How do we measure a best friend forever?

Image Credit: iStock

For the longest I could remember, I had believed a best friend forever existed. Each time I thought of these words, I conjured up an image of a kindred spirit who understood me, loved me, would be there for me, just like what it is often said, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. And of course, I would do the same for her.

I did have one. When I was in secondary school, I had a very close friend who lived just a few minutes’ walk away from our house. We shared many hobbies from reading to writing. We played badminton together at a university campus nearby each morning. Her grandpa considered me as his own granddaughter and taught us English every week.

We told each other we were best friends forever till the rest of our lives, till one summer day.

I was hit by a bad stomach ache. I was curling on the couch in the living room, feeling the turbulence wrecking havocs inside me. Feeling having almost no life left in my petit body and with fear accompanying each breath, I murmured to my grandma to call for her.

After ten minutes, she arrived, studied about what was happening, then she threw a quick glance at me and snapped, “I thought you were dying! It turned out it’s just a belly pain!” In that moment, I realized the seesawing, the torturing, the piercing pain in my body no longer made me hurt. But her presence.

Over the next year, with the new friends she had who came from wealthier families, our connection also faded away, like a beautiful painting whitewashed over on its canvas. Where is my best friend forever, I wondered. Is there such one, I often questioned myself. Such question followed me as a child and throughout my adulthood. For the longest time ever, I didn’t believe in having a best friend. Being abandoned by the very person who should love me most, understand me most and protect me well as a child — my dad, I still survived and thrived. So having no close friends, I would still be okay. Yet when I saw people mention their best friends, I wondered what was wrong with me.

Now, being a mom of two little people (and soon, three), seeing them navigating friendships across countries and neighborhoods, and having many friendship experiences myself, I think I have found the answer.

I had a friend who I met when I was a university student. I helped him get familiar with Vietnamese culture when he first arrived from the Netherland. When I failed a fellowship, he told me, “Remember Tu, someone with your qualities (not only intellectual but also personality wise) can do anything she wants. Sure, sometimes you are rejected but that’s part of life and become stronger and wiser. In Holland, we have a saying ‘Niet geschoten is altijd mis’, which means if you don’t shoot, you will never hit the target’. When I applied for a scholarship to do my Master Degree in Public Policy and was worried I may not get it, he told me, “I dreamed about you sitting behind the motorcycle of an Indian guy in Singapore.” Then he said it was a joke. We laughed and I felt so much lighter, seeing some hope from it. Later on, he studied at the same school where I did my master. His girlfriend who also did her master there, my boyfriend and us would hang out with each other. Then circumstances changed, he moved on, we never contacted for years but in my mind and heart, he was such a wonderful friend: we rooted for each other’s dreams and we gave each other motivation when we needed it most at that point in our lives.

I have a friend from high school who, together with me, were the top writers in the class our teacher was so proud of. We, however, were not competitors but good friends. We didn’t speak with each other much as he was an introvert anyway, but when he came to Singapore for a business trip, he let me know and we had him over for lunch and we talked and he joined me and my son in hiking on a trail around our apartment building. Years later, when we moved to America and I first came up with a few ideas for my future books and sent him, he spared his precious time from his busy schedule as a dad of a newborn and with a promotion, pored over them and gave me feedback, honest and encouraging at the same time. He believed in me.

I have a friend also from high school who I didn’t hang out with much then. Yet when we became mothers and lived across continents, her in Europe and me in America, she would open her door and generously and kindly introduced about my blog where I shared about how I applied neuroscience to my work and life to her friends there. No questions. No doubts. She loved it herself. And just willingness. When my family travelled to Switzerland for a reunion, she made time to visit me after a long working day. About two months ago, she messaged me that her family would spend the vacation in New York and asked if they could stay with us. “Of course, you are always welcome,” I said. To me, the time our families spend together is precious and I would love to have them, like the time when they stayed with us in Singapore. So we were not close friends when we were younger, but now I feel our souls are connected in some way: we share the same values — balance, kindness, exploration… and the same hobbies — reading and writing, and we have a similar growth path as a working mom and as a human being.

I have a friend who was my student when I was doing my apprenticeship as a future teacher. I hardly talked to her then. And 15 years later, when we relocated to America, I found out she was my neighbor. A magic coincidence isn’t it? Our two families soon became good friends. We enjoyed the presence of each other and hung out at either my house or her house almost every weekend over our favorite food and games and chats. We celebrated many occasions together. She was among the top advocates for my blog. She herself religiously applies what I shared and fiercely believes in my message. I would take some time off from work to walk her dog when they couldn’t find any caretaker on that day. Later, her husband and mine became not only business partners but great ones. Recently, her husband and she both called us to inform us of a Covid 19 case in the AirBnB home we planned to stay together just in time so we wouldn’t travel for three hours to upstate New York just to return feeling tired or to get exposed. She may not share my hobbies, but she is a truly good friend: she really cares with a pure heart and we value each other.

I have other friends who would share an article they came across simply because they knew my dreams and thought of me, who made time for our families to catch up and have a good time together, who chose me to share their stories and deepest aspiration and get my help, who recommended me a good book, who I would make time out of my busy schedule just to catch up and check in.

I now realized there was nothing wrong with me. I now realized I don’t have one best friend but I have a number of best friends, like one of my clients said, “I have a best friend in Europe, a best friend in America and a best friend in Asia.” It was the very definition of one best friend forever planted in my head from different people when I was a child that is broken, and it’s not me who is broken and who can’t find one BFF. I am a unique person in this world with different layers made of my own dreams, values, talents, passions, life purpose, who is always on a growth path, like everyone else. And to find one that friend who ticks all the boxes all the time or forever is impossible.

What’s possible and true and life enriching and happiness uplevelling is to enjoy different friendships and let them evolve. For my best friends, we think of each other, like to spend time with each other, motivate, root, believe and value each other, and help each other in a way that fits our own wheels of life. Even when we don’t talk much. Even when we don’t chat on Messenger much. Even when we don’t meet much. For best friends forever may not necessarily be forever, and the best friendships, like any best relationship, are felt, not measured or defined.

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Amy Nguyen

Amy Nguyen

I write about brain-based happiness through real life bite-sized stories.