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What does it mean to not have a 'best friend?'

June 8 is National Best Friends Day. Fake holiday or not, it got KJZZ correspondent Robrt Pela thinking about best friends: What purpose do they serve? Are they just for kids? And what does it mean when you no longer have one?

I haven't had a best friend in almost 30 years. I can’t decide if I’m supposed to have one. I have a group of close friends. But is having a best friend — required? Like having a Social Security number or a fixed mailing address?

My former best friend and I met when we were in fourth grade. We grew up together and, for 27 years, we were inseparable. As adults we lived together, or next door to one another. He was funny and clever and just weird enough to be interesting without being scary. We spoke in shorthand and knew one another’s secrets and survived more than one terrible fashion trend. And then one day, as we were both nearing 40, he decided he needed a new life, and quietly stepped away from most of the people he knew. Including me.

His exit overlapped with my meeting and dating the man who is now my husband. So I was distracted and didn’t notice so much that I was now a person with no best friend. But lately, I’ve been wondering: Should I have replaced my best friend when he took a hike in 1998? Did I miss a window of opportunity to do that, or can I do it now, all these years later?

If so, I’m not sure how I’d go about it. Do I stage a Best Friend Pageant, in order to select a winner? Would there be a talent segment, a swimsuit competition? Would the prize of me as the winner’s best friend be enough, or would I have to also provide a crown and a sash and a product endorsement deal?

Maybe I should I take applications: “Fill out this form and tell me what you’d do for me if my cat dies, if I need to borrow money, if you disapprove of my latest hairstyle.”

I suppose I could just appoint one of my longtime close friends as “best.” But that feels weird. I’ve known Paul, who gets my strange sense of humor and my old movie references, longer than I’ve known Nathan, who’s smart and compassionate and shares my affection for Patrick Dennis novels. I love Carolyn, but she’s already best friends with my husband, so she feels sort of “taken.” And then there’s Ann, a famous writer who I planned to be best friends with when I was a boy, decades before we met and actually became friends. Do I just call her on the phone later today and ask, “Guess what?”

And once I choose someone to bestow this “best friend” title upon, do I then issue a list of requirements? 1. Text properly punctuated messages at least twice a day; 2. Memorize dialogue from the 1955 David Lean film Summertime and work it into our regular conversations; 3. Pretend not to notice when I roll my eyes at pretty much everything.

I asked some of my friends about this best friend thing. Sharon said she was too much of a loner to have a best friend; Judith’s childhood best friend had died, and her high school best friend didn’t remember their having been that close. Joe had more than one best friend, somehow, which to me felt like cheating. Laurie had a list of best friends, each of whom filled a different need in her life: one who’d been around longest; one in Phoenix, one in Portland, another who is also her sister. Donald told me he’d never thought about which of his friends was his best friend, but he guessed if he had to choose one person, he’d better say his wife so that she didn’t get her feelings hurt.

That got me to thinking, so I asked my husband if he wanted to be my best friend. He laughed. And then he said, “I thought I already was.”

Maybe I’m too old to have a best friend. Maybe it’s a fourth-grade thing, something that kids do but are meant to grow out of. My own best friend has been gone from my life nearly as long as we were a pair. And if he was able to so quickly step away from our friendship, was he ever really my best friend to begin with?

I must be missing something here. But it isn’t friendship. I have enough companionship, empathy, honesty, and support from people in my life. The only thing I don’t have is the opportunity to use the phrase “best friend.” And that’s too bad — I was sort of looking forward to that pageant.

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Robrt Pela is a contributor to KJZZ's The Show.