw 3 missed calls and multiple texts. They were from X. I tried calling back and texting, but didn’t receive a response. I noticed I had a voicemail and listened to it and he was freaking out, angry I hadn’t answered and upset, saying his mom had called the cops and he was getting taken to a hospital. My friend MG and I freaked out and we called every single hospital in the phone book. When we were talking to a very nice receptionist, she said that since he had self-harmed he was probably at a psychiatric hospital that was unlisted and she gave us the phone number. We called there, and they confirmed he was there and told us visiting hours. We called my dad and he came and took us down there. X’s mom came out from the back and started screaming at me (half in Spanish and half in English) and told me she would kill me if I ever tried to communicate with her son again because it was all my fault. It was one of the scariest moments of my life and I collapsed on the ground outside of the hospital and bawled my eyes out. I did not, however, stop talking to X. We just had to be sneaky. They moved to a different city, about an hour away. He would go to the computer center at his apartment complex and we would instant message. Once I got my license, I would drive out there, hide in a parking lot around the corner from his apartment, and he would come get in the car and we would go hang out. We stayed good friends for a very long time, but me moving to a different state and him deleting his social media caused us to eventually grow apart. I still miss him and hope he is doing well.
Back during my freshman year, I started dating a junior (two school years older) and hanging out with him and his friends. That’s when I met KC, and we became friends very quickly. She was also a junior, and she had a very strong personality (which I was not used to). Sometimes, I was overwhelmed and wouldn’t want to hang out with her, but she persisted and I’m so glad she did. She’s one of the only friends from California I still have (there’s only one other that I talk to on a regular basis, I haven’t gotten to her yet). Because of the age difference, and how many times I had been hurt by “best friends” at this point, I didn’t really ever call her that. However, she is definitely one of the best friends I have ever had.
Throughout high school, C and I stayed close friends. Our senior year, I would drive him to school with me in the morning because we both had the same zero period (it started at 6:30am). After high school, we lost touch. He had fallen in love with me at some point, but I thought of him as a brother, so remaining friends was too difficult for him. It hurts, because we were so close, but I understand. This is the only “best friend” relationship that ended and I understood why.
When I was in first grade, I joined Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts, for those unfamiliar, is a group/club for girls that teaches life skills via badges and activities. It also provides a regular semi-structured social setting to help develop social skills, and even basic job skills. Girl Scouts is the overarching organization, with different levels for different age groups: Daisies are kindergarten and first grade, Brownies are second and third grade, Juniors are fourth through sixth grade, Cadettes are seventh through ninth grade, and Seniors are tenth through twelfth grade. I was a Girl Scout from first grade until eleventh; I may have been registered in twelfth grade (senior year of high school) but the organization was going through a lot of changes, so we didn’t do much. My mom, sister, and I were extremely active in Girl Scouts, and my dad even joined to help my mom by being a chaperon for events when needed. During a monthly leaders’ meeting (where troop leaders met up to discuss changes in the organization and get news about upcoming events) when I was a Brownie, I decided to help out with the babysitting for the leaders’ meetings. That’s when I met KS. Our friendship probably started with her handing me a screaming toddler and saying something along the lines of “you handle that one” while she took care of others. We saw each other every month at the leaders’ meetings and our friendship developed. Eventually, I joined her Girl Scout troop, and we became even better friends. Soon, I was hanging out with her outside of Girl Scout meetings whenever we had the time. We went to different schools, and she had extracurricular activities other than Girl Scouts. I considered her a best friend, but knew she had other best friends she hung out with a lot more often (because she attended school with them) and so I didn’t actually expect it to be reciprocated. While I was jealous she had other best friends, she never made me feel left out in any way. I loved the group of friends from her school too, and several of them were in Girl Scouts with us, so we all did a lot together. KS and I joined the backpacking club and spent almost every weekend for a several years as tent buddies for backpacking. That’s when KS and I became super close.
KC and KS were two of my bridesmaids (with my sister being the third), and are the only two people from California I still consider good friends. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see either of them often, and we don’t talk much. Both KC and KS have children now, and busy lives, and we all live far apart. Thankfully, KS’s husband sometimes comes to Colorado on business trips, so I’ve gotten to see her recently!
I moved to college in Colorado (1000 miles, almost exactly, from the house I grew up in) and, unfortunately, found more drama. Thankfully, I also found Dan. Aside from Dan, however, I didn’t have a “best friend” in college.
After Dan graduated, we moved across town. Conveniently, one of our good friends from college also moved to the same part of town (we actually ended up in the same apartment complex). He invited us to hang out with his friends for game days and the whole group of us became good friends. (We actually invited several of them to our wedding two weeks before we needed to give the numbers to the vendors, and all of them came!) I met A, a woman, in this group of friends and we hit it off. We had met before, years before, but hadn’t gotten to hang out one-on-one. She now has two little girls (if you follow my Instagram, you probably know her as AM), and I try to go hang out with her weekly. She also hosts near-weekly game nights that Dan and I try to attend regularly.
Via this blog and my social media, I met another chronically ill woman (Ka) and we have a lot in common. She’s about five years younger than me, but we text each other all day long, every day. We talk about everything, nothing, and create ridiculous fictional stories. Even though we’ve never met in person, we’re extremely close.
However, I struggle to call either AM or Ka my “best friend.” Why? It seems pretty obvious if you look at my description of our friendships that they both fulfill the role of a “best friend.” I do hope, however, that after this long story, you’ll understand a bit of how it may be a struggle.
People that I label “best friend” almost always seem to stab me in the back somehow, or destroy me and end the friendship explosively. I’ll invest tons of energy and time into a person, and they stomp all over me and shred my heart to pieces. I don’t ever fully understand why this happens (this is one of the ways I think my autism fits into the picture), so it bothers me forever (I’m not “over” a single story that I told you).
The pain and jealousy I feel when people I consider to be best friends call someone else their best friend is something I expect other people to feel as well, so I don’t want people to feel that pain/jealousy because of me. Not until AM and Ka do I ever remember hearing anyone refer to me as their “best friend,” which I think is where some of that pain and jealousy comes from. While I would readily call people my best friend, I’d never get it in return.
Part of my resistance is societal. Little girls are frequently portrayed as having a single best friend that they may as well be surgically attached to. These little girls will go everywhere together, practically live at each others houses, some of them have their own languages, they talk about anything and everything, and they do things like dress in matching clothing and get identical backpacks. Even with J, I never had that close of a friendship. Our friendship was close, and it was the closest I ever had to that kind of relationship. Yet, I spent most of my time wishing I was a boy so people would stop asking me who my best friend was and where they were. Obviously, friendships like that aren’t expected as adults. Women are still expected to have best friends that they do tons with and talk about everything, etc. While AM and I are pretty close, some people still seem a little surprised when she refers to me as her best friend. I think part of this is that her in-laws have a very close group of friends that they all do everything with, and so she does the same but isn’t “allowed” to invite other people along. The group of friends can feel a little clique-y at times, and so I tend to miss out on a lot of what they do. While I’m still extremely close to AM, the fact that she does so much with other people (partly due to the group of friends, and partly due to the fact she has children) makes me question the “best friend” label by societies standards. (I cherish our friendship and wouldn’t trade it for the world – based on labels and society I can get confused.)
I do readily call Dan my best friend, but we’re married, and he’s going to be around forever, so I’m not worried about that label. We also do everything together, and I tell him everything (I mean it, I have an awful habit of drastically oversharing – I think I’ve scarred him a few times due to that). There is also a cliche of “I married my best friend” so it’s half-expected for me to call him my best friend, anyway. I’m glad he fits that criteria, despite the cliche, and it helps to strengthen our marriage.
How do I think my autism plays into this [horribly long] story? There are several ways.
One of the big ones is that I have spent most of my life, especially when it comes to friendships, feeling like I missed some sort of “How to People 101” class that everyone else got to take. Navigating relationships has been so incredibly difficult for me, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing 90% of the time. I read all the articles and books about “how to make friends” that I could get my hands on, and when I tried to put the advice to use I would often find myself in socially terrifying situations that I hadn’t read about in the books – most of the time the events that led to the explosive endings of the friendships.
Another one is that autistic people tend to be fiercely loyal. They’ll get attached to another human being and will go out of their way to do anything and everything that human may need. Unfortunately, some people pick up on that quickly and abuse it. Growing up, this frequently led to me feeling like a doormat, and if I tried to stand up for myself, people left. This left me confused because I could visibly see that I was being treated differently than the other people in that person’s life, yet asking to be treated like their other friends (or simply saying “no, I can’t do that right now”) would get me ostracized and picked on. I think the “puppy dog” feeling I had sometimes with J and M was due to my fierce loyalty and our slowly growing apart that I didn’t notice (or refused to notice, I still don’t know).
Even now that I have my diagnosis, I am often confused by the relationships I am in. Thankfully, Dan and I understand what is happening and my diagnosis has helped our relationship. AM understands that I have autism, and is open to me saying “I think my autism is preventing me from understanding this situation,” but she’s so good at social situations that I often feel lost and confused when I’m around her in a group. Thankfully, my relationship with Ka is primarily over text, so I have time to think through the interaction – this takes a lot of stress out of social interaction for me. I want to meet Ka in person, but it is a terrifying prospect. She understands that I’m horribly socially awkward, but I’m still scared I’ll disappoint her whenever we do meet.
These past traumas, the fact that I still don’t know what happened that caused the relationships to end, and the fact that I still don’t know what I’m doing in current relationships has me terrified to label another relationship as a “best friend.” I’m scared that the second I do, something will go wrong and the friendship will explode and I’ll be left hurt and confused and alone again. Honestly, even without the label I’m constantly afraid of that happening. But, putting the label on it somehow makes the fear more “real.”
Even if you are my best friend, I will never label you “my best friend.” It’s nothing that you have or haven’t done, it’s the ghosts of “best friends past” that are still hanging around. I will willingly call you “one of my best friends,” but I cannot bring myself to do more than that. Please, understand that even without the label, I love you to pieces and would do anything for you in a heartbeat. You are my best friend… and I love you.