I attended a wedding once, and I couldn’t stop staring at the best man. His hair, his tux, his smile — I fixated on him for obvious reasons. Then came his speech at the reception.
“I’ve been best friends with the groom since first grade,” he said. He went on to say how bittersweet it was for his best friend to get married and move so far away from their hometown to start life anew with his bride.
I listened to this total stranger’s vulnerability before a crowd of hundreds, and my eyes started tingling. I left the reception hall to collect myself in the bathroom; the hot guy in a tux struck a deep chord in me.
I recently hosted a guy on Couchsurfing (a nifty little thing you should try), and he’s been best friends with one of my previous Couchsurfing guests since sixth grade. He told me stories of their friend group from high school, featuring parties and road trips to Florida, and I listened with gulps in my throat and regret in my gut.
I’ve been realizing something lately that I suppose I’ve always known. But sometimes your reflection doesn’t fully materialize until you see something reflected in someone else.
It’s not just that I never had a childhood best friend; it’s that I’ll never have a childhood best friend.
That era of decades ago has come and gone, that chapter closed, never to be reopened or rewritten. Never will I have stories to tell about my best friend from first grade or sixth grade or any grade.
No sleepovers or birthday parties or neighborhood games or road trips as childhood turns to adolescence turns to adulthood. Those friendships and those moments don’t exist; they never will. Shadows in the mirror shattered on the floor.
Sure, friendships can still start now and continue for decades to come. But what of the last ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years?
Times like these make me feel the paradoxical weight of loss. And I hear the accusatory voices blaring:
What was so wrong with you as a kid that no friendship with another boy at church or school or anywhere ever stuck?
Why do you make such a momentous deal out of something as simple as a stranger’s wedding toast?
Why are you so easily spiraled into alternate realities or lacks thereof?
Why are you so jealous of others?
Why can’t you just let it go?
Why would God write you such a story? Does He even care?
I rarely get triggered by brides and grooms at weddings anymore; I’m far too independent to get married to either sex at this point. But this concept of a best man and the lack of such a longstanding figure in my life — that hits me hard.
But whenever I experience such moments of despair, I strive to do a couple things.
First, I recognize my feelings as legitimate.
It’s okay to have feelings, and it’s okay to be sad.
When I see a happiness in others that I do not possess, I naturally get sad. Envious too, usually.
Admitting what I feel is the first step in a repetitious string of steps toward growth.
Second, I “zoom out” and recognize the blessings in my life.
I appreciate my family and the friends who have stuck with me these last few years. They show me that perhaps I am worth loving as chapters change and decades ensue.
I thank God for countless pivotal experiences like my youth involvement, my travels, and this blog and community. Everything — and everyone — He introduces to my story molds me into more of a man.
Piece by piece.
Third, I remind myself that even “the happy ones” have their struggles.
Everyone gets dealt different cards in life: the good ones, the great ones, and the ones that keep you up at night.
Even the happy ones who get married and proclaim friendship since elementary school have their own slew of problems and brokenness.
I am not alone in my brokenness; even the best man struggles.
And so I remain grateful for a safe place like YOB to process my brokenness. My continuing story of growth and hope.
And I’m happy to remind each of you that you are not alone in your brokenness, either.
Have you been blessed by any long-term same-sex friendships since childhood, or do you also lack such a reality? How do you move beyond moments of relational loss and longing?
My best friend, David Wells, comitted suicide when I was fourteen. I loved him (no sex involved). I still miss him intently. Since that time, I have known few people that I would call ‘friend’. Yes, of course, I have known many of other guys, even slept with a few; but I was confusing sex with love. I was seeking my missing friendship with David through sex with other men, and never finding it, becoming promiscuous. Even my exboyfriend was not close to me; it was all about his physical satisfaction (who cared I felt like a slut afterwards). I never thought I could have another friend like him again.
Then Alfred came to church. He was everything I was not: bold, brash, loud. I loved him too. I even wound up telling him of my past, the first person I opened up to. He didn’t reject me, and I loved him all the more. He told me of his past: drug addiction, criminal activity, gang affiliation, how he found God in prison. He even confided in me that even had engaged in homosexual activity due to being high on drugs. I wept for the loss of his step-dad who was killed in a wreck (he was abandoned by his real dad).
He recently got a new job in another state, and had to leave very quickly. I was glad for him, but again I felt loss. He knows of my sensativity and I promised him I wouldn’t cry, but I broke that promise as I was saying goodbye. He was uncomfortable, as his is the typical unfeeling male. Still he could see how I felt, and comforted me, then let out some mindless insult that he didn’t mean as his way of letting me know he felt the same way. I had to laugh at it. We still talk to each other on Facebook,
“Shadows in the mirror shattered on the floor. . . molds me more into a man. Piece by piece” So much grace in your post. For what it’s worth, big hug man. We come to know God thru our brokenness. How many Christians do you know who are really alive and genuine who are only that way because of brokenness and grace? Either from their past that they’ve done or been thru, or from what Jesus calls to in following him. But look what life has come thru you to others, to us, Tom. Thank you.
Our family used to move about every 2 years thru graduating from high school so I learned to meet people but never kept friends for long. And it never occurred to me till later that this wasn’t either normal and how everyone lived, or that our family were fugitives always on the run :). There’s been good things on the way, but there’s more hope in looking forward than satisfaction looking back. And there’s more grace looking to Jesus than looking at self. I regret a lot of things looking back but I don’t regret where I am today and I know all that stuff brought me here.
I feel you. I’m in the same boat, Tom. I’ve had the same thoughts and played out the same questions in my own mind. Your perspective correction is good and it’s something that I do- though maybe I don’t do it quickly enough when triggered. Thank you for sharing. Your vulnerability is uplifting.
Tom, I think this will give you some hope. I have been close enough friends with several guys so that I have been best man in 6 weddings. Even so, I can’t recall having a “best friend” until college. I didn’t have to experience a childhood best friendship to be able to have one as an adult!
God tells us to be persistent in our prayers, so I’ve been praying for a best friend every day for the past few months. I still don’t think I’ve reached that level with anyone, but I’ve been doing a let better with friendships.
I had groups of good friends growing up, but we were nerds so they were marked more by video games than roadtrips and other adventures. Like you, I sometimes look back and think that I somehow did life wrong that I missed many of those classic experiences. Most of my friends split away after high school. (I had depression around then, which put a lot of strain on things as well.) I still keep in contact with some of them, but it’s not consistent.
Like has been mentioned, I think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that this is not the end. No, we can’t redo childhood, but that doesn’t mean our future is ruined.
There’s something to be said about persistence in our prayer lives. While I’ve prayed for a best friend at times, I doubt I’ve done so with as much regularity as you — or at least as much as I could. Sometimes I think I feel unworthy of such a figure in my life, so I don’t even bother praying for it. You’re inspiring me to be bolder in my prayer life, Steven. Thank you, brother.
Happy to help 🙂
I’m actually not normally one to take things to prayer so seriously, it’s just something that I really want (and think I need). The next thing for me is to not let it become an obsession and to trust God in whatever answer He gives.
This is indeed something I’ve had on my mind. I never had any real good childhood friends. I had a few friends but they weren’t very good and ended badly. I especially never had any friends in high school at all. And I REALLY hate whenever I hear other people reflect on childhood and talk about how they had a best friend or a group of best friends and I just seeth with envy. Frankly I don’t entirely know why I didn’t have any best friends, I think I was just too different and didn’t click well with any of the other boys. Its frustrating and I ask God why he never gave me any close friends when I was growing up. But I am starting to move past it as I’m finally starting to make close friendships now.
Awesome to hear about your current progress, Brian. Keep going! You inspire me onward.
Once again, YOB has succeeded in posting about yet another part of my life. I have thought about this for a very long time, and it honestly would make me very sad and lonely. Thank you so much for your encouragements, Tom. They are incredibly insightful and true, God bless ya
Bummed to hear of your own sadness/loneliness, Daniel, but glad to help you relate with another story. Be blessed, brother.
Same here, dude. I’ll never have a childhood best friend. It sucks. But I don’t think negatively of myself or what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t retain any friendships. Instead, I believe that society and our modern, individualistic, self-obsessed, transient culture are perhaps the main reason so many people are friendless and lonely. A kind of righteous anger builds up in me and I want to fight the push of this society toward that culture with all that is within me. I want to take clear, purposeful steps in the opposite direction, if for no other reason than to prove that humanity doesn’t have to keep going down this sewage slide.
I think such lifelong friendships are probably unusual and definitely not the norm for our world. We all change or move on or get married or never get married. Events and circumstances change things. We change. Loyalty between friends of an early age gets transmuted by all these things. It would be my guess that things changed dramatically between the best man and the groom in your story in the years after the wedding. Marriage will do that to people. I lost many friends, both male and female, simply because they got married and there was no time for their fifth wheel friend. We just drifted apart and some of that just seems natural.
Grief over what we never had is not a good thing. We need to take hold of the friendships we have now and make them last. I am looking forward to having some people at my funeral :^))) I have a handful of good friends now that ended up single again in their old age for one reason or another. I did grow up with these people, but strangely, when we were kids, we were not all that close. All of that has changed now. I like it. Moving back home was the best thing I ever did. Now, at 60, my life is better than it has ever been. When I was 30…it wasn’t so great.
It gets better Tom. That’s all I’m saying I guess. Try not to dwell on it. Make the most of the friends you have now and let that grow. See what develops.
Yeah, another point I could’ve made in this post is that I’m certainly not alone in this longing for a childhood best friend — even among OSA guys. It’s indeed a rarity for relationships to survive decades with all the moving around we do these days. Thanks for the reminder to be present, Jeff.
I agree. Somehow you always pick up on the most fundamental concepts that burden our hearts and lay them out in front of us. And here is my INTP version of the story. I too, never had any “real” guy friends until college. I really wanted a close friend growing up. I really even wanted an older brother. Just someone I could share all of life’s experiences with. I spent many nights in tears asking God why I was so alone. And this is again from having a relatively “perfect” family life.
But amongst all of my crying came the voice that He was my best friend. I would be comforted and fall asleep as the tears stained my pillow. But then the next instance I saw a movie with two good friends, or the neighbor kids running down the street, my heart would break again.
Growing into adolescence this bridged into searching for love. Also being very individualistic, I had many crushes and no relationships because nothing just “fit”. Then the two feelings collided. If a girl could never understand my feelings as a guy, it scared me. Because then no one would ever be that person in my life. And that was the amplifier of much of the SSA in my life.
Through college I looked for that perfect friendship. I asked God why he would continue to withhold this from my life. But I came to realize that the chance was over. I still made some pretty awesome friendships, but they never were, and cannot be, the thing for which I truly long.
At this point I don’t think I am geared towards a relationship yet either. Not from being individualistic, but more from an unrealistic expectation and an unwillingness to accept the limitations. The path of that realization was a difficult one. Cue more lonely nights with Breaking of the Fellowship coming through the headphones. But I realized something else.
Because I didn’t have that friendship I wanted, I became more introspective by the age of 15 than many will ever be. And I learned a piece of God’s heart. To see, in action, the unrelentless love and acceptance. To learn to bounce ideas, thoughts, and feelings off of Him instead of a friend. I do believe that everything has a piece of good that can come from it. And this was my good.
I’ll still long for what could have been when I see others with childhood friendships. I’ll still long for what the future may hold. But all gifts come with a price. Foregoing friendship was (without my direct choice) the price for better understanding my heart and soul.
And I once again realized how long-winded I am. Sorry bout that…
Guilty as charged here too Weston.
Grateful for your perspective as a fellow INP, Weston. Thanks for sharing some of your story here with us. Means a lot to add yours to the mix!
“Third, I remind myself that even “the happy ones” have their struggles.”
Tom, yes! When we realize that everyone suffers, the thoughts of self-pity and self-loathing begin to be replaced with love and common humanity…peace to you
I’ve often had this prayer. And just as often, I have remembered the same thing in my own life. For so many years, I spent so much time separating myself from the pack because I felt like no one would bother. Heck, I still feel that now! I can remember one person that I really would have considered a childhood best friend, but I distinctly remember his mother telling me that I couldn’t hang out with him (I was seven at the time), and so from that point on every time I would see him I would crumble, because the one opportunity that I had for someone to know me was severed. And he moved away soon after. And from that point forward, I didn’t bother to try. Because in my mind I thought two things: (1) that no one would ever want to spend time with me…I’m not worth it, and (2) it’s easier to be alone than it is to try and have a friendship with someone else (one that was deep anyway).
I’m an ENFJ, and I’m heavy on the E. But almost every day I think about how that has been one of the biggest curses of my life, because I’ve mentally trained myself to talk with so many people about so few things that my relationships rarely have any depth, and I know that it all stems from the fear that I had instilled in me as a little boy, that no one will truly care about all of you, even the broken parts. And those that know me know me, but for some bizarre reason I struggle to know them, because I just suck at doing that (lack of experience I suppose).
I still struggle to consider someone to be a “best friend” in my life, and I know in my heart of hearts that it’s because there is no one out there that will ever truly understand my reality in a way that so many others that I have known have felt and experienced. I struggle with SSA, but those that know don’t have the same problem that I do, nor are they in the same stage of life even if they do/did. And I’m not saying that in order to be a best friend they have to be exactly like me, but it’s hard to know most things about a person, but not the deepest hurts and wounds. Especially when they can’t speak into those areas of your life.
God has provided some amazing people in my life since I have come to know him and walk with him, but too often I walk away from those relationships envious of their past childhood experiences, because in my college days and now in my adult days, everyone has a backstory with someone in my life, but I don’t. And I never will. And that can sometimes be very difficult to wrestle with.
Thank you for posting something that truly resonates with my own heart. It’s nice to know that there are people out there who have similar thoughts! It’s uniting in a sense, and I like that.
I feel for you, brother. Reading your story really struck a cord in me. I had two best friends as a kid. In middle school, we bonded over Pokémon and Kirby (we were huge video game nerds). Soon we were spending weekends together trying to catch them all (there were still only 150 at this point). As the years went on, our friendships deepened. To this day, both those guys are still my best friends. Even though we live hundreds of miles apart, we still call each other a few times a week and make a point to visit each other.
My life would be so different without those guys. They were God’s grace to me because they showed me how to have thriving male friendships as a guy who has had struggles with SSA. The ironic thing is that I never told them (still true to this day). I have no doubt that they would still care for me the same if they knew, but they’ve already had such a healing presence in my life.
I wish I could share this part of my journey with you, but I know that God is working in your life.
Loved playing Pokemon with my brother and sister! Would’ve loved having a friend to play with, too. Thanks for sharing some of your story, Chris. Glad to hear you still have these guys in your life.