Confession: I’ve Never Had a Best Friend

Episode 50 of the Friendship IRL Podcast with Terri Huggins Hart :: Confession: I've Never Had a Best Friend

Podcast Description

Today’s episode is with Terri Huggins Hart, an award-winning journalist who has written for Parents, Good Housekeeping, and other major publications all over the country.

Back in 2015, she wrote an article on her blog, “What Everyone Ought to Know About Never Having a Best Friend,” that went viral. Turns out, many readers also related to never having had a best friend.

If you’ve been listening to this podcast, then you probably know I don’t like the term “best friend.” It’s too all-encompassing, and it’s too much pressure for one relationship.

Here, Terri and I talk about rewiring how we think of our closest relationships, the lack of language for friendship, and how the most important thing is creating connections that feel good to us – regardless of how society says they’re supposed to look.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • The lack of language for friendships and the space between “best friend, “friend” and “acquaintance”
  • Thinking about friendships in terms of how we think about physical care – there is no “one-size-fits-all” – you don’t want your dentist tending to your gynecological needs
  • The wellness culture and the narrow definition of what makes somebody “well” or “fit” or “healthy,” and how it often leaves out marginalized or neurodivergent populations
  • Things that are often simpler than they seem – and how it’s often us who make them more complicated than they need to be
  • Why many people don’t want to talk about best friends – both because they feel ashamed and because they don’t want their own friends to feel slighted

Reflection Question:

Who are your familiar friends? Where do you see them? What do you talk about? And what do you get out of these friendships? How do they make you feel?

Notable quotes:

“Everything does not need to be deep. You don’t need to have only friends that will talk about your deepest secrets, your life goals, and investments. It’s nice to have somebody with whom you just talk about your favorite meal last night or your favorite TV show. When did we get to this point that everybody must have like that one person, and it’s just this deep, intense thing? Could you imagine if everything in our lives was intense, and just deep? That’s exhausting!”

“One thing my mother told me and I keep it in the back of my head: she always said, ‘Everything is simple. We make it complicated.’ And I try to remember that every time that I’m feeling lost or just spiraling. I’m like, okay, this is actually simple. I know what I need to do. Why am I overthinking this? Why am I going down this rabbit hole? This is simple. And sometimes, we have to apply that to friendship.” 

Resources & Links
Be sure to read the viral article on Terri’s blog from 2015, “What Everyone Ought to Know About Never Having a Best Friend.

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Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 



You’ll get the full scoop on everything we’ve been up to in the last seven days – podcast episodes, blog posts, and updates, plus an exclusive note from Alex every week with her latest, unedited thoughts. 

Alex Alexander [Narration]  00:50

Today’s episode is with Terry Huggins Hart. Terry is an award winning journalist. She writes for parents, good housekeeping and more. She’s a speaker, a Story Strategist, a friend. Terry wrote an article on her blog back in 2015, titled, ‘What Everyone Ought to Know About Never Having a Best Friend’. And that article, for all of you that are here, you probably won’t be surprised, went viral. It got a huge response and outpouring of people saying, “I also have never had a best friend.” And she’s not alone. Neither are those people. I hear this from people all the time. Now, you’ll hear in this episode, that why I don’t like the term best friend, I don’t use it, you probably have never heard it on the podcast unless we’re talking about how we need to stop using it. But you’ll also hear us talk about all the ways that societal narratives have really made us believe that there’s this narrow definition of this one type of friendship that we should have. And then if we don’t, something’s wrong with us. Spoiler alert. Nothing’s wrong with you. So let’s dive into today’s episode where we re-wire, rewrite how we’re thinking about our closest friendships. Hi, Terri. Thanks for being here.

Terri Huggins Hart  02:21

Thank you so much for having me. I looking forward to talking about friendship.

Alex Alexander  02:27

I’m excited to talk about friendship too. You have actually done… like, I’d consider you a peer, you know, you have done quite a bit of work around friendship. You are an award winning journalist, you have written viral articles and blog posts that relate to friendship and its impact in our life. So I just think this is going to be a really interesting conversation, because obviously, we have your personal experience. But you’re also talking about this out in the world as well. I was just reviewing your blog post, “the blog post”, the one that went… ‘What Everyone Ought to Know About Never Having a Best Friend’. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to write that. 

Terri Huggins Hart  03:15

Well, if I’m being completely honest, I wrote that many years ago. It may have been in like, 2014 is when I first wrote it.

Alex Alexander  03:22

2015, Yeah. Long time.

Terri Huggins Hart  03:24

Okay, 2015. And it was something that back then people weren’t really talking about what it was like to not have that person, you know, that special person. And, you know, my blog, it’s my space. And I felt like it was something that somebody else would value and see themselves in. And it’s… actually today, like, still my most… one of my most popular blog posts. And like you said, 2015. And I think it’s even more so relevant now. Because we’re at a point that we’re analyzing all our relationships, whether they’re professional, the ones that help you grow, the ones that help you find yourself, all of those. And the pandemic also made people realize maybe, who they thought were their friends really are not their friends. It’s interesting how it’s resonating more with people now, and it was probably resonating back then, too, but it was still sort of a quiet topic.

Alex Alexander  04:24

Yeah, I mean, that’s been my hardest struggle with talking about friendship is this isn’t something that most people want to just like, share that they’re talking about. There’s so much shame when it comes to friendship. So people are interested in it, for sure. But they don’t want to tell people that they’re reading articles about not having the friends they want to have and that’s hard because it just perpetuates it.

Terri Huggins Hart  04:53

Exactly. And because you know what part of it is and at least for me, even when writing it, it was a struggle, and not because I felt shame in it. But I also didn’t want the people that were my friends to feel slighted by it. And I think I even put in there something like, you know, I appreciate the people who do show up for me because I’m like, look, I do recognize that I’m not alone. I do have people that care, but it still doesn’t take away the realization that you really don’t have a best friend. I really do think that’s a big part of why we don’t talk about it. Because how you feel about somebody actually, it’s different from person to person. You may feel very strongly about, you know, one person and that person may not feel as strongly about you, and vice versa. And I think it’s important that we are careful when we discuss these topics, and you know, relationships, because it’s never really about putting the other person down. It’s not about making somebody feel like they’re less than. It’s just about being honest, and just sharing what their true feelings are. And it’s just a necessary thing that we need to acknowledge as carefully and gently but direct as possible.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  06:06

I’m gonna be honest, I had never thought in this best friend discussion, like, I’ve talked to a lot of people about how they don’t feel like they have a best friend. And I really always think of it as people are being tentative around this. Because they really feel like the societal narratives of I should have this person, like, a lot of people feel ashamed. And I do think that that is the reason some people tiptoe here. But when Terri started talking about how you don’t want to make anybody who is a friend, feel slighted, it really made me stop in my tracks. Because I think that is so true. And the unfortunate part is that I think that the reason we’re in that situation, is because we’re lacking language for friendship. Currently, we have this idea of they are my friend, or they aren’t. We also have best friend and we have acquaintance. But there is so much possibility between those terms that we just aren’t acknowledging, which is why I spend a lot of time talking about focusing on how your friends are showing up for you. Talking about the ways they are your people, versus focusing on trying to categorize them in this acquaintance, friend, best friend category. And instead of being able to say, “You’re the person, I always feel like I can call”, or “You always support my career”, or “You were just there for me in a really hard time.” Now, obviously, what I’m talking about is a shift in the language we’re using, the ways we’re communicating about this. It’s gonna take some time for that shift to happen. But maybe take this and think about it in your day to day. Are you focusing on how somebody doesn’t fit into a category instead of focusing on the ways that they are valuable in your life? 

Alex Alexander  08:19

Yeah, I don’t really like the term best friend. I actually don’t use it in my work. I don’t use it in my life. I don’t like it. And my best example, actually, the best friend thing is so fascinating to me. Because if you think about a best friend, it’s this one person, as you’re saying, they probably have a lot of history together. There’s kind of this point where if you haven’t made a best friend, your… quote, unquote, “never gonna have one”, which is a terrible thing to think about and not true. They have to be this like, all encompassing person. That’s a lot of pressure to maintain. And I have a friend, her daughter, gosh, how old was B? She was probably, I guess, five. She went to kindergarten. And she came home from school. And she one day just was like, “I met my new best friend today.” And my friend, the mom was like, “Okay, tell me about her. Why is she your best friend?” She’s like, “I choose her, she’s gonna be my best friend forever.” My friend is telling me the story. And I was like, that’s wild, that she’s been at school for like one week. And somehow this concept of best friend and like, need to find one right now, she’s already feeling. Because my friend, the mom was saying, she’s like, “I don’t talk about best friends. That’s not a term we use in our house. Where did that even come from?”

Terri Huggins Hart  09:46

I am so happy that you touched on that because it’s a lot like a marriage. You know, we have these ideals that we don’t realize are instilled in us at such a young age. The same applies to friendships. And like you said, I’ve never been fond of the term best friend either. And I think I did share that in that post. I think. It’s just semantics, and why are we writing people? And you know, exactly like you said, it’s a lot of pressure to put on one person and different people serve different needs. But even beyond that, what I don’t like about best friends and making some of this whole encompassing thing is that I don’t think we actually acknowledged the importance of having superficial friendships also. Everything does not need to be deep. You don’t need to have only friends who will talk about your deepest secrets and your life goals and investments. It’s nice to have somebody who just… you just talk about, like, your favorite meal last night, or you know, your favorite TV show. Like when did we get to this point that everybody must have like that one person, and it’s just this deep, intense thing? Like, could you imagine if everything in our lives was intense, and just deep? That’s exhausting.

Alex Alexander  11:07

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I call them, in  superficial works, I call them like, simpler friendships. There’s so much power cumulatively, in our simple friendships, if we allow there to be. But we’re just so focused on finding this one all encompassing relationship, that then we’re missing this cumulative value around us. And like you’re saying, it’s exhausting to constantly be in the intense stuff all the time. So exhausting. And I think, especially in female friendships, there’s all this pressure that if you aren’t getting to that point, then it’s not a real friendship. It’s not a best friendship. It’s not a true friendship. And it’s like, okay, well, but that might be the person that you go to, you have a goal to run a marathon, I don’t know. And they’re your running buddy. Like, that’s a big goal in life. And they’re supporting you through that. But yeah, because you’re not like telling them all your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s not valuable. That’s so not true.

Terri Huggins Hart  12:15

Exactly. And, you know, as you’re talking about it, I think about it a lot like your health. And this is also a privilege, I’m not going to sugarcoat that. But if you are able, you don’t just have one doctor that covers everything. You have your primary care physician, you may have a dentist, you may have your optometrist, you may have a gynecologist. And I mean, can you imagine if you relied on the one person for everything? Like our health would be falling apart. I think if we actually compare it to health care, like our physical health, because friendships, it feeds your mental health as well. So if we think of the friendships and how it feeds our mental health and well being as we do our physical well being and having multiple doctors, it’ll be easier for people to understand like, okay, it’s okay that I don’t have a best friend. I have, you know, my coworker that I can talk to you about, you know, our meeting notes, compare ideas. I have the PTA mom who gives me great support when the teacher doesn’t respond. And that’s okay.

Alex Alexander  13:21

My gym friend, I have our neighbors who I can call when we’re out of town to keep an eye on our house. Like those all add up to feeling like you have people to call. I ask people a lot when they tell me, you know, they have a best friend or they’re having problems with their best friend or my friend’s daughter whose four. Like, best friend for what? What are they your best friend for? Because I would bet a lot of money, that they really are not this all encompassing friend, that there are probably areas that they just are not their areas to support you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So are you trying to put that on them? Because if they aren’t in corporate America, and you’re really trying to force them to support you with your job struggles, or like talk about your career path options, they’re not the right person for that and it’s going to wear on them. If you just keep trying to force that conversation, when really what you should tell them is, I’m gonna go find someone else in this field. I’m gonna go find a friend I can talk to you about this. We’re going to keep enjoying the things that you are my best friend for because it’s not this all encompassing thing like we’ve been led to believe.

Terri Huggins Hart  14:42

And you hit off something there. I’ve realized that you know how people like to say check on your strong friend or triggering your happy friends. And what I’ve been telling people is, don’t just check on your friends. Ask them how they cope, because it’s in Those moments that you feel alone, and that you may not have a best friend, that’s when you feel awesome. It does not matter how many people tell you that they love you that they miss you that you have this hopeful life ahead of you or whatever. None of that matters. If you have not figured out how to cope. It may be something as simple as you know, taking a shower, it could be something like journaling, or maybe calling a friend that always been… you know, whoever it is, but I feel like that’s where a lot of like, the shame comes from when we’re in those dark moments and you feel lonely. And that’s when we need to lean on coping. So I’m like, no, don’t just check on your strong friends, don’t just check on your happy friends. And don’t put it on social media, because there’s a good chance that the so called strong friend is watching you share this on social media saying like, really? Because you didn’t check on me last week when I needed you. But ask the people that you care about in your life, how do you cope. And that may make not having a best friend, or whatever it is you choose to call it, a bit easier to digest in those moments, because we all have those down moments when we feel like we really don’t have anybody.

Alex Alexander  16:08

Yeah. And I mean, I think it’s helpful for people to to think about who their people are in those down moments for certain areas. It doesn’t have to be one person. If you’re really overwhelmed with work, it might be one friend. And it might not even be somebody you consider your closest friend. I have developed this whole framework that has four different kinds of friends, like a spectrum of friendship. I call that like a, let’s say, a defined friend. So they’re your work friend. And they may not know a ton about your life, but they really support you in this one area. And I think a lot of people stop themselves and say, “Well, they’re not my best friend. I shouldn’t go to them for this.” It’s like they are uniquely set up. They understand what your day to day looks like, they get your career situation, they are the right person to go to. It’s not hard for them to talk to you about this, because they’re in it with you. Parents. If you are a parent, then having other parents who have similar parenting beliefs or live near you and go to the same school. So they get the dynamics of that school situation, whatever it is, know who those people are for the really intense parts of your life right now. And just keep a mental note so that you can reach out. And it’s not that big of an ask if it’s something that they’re uniquely set up to discuss with you because they get it. It’s way less of a drain. 

Terri Huggins Hart  17:34

Exactly. And just having those different perspectives. Sometimes you want to be able to be somebody else. And you can be a different person with this friend. Like perfect example. I have a good friend, she’s single, she doesn’t have kids, and she’s fabulous. And it’s hilarious, because you know, she’d want to go out and you know, knowing that childcare is a struggle, she’s like, “You can bring the kids.” And I’m like, “No, the hell they can come.” They cannot come, this is my time to not be a mom and go out. And at the same time, I absolutely love that she is understanding of that fact. But I don’t want to talk about my kids all the time. So, I love my nonparent friends for that. So, it’s interesting. And there’s always so many people who say, oh, you know, once they became moms or you know, parents, I’m not their friends anymore. Once this person got married. And sometimes that does happen. And if that is how you feel when it does not align with your life, fine. However, that does not mean that they could still be a good friend. They can show you different parts of yourself that you did not realize, you know, you had within you. They can give you a different perspective on things. But I definitely value being friends with the people who are not like me at all.

Alex Alexander  18:52

I mean, me too. That makes our perspectives. But suddenly, you said there… actually, I think is like such a great tie in to this episode, right? Because we’re talking about best friends. And I think something that does happen quite often is if you are somebody who has that best friend, or you just have really close friends, when you do have… like when you get married, or you have kids, you are now adding people I guess to this inner circle of most important people, and I’m still one person. So now I’m having to split my attention. And I think so many people, it’s kind of that all or nothing again of well, you now have a partner, I was your best friend. It won’t be the same. So, it’s therefore not worth it. We can’t be friends anymore. And it’s like, no. They just now have more people. They have a new dynamic. You have to figure out how to connect in this new dynamic, if you like put in the work to reevaluate, but also I think what we’re ignoring is it gives that other friend the opportunity to also explore some new things. Like, if you were this all encompassing best friend situation, were there things that you weren’t doing because your time was so taken up with this friendship? Like maybe you wanted to go after a goal or do a thing and you just kind of never did it because your life is full and busy. Like, go do that. Support yourself. Hopefully your friend that has now gone after their new partnership will support you and yours. Like we’ve kind of like created space. This whole idea of all or nothing, you’re my best friend, you got married, now you have a best friend, move on, needs to be like dissected. Because it’s costing so many people friendships in this all or nothing. We can’t have gray or spectrum to it.

Terri Huggins Hart  20:54

Yes. And that’s something that stems from childhood really. Just like how you said your friend’s daughter was talking about best friends. We had it instilled in us from the very beginning that everything is either black and white, there is no in between. And how has that been instilled? You know when you never had parents or any adult figure in your life, tell you that it’s okay to not know how you feel. Or it’s okay to not know what the problem is right now. All of that just adds to the fact that we think it really is just an all-or-nothing thing. You’re either my best friend or you’re not or you’re my enemy. You know, we’re cool. Like I can’t tell you how many times I befriended somebody on the train. I used to commute into New York. And you know, you see the same people every day. And it’s like, I don’t even know half their names, but you check them up while you wait for the train and look out for them. Like if you don’t see, you know, your train friend, you’re like, what happened to them? Yeah, but do I call these people my best friends? No. I don’t even know if I call them close friends. But there’s somebody that you keep in mind that you think, you know, at least, somewhat fondly of.

Alex Alexander  22:08

I have a name for those people in my spectrum of friends. I call them familiar friends. They’re people that you see in the same place. You see them because you both do the same thing. But it’s not necessarily about you seeing them, it’s because you’re both at the train station. So, they create familiarity and a place that you frequent are a group. Yeah. So you don’t really like know that much about them. But they’re the people you look at in a room that otherwise would be full of strangers, and it’s like, oh, well, I know them. “Hi, good morning. How are you?” And it makes it more comfortable.

Terri Huggins Hart  22:39

People don’t know what a familiar friend is, and that’s why we struggle so much with having those close friendships, or why there’s so many friendship breakups, because you didn’t realize that your best friend from high school was really only your best friend, because it was convenient and you were there. And nobody told you that it was you know, normal to drift apart or learn more about yourself and, you know, realize you don’t have the same idea. No one said that that’s just part of the path.

Alex Alexander  23:03

Yeah, the lack of language for friendships, is really harming our friendships. Because we don’t have ways to describe what’s happening to us and have conversations with people that… I’ve always compare it to dating. I say, if you go on a date with someone, you know, you’ve been on the dating app, you go out, and you sit down. And at some point, they’ll probably be some sort of conversation of, “Oh, I’m just looking to hang out, looking to hook up. I’m looking for a casual thing.” “I’m trying to meet someone to get married.” Like we have terms that set expectations. There’s none of that in friendship, and not that I’m going to meet up with a friend at the train stop and say, “I’m just looking for a familiar friend.” But if this friend gets maybe mad because you didn’t show up in a certain way, we don’t have really any language to say like, I thought we were here. And that was my expectation of how we acted. And you obviously thought we were, what I call, a present friend, which is a lot more expectation and those didn’t align. 

Alex Alexander [Narration]  24:17

If you have been around a while, you’ve heard me talk about these types of friends and my entire wheel of connection framework. If you are new here, you’re probably like, what are these types of friends that she’s talking about? This seems like something I want to learn. If you go back and listen to episode 3, I go in depth. If you go to my website, I have all sorts of blog posts. If you go to my social media, I have videos. There are so many places for these. But I’ll give you the briefest of overviews right here. Basically my wheel of connection is this idea that we need to be looking at the cumulative impact of all the support in our life that we can’t silo off friendship from romantic partnership, from family, from community. They’re all connected. And the way that everyone’s wheel looks is going to be different. Some people are gonna get more family support, some people are gonna get more friends support, some people are going to lean into community, like you build uniquely what is right for you. So it starts with family of origin, we have community, acquaintances, and then what you all want to know about, which is the friendships. The simplest of them, is what I call familiar friend. These are friends that you see out in the places you go. They might be the person that you talk to, everyday on the bus, or the subway, they might be another parent at your kids school that when you go to the holiday concert you walk in, and a room that seems completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable, you see these people and you think, oh, I remember them. Let’s go over there, and say hi. That’s a familiar friend. The next is defined friend, these people, you often have a name for them. They’re like your gym friend, your work friend, your best friend’s brother. They’re people you know, and are connected to and have a spectrum of their vulnerability with. But the main thing is that you are connected to them in one way. They haven’t really moved out into your life overall, there’s like a reason normally that you’re going to see them or reach out to them. So if they’re a running friend, you might see them at your running group. But you also might text them about trail runs, or new shoes. But most of the reasons you feel comfortable reaching out are because of that one connection point you have. The next ones are present friends, and our present friends are what most people would think of as kind of that peak friendship, that best friendship, true friendship, whatever. Basically, these are the people that currently you’re doing life with. So these could be you know, your closest friends from college that you still see all the time. It’s could be a neighbor that you’ve gotten incredibly close with. Anybody. But the main thing is that you now have let each other into multiple areas of your life, you see each other in a variety of contexts, you talk about a variety of things. So again, you are present in each other’s life. The final one is what I call historic friends. Now, these are friends that at one point you did life together with them, you were probably pretty connected, you have quite a bit of history. But you no longer do life together daily for some reason. Maybe they were your work friend that you were incredibly close to. And now you no longer work in that space. Maybe they are your best friend from college who now lives across the country. The idea is that these friends, the friendship itself is mainly dependent on your history together and the beliefs you share about that friendship, that you care about each other, that you enjoy each other’s company, that you will always be there for each other, whatever that is. Those are the types of friendship in a very quick, very brief overview. And again, you can find more information, episode 3, my blog, my social media.

Terri Huggins Hart  28:26

You know, one thing my mother told me and I keep it in the back of my head. She always said, “Everything is simple. We make it complicated.” And I try to remember that every time that I’m feeling lost, or you know, just spiraling. I’m like, okay, this is actually simple. I know what I need to do. Why am I overthinking this? Why am I going down this rabbit hole? Like, this is simple. And sometimes we have to apply that to friendship. We’ve definitely lost sight of that as we’ve gotten older.

Alex Alexander  28:55

Yeah, friendship just has so many… it’s that all or nothing mindset. There’s a lot of walls you have to climb over. We walk into rooms, and people have to earn our trust. Actually, this is a fascinating one. Somebody said, maybe it was Gary Vee. Somebody was talking like, who am I that everybody has to earn my trust? Like, why am I so important? Why can’t I just walk into the room and give people trust and if they do something wrong, I’ll take it away? And Ie really tried to think about that when I meet new people. Like sure, I’m not giving my wallet to a stranger or doing all these wild things. But I just walk in the room trying to assume that it’s going to work out and that people are kind and want to connect instead of putting up all these walls saying that you have to earn the right to be around me.

Terri Huggins Hart  29:52

And that’s the problem. Like, I’ve learned that… and not just in friendships, but in so many aspects of life, sometimes you just have to act like everybody is on your side. Like, all these people are on my side. And they are part of the reason that everything in my life is falling into place. And it may not always be true. And it does not mean be reckless, but it allows you to open yourself up to whatever you need to welcome into your life. I think that’s a really big part of, you know, finding a friend and whatever you want to call that friend. But it’s so necessary. But I also do understand that it is hard when you’ve been burned and misled and lied to. It’s difficult to put yourself back out there. I do think it’s a necessary thing. And I’d be lying if I said that it’s not something that I’ve struggled with in the past, but it’s a hard thing.

Alex Alexander  30:50

I mean, the fear of rejection, the people who have crossed you, like that adds up. Surely, I totally get that.

Terri Huggins Hart  31:01

Being humiliated, bullied. And I’ll tell you about one that I experienced in adulthood. I remember I was pregnant with my first child. And there was a woman that I knew. And I don’t even remember how… I think she went to the gym that I went to. And you know, I would see her every now and then. And she invited me out to lunch one day, and I’m thinking she really wanted to be my friend. And at the time, you know, I was about to… or I think maybe I had just given birth to my son. But you know, during that time of postpartum, it’s a very lonely time. So I really wanted you know, new friends. So she invited me out to lunch, we went to Panera Bread. And it was great. And we’re having a great conversation. And then she goes, “Well, the reason why I invited you out is because I’m a new salesperson for…” whatever MLM she was doing. And it was humiliating. And I’m like… and I never said it to her. Because at that point, I was kind of shocked. Like, I didn’t know what to say. But it was also very deflating. Like, I’m sitting here thinking you actually want… like you liked me and do you want it to be my friend and see where it would go. And really, you just wanted me to throw a party for you s you could sell more product? It’s things like that, that makes it hard for people to open up. Because it’s misleading. Or when you think about the fact that people say, all the time, your network is your networth. There’s definitely some truth to that. But it also leads to people forging these misleading relationships. And it makes it harder for people to open up because you’re like, okay, are you talking to me because you actually want to be my friend? Or are you talking to me because you know, that I know, the CEO of this company and can help your net worth when you try to apply for this job? So it’s definitely a very difficult language. And people say it all the time, your network is your networth. So what I’ve learned is being as direct as possible, and if you know.

Alex Alexander  33:01

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, right? Because your network is your net worth in my mind is like, okay, well, our end goal here is still money, capitalism. Like, you got to decide, people need to decide that people, community connection, that building this for yourself is the end goal. And then in that case, I mean, I don’t even think your network is your net worth, like your network is your joy. Your network is like your happiness, your network is your support system, your survival. And if we can approach it from that direction, but that obviously requires people to mindset shift that, like that’s going to take time. I get that.

Terri Huggins Hart  33:49

I’ve been saying for a while that capitalism is what’s killing the community. People say we don’t have a community. It’s because of capitalism. That’s why we have no community. You know why we don’t have time to even make friends? Because of capitalism. That’s a whole nother topic.

Alex Alexander  34:07

We could do that episode later, Terri. I would happily do that episode. That’s part of what we do here. If we just go back and think about this best friend thing, kind of where we’ve gotten here with the capitalism and your network is your networth. Well, no, but I think this is an interesting tie. When society has put up all these barriers and hoops and like this very narrow lane of what makes these relationships valuable, it’s really hard under the current boxes and terms and best friends and all or nothing to build something that feels good. And doing that serves not us. Like following the boxes does not serve the everyday person. So we need to just really be looking at this and saying, okay, so these things, you know, mass media and stories and the societal messages we’re getting at age five, on our first week of kindergarten, like, who are they serving? Because it’s definitely not us. The stats for loneliness are absurd. The ways that this is infiltrating into our life is absurd. So you and I can sit here and tell people, we don’t all need a best friend. But at the end of the day, if you really step back and look at it, this is not serving you. And it’s not serving everyone.

Terri Huggins Hart  35:31

I absolutely love that you said that. Because one thing that bothers me so much in friendship, but even as a journalist, is a lot of these stats leave out marginalized groups. For example, we talk about, you need a best friend or whatever, for loneliness,  so your don’t become lonely and depressed, etc. But we don’t think about the fact that there are some neurodivergent people who for whatever reason, they have difficulty connecting. And it could be a variety of reasons. But is it fair for us to say, well, they’re just going to be depressed and lonely, because they can’t make friends. That’s not serving them. So, a lot of these stats leave them out. And it’s not fair. It kind of paints them as a pity, you know, and which again, makes it difficult for people who identify as neurodivergent, disabled or, you know, whatever they want to call themselves, to even be seen as whole, and human, and see themselves as that, so they can connect in whatever way that they can.

Alex Alexander  36:32

Yeah, I have some episodes coming up about exactly this. And basically the picture, we look at wellness culture, what makes somebody well, or fit or healthy, all terrible terms, by the way, people can’t see me doing air quotes here, is such a narrow definition. And if you don’t fall in that, it’s lesser than, right? But we’re not taking into account all these other factors. So the social wellness is the exact same thing. If you’re neurodivergent, your brain works differently, then you may get way more value out of parasocial relationships than in-person relationships. And that’s not lesser than. It fulfills that person’s social wellness needs. If you are disabled, and it is incredibly hard for you to get out of your house, again, you might rely more on parasocial relationships, which are like relationships over a screen, following people online, connecting. That may fulfill your needs at the moment. Video virtual calls, we can’t talk about how this stuff is lesser than, because for so many people, it is right for them.

Terri Huggins Hart  37:51

Right. Exactly. And it was really interesting is that people only seem to acknowledge it, these parasocial relationships when it comes to like parenting. And don’t get me wrong, like as a mother, I get it because it is real. Like sometimes your only friends are those, you know, the Facebook group moms. If that’s what serves you, great, but we really don’t think about it in terms of the neurodivergent community. And I’m not sure if you touched on this bit, neurodivergent encompasses, you know, people who… like you said, their brain works differently. So it could be people who are autistic, they have ADHD, they could have OCD, all those things are encompassing and neurodivergent. But because they think differently, they may need to connect differently. And even when we do recognize all those other ways to connect, that’s the community that’s still left out of the conversation. 

Alex Alexander  38:40

Yeah, these narrow definitions, if you are a neurotypical person, abled bodied person, if you have certain things, you look closer to being able to fulfill this ultimate version of friendship with the best friend and whatever. That’s how it looks. But I think that most people, that’s not actually their experience, and they’re just not saying it. And so, then it’s like, these narrow definitions aren’t serving, even to people it looks like it’s serving. No one is winning.

Terri Huggins Hart  39:19

Back to what you were saying about, we don’t have the language to talk about it. Going back to how we even started, how I never had a best friend. I didn’t have the language to recognize why until I became an adult. And I may never know why. But, you know, I am a black woman. And I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. So most of my friends were white, which, you know, was fine. That was what I knew. I had good friends, you know, who were white. But then, I didn’t always connect with them on every level, because of that difference. And at that time, we were told it was bad to talk about race. So, it was never addressed. And then to take things a little deeper, I am also the child of immigrants. So not only did I not identify with the white people in my school, I didn’t identify with the black people because Black American culture, I was not raised in that. I was raised as a Trinidadian,my parents came from Trinidad. It wasn’t until I met my husband, who is a black American, that I saw how different his family is. And I’m like, wow, it’s because this is Black American culture. I had no idea. You know, I didn’t have the language to describe that as a kid. And I may never know the reason. But I definitely do think that was part of why I had difficulty making a best friend. We didn’t have the language to talk about race and differences. We didn’t even acknowledge intersectionality at that time. So all of that stuff makes it harder to connect, when you don’t even know what’s going on with yourself. Or you’re not even told that it’s okay to not know what’s going on with you or who you are.

Alex Alexander  40:59

Or to like, explore… it’s not okay to explore these conversations. That there’s just so many layers here that are holding people back from connecting.

Terri Huggins Hart  41:09

Right. And now I have no problem telling people. Because there was also a lot of shame in it, you know, growing up. Even in college, like not knowing the black national anthem, I didn’t learn that until I was a freshman in college, because you know, when you go to a predominantly white school, they’re not going to teach you you know, the real history. And my parents were immigrants, they don’t know it. So you know, there’s even shame in saying, “I don’t know that”, or knowing about black American soul food. Like, that is not something I was raised on. I can’t connect over your food, that was not part of my culture. Yes, I was born as an American, and I have lived as an American my entire life. But when we don’t openly talk about these things, and culture, how was I supposed to know?

Alex Alexander  41:53

I mean, connecting with people, right? But then you feel like there’s barriers to connect and learn and experience new things. It’s like an impossible Pandora’s box that you can’t get out of. We don’t have the tools to do it. And the way to do it is connect with other people. But that’s the exact problem. Yeah.

Terri Huggins Hart  42:13

And you hit it that like, just talk about the different ways that you can connect with people. I mean, who you connect with, it may not even be a person. Like your special someone could be your dog. And if that is your special, like, good. You have that connection with your dog, that is amazing. Like, why are we not acknowledging that connection can come from so many different methods and different values and different lifestyles? It does not have to be what we saw on TV, you know, with Cory and Shawn walking into their each other’s houses all the time. And it’s whatever you connect with. That’s real and whole, and serves you, that we need to acknowledge.

Alex Alexander  42:54

Yeah, I have this phrase that I came up with a while ago. It’s like, we want friendships that feel good, not look good. And so many of us, I think, are chasing these friendships that look how they quote unquote, “should look”. We have the best friend or you’re busting into each other’s houses, or you’re traveling with big groups. It’s like you don’t know what is happening behind the scenes of that. It’s probably not all sunshine and rainbows. So forget what is happening with anybody else, and just focus on building what feels good to you. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters. And we just need to support each other in that. 

Alex Alexander [Narration]  43:42

I have already made it quite clear in this episode that I don’t use the term best friend. I don’t like the term best friend. And the more I listen back to this conversation I had with Terri, the more I’m realizing that, I think it’s because there is such a narrow definition that we hold collectively, of what a best friend looks like. And that’s not fair to our closest friendships, because they might look completely different. They might fit us perfectly. That might be the best version of a relationship. And yet because it doesn’t look like this collective version of a best friendship, we somehow feel like it’s lesser than or we’re questioning it or we don’t shout from the rooftops how amazing it is. Because if somebody hears, then we feel like we need to put a disclaimer at the end like, “Well, I know that’s kind of weird for a best friend.” It’s not. It’s not because here’s the thing in talking to so many people, I bet you dozens of other people do that and even if they don’t, who cares? Who freakin cares? Because the truth of the matter is, if it feels good for you, keep doing it. Oh, best friends just get me so riled up. Okay, back to the episode.

Terri Huggins Hart  45:12

It’s a matter of teaching people in friendship and so many aspects of life that one, do what feels right for you, and acknowledging they may not know what feels right. So you tell them what feels right to you, to me. But in doing that, you also have to say, my way is one way. 

Alex Alexander  45:31

Yes. Terri, thank you so much for being here, for honestly, looking back that you were writing about this in 2015, when nobody was talking about it, for having the courage to discuss these things before anybody was doing so, to continuing to show up and be here and have this conversation. I’m just so grateful for your time, and be willing to continue having this conversation. More of us need to be having

Terri Huggins Hart  45:57

Thank you so much. It’s, you know, if I’m being honest, it’s something that I pride myself on now. I always said that, I spent my childhood feeling misunderstood. So I built a career in making sure that other people, you know, felt understood. And it’s interesting to think about that in terms of journalism. But you know, it’s, it’s my job to share somebody else’s story. And sometimes I’m able to share mine, so to help people feel understood by others, and maybe understand themselves a bit more. So I’m very thankful for people like you who create this platform to allow us to have these conversations.

Alex Alexander  46:34

My hope is that the more of these we have, the more people will find what’s right for them. Not feel like they’re alone anymore, we just need to start sharing the stories. Whether it’s on this podcast or on your articles, now that I’m thinking about it, we just need to share the stories. Thank you, Terri. Seriously, if you listen to this episode again, for everybody else that’s listening, I want you to hear my gratitude. Because it’s very vulnerable, to talk about the fact that you don’t have a best friend, or that you’ve never had a best friend. All of it is vulnerable. There’s really this weird stigma out there that you should, I mean, in pressure, honestly, that you should find this best friend ideally when you’re young, that somehow time is a factor. Like the more time you have, the better the friendship is. That it should look a certain way, that it should last forever, that it should be easy. That it should, should, should, should should… And if it doesn’t fit all these markers, then it somehow is lesser than, it doesn’t qualify for this best friend category. And I hope that after listening to this episode, we’ll all start to question that. We’ll start to focus on the value that is there and some of our closest relationships, instead of focusing on the areas where it just isn’t meeting this imaginary mark, because focusing on the lack is holding us all back. I’m sure there are great connections out there. And if there aren’t, if you are feeling like you are lacking those closest friendships, then breaking this down and throwing out this idea of a best friend should also be helpful. Because there isn’t this wild peak version of friendship for you to try and chase. Instead, just enjoy the process. Every friendship is a slow build. Get out there, connect, meet your people. And over time, it will grow into something. And it doesn’t need to be this glamorized, romanticized version of a best friend. Whatever it is, as long as it feels good to you, it is valuable. Be sure to head to the shownotes to go check out Terri’s article, that viral one that we talked about in the podcast. And you can also check out any of her other writing. She writes frequently about community and friendship in major publications all over the country. So with that, talk to you next week.

Podcast Intro/Outro  49:19

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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