"What's a best friend?" someone asked me a couple of days ago when I was talking about them, and although this question at first seems breath-takingly stupid, if you give it a second it reveals itself as actually breath-takingly troublesome.
I mean, what is a best friend, really? I can't say a best friend is the person who knows you best, because sometimes you
know someone is or will be your best friend when they know you hardly at all. I can't say a best friend is the friend you've known the longest, because by that logic your best friend would simply default be the person who's known you longest, and that's obviously not correct. I can't say a best friend is someone to whom you'd tell things you wouldn't tell anyone else, but because in one way or another that description fits all my friends. Your best friend doesn't even have to live close to you: for a long time now, I've had Situational Best Friends (SBF) and a Best Friend; the SBF is my best friend where I am, but my Best Friend is my long-term BF.
So what would I say a best friend is? I would say a best friend is someone to whom you can tell your news and your troubles knowing not just that they won't judge, and not just that they will consider those news and troubles thoughtfully and objectively, but also knowing that they will not try to do anything with them. This is why it's so hard to explain what a best friend is - because it's so hard to explain what that last phrase means. Of course a best friend will say if they're concerned for you, and will tell you things you don't want to hear sometimes if they think you're thinking or behaving foolishly, but it seems to me that a best friend must also give a sense that they're in it with you, whatever "it" is: if you're happy, your best friend is at least a bit happy, too; if you're sad, your best friend listens and respects your sadness (although not forever). A best friend is someone you tell your stuff to not just because you need a receptacle for secrets or a well for troubles, but because you know they want to hear just because they're interested, and that they're interested just because they're your friend. Which I guess is just a complex way of saying that a best friend is the person who listens to you most carefully.
Although not just that, of course. Best friends know you best, and so know how you'll react in a given situation, or how best to help you in such a situation. Best friends make the right noises at your confidences. And maybe most of all your best friend is your best friend because, for whatever reason, you just like seeing them a little better than you like seeing anybody else. This is also, I think, why they're the receptacle of your secrets: you tell your secrets to your best friend because you want to, because you want to become entwined with them that way.
See? Best friend is hard to explain.
All of this comes up not because of but linked to the fact that my closest friends here tell each other everything. I mean, they tell each other stuff I would never dream of telling anyone. As a result, they know each other very well, but not in a way that gives any sense that that knowing is special or unique: this is just the kind of stuff you know if you know a person well, is the suggestion. And because we behave as we see modelled, I've now done this with a few of those people. And you know what? It's quite nice. It does feel like I'm just doing what you do when you know a person well, and perhaps because there's no sense of such tellings as a big deal, or of the revelations as shocking, it simultaneously brings you closer to the people and relaxes you. Oh, you think, this isn't such a big deal after all. And now I am known. Both very pleasant sensations.