My friend has an interesting method of gossip. Like a compulsive disorder, it makes her incredibly uncomfortable if she relays another person’s story or quote in anything less than exactly the way it was. To her, paraphrasing simply won't do. I used to joke that maybe she should have been the journalist, what with her acute memory for quotation and moral obligation for truthful reiteration. But jokes aside, I think I came to adopt a little bit of her philosophy. I found, that while some people are comfortable calling everyone a “friend,” I feel the same itching discomfort in saying the words, “I have a friend who…” if said person was a mere acquaintance, even if he or she wasn’t in the room.
A lady I know would appear to be the most well connected person on earth if all of those models, magazine editors, and designers are truly her best friends as she says. And maybe she really does have 57 best friends, I guess only she could know. But if science is any indication, chances are, only a fraction of those people are privy to her innermost thoughts and desires, the foundation of what the post-millennials only know as BFFLs.
I myself only have two people that I consider best friends. In fact, since middle school (and maybe it’s because of all those super realistic tween dramas I watched) I kind of subscribed to the idea that one is only supposed to have one best friend—and that’s it. And then, of course, I have friends, those whom I see regularly and who are caught up with my life experiences and my thoughts and feelings about them. Those who are privy to select parts of my innermost concerns, and, in a crude way of speaking, serve a select purpose. I’m sure we all have that one friend we see when we want a good laugh, the one we see when we really need to talk, and the one we see when we want to do neither and just want to get shit-faced. Those, I can confidently call “friends” because I am certain that when each of them are asked the same question, they will be sure to reciprocate.
I think that’s the reason why I’m so hesitant to call that girl I’ve only spoken to twice in college, or that girl I only ever call on when I need something from her at work, or that girl who’s a friend of a friend I’ve seen around, “my friend.” Even if she wasn’t in the room and I was simply describing her to someone else, it would be so much easier to roll out the word “friend” but instead, I turn into that long-winded grandma who must tell you the full context of the story, your standing appointment be damned. I end up saying “I have an acquaintance” (yes I know that sounds super awkward) or “I know a girl.”
Upon bouncing this thought off a few people, I’ve found this gut reaction stems from the fact that we feel a responsibility to the word, “friend.” That in calling someone a friend you are acknowledging and implying every sense of the word. I’m going to risk being accused of being self-righteous and say perhaps these same people will by extension be better friends themselves, because it means they hold themselves to that same definition of friendship. In other words, if someone calls a girl who she sees rarely and who only knows her first name a “best friend,” what do you think that phrase means to her?
I guess this whole thought process helped enlighten me to the various ways in which our vernacular reflects our beliefs. That who we call a friend shows our definition of friendship the same way what we deem beautiful is a reflection of our aesthetic. After all, Merriam-Webster can define these words for us, but where we use them is what gives them meaning.