My best friend is called Kelvin. I’ve always considered him my best friend since I met him because he had a certain aura about him. In this essay, I will compare and contrast some of the main aspects of his character with those of my second best friend Amber to craft a clear argument as to why I consider him my best friend.
To start with, Kelvin has an open mind. He’s unlike Amber because she will only tolerate certain views. If Kelvin doesn’t like something he will be completely honest about it, but he won’t show it in a negative fashion. Amber, on the other hand, will do so and won’t be able to hide her boredom. I admire someone who can be as open minded as Kelvin.
Kelvin is also not afraid of showing off his opinions in the right way. In the event he disagrees with something I’ve done, he will make it clear that he disagrees. Amber also does this, and this is why I also value her presence in my life. I don’t like the proverbial yes men. I want real opinions, and that’s why we all get along so well.
One aspect where Kelvin contrasts with Amber is in the way he’ll happily try out new things. Amber is set in her ways and prefers to stick with what she knows. I’m similar to Amber, but I prefer Kelvin’s way of looking at things because he’s brought me out of my shell. Through my friendship with him, I’ve managed to experience things I would have never discovered without him.
Both Kelvin and Amber genuinely care about me and my affairs, though. They’re always interested in what I’m doing and how I am. They aren’t simply using me for their own ends. This is what I value in a best friend the most. On one occasion, I was having a hard time with the death of a loved one and I wanted to hide it. They were convinced something was wrong and they encouraged me to talk about it. Being able to talk about such matters with them helped me to get through the worst of it.
Another area where Kelvin stands out for me is the fact we have so much in common. Even if he wasn’t so open-minded, we would always get along because of our shared interests. We like the same type of music and can appreciate the same type of literature. This influences our conversations. It means we never get tired of speaking with each other.
On the other hand, Amber does have a lot of interests that I don’t share in. At times, this can mean we have little to talk about. Sometimes, we go through periods where we rarely speak. I’ve yet to run into this scenario with Kelvin.
Overall, Kelvin is my best friend because we have so many similarities. This is a relationship of mutual convenience. It’s not one-sided and we’re both equal partners. Whilst I value Amber in my life, we do have differences, and these differences can divide us on occasion.
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“My friends are the sisters I was meant to have,” a woman told me. Another said that her friends are more precious than her sisters because they remember things from her past that her sisters don’t and can’t, since they weren’t there. And a man commented that he didn’t enjoy a particular friend’s company all that much, but it was beside the point: “He’s family.”
I interviewed over 80 people for a book I’m writing about friendship, and was struck by how many said that one or another friend is “like family.”
These comments, and how people explained them, shed light on the nature of friendship, the nature of family, and something that lies at the heart of both: what it means to be close.
For friends, as for family, “close” is the holy grail of relationships. (In both contexts I often heard, “I wish we were closer” but never “I wish we weren’t so close.”)
What people meant by “close” could be very different, but their comments all helped me understand how friends could be like family – and why I often say of my friend Karl, “He’s like my brother.” First is longevity. We met at summer camp when I’d just turned 15, and the seeds of closeness were planted during one of those wondrous extended self-revealing teenage conversations, when we sat side by side behind the dining hall. Our friendship continued and deepened as we exchanged long letters that traversed the distance between our homes in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
After college, Karl was the one I called at 2 a.m. when I made a last-minute decision not to join the Peace Corps. Two decades later, we were traveling together when I showed him the photograph of a man I’d just met, saying, “It’s crazy but I keep thinking I’m going to marry him” – and I did.
I was there when Karl left Brown for Julliard, and, years later, when he came out as gay. Karl knew my parents, my cousins, my first husband and the other friends who have been important in my life, as I knew and know his. I visit his mother in a nursing home just as I’d visit my own, were she still alive. We can refer to anything and anyone in our pasts without having to explain.
If I’m upset about something, I call him; I trust his judgment, though I might not always follow his advice. And finally, maybe most of all, there’s comfort. I feel completely comfortable in his home, and when I’m around him, I can be completely and unselfconsciously myself.
It’s not that we don’t get on each other’s nerves. It’s that we do. A cartoon about a married couple could have been about us: A woman standing in the kitchen is saying to the man before her, “Is there anything else I can do wrong for you?” I sometimes feel that whatever I do within Karl’s view, he’ll suggest I do a different way.
All the elements making our friendship so close that Karl is like a brother were threaded through the accounts of people I interviewed. “We’re close” could mean they talk about anything; or that they see each other often; or that, though they don’t see each other often, when they do, it’s as though no time has passed: They just pick up where they left off. And sometimes “close” meant none of the above, but that they have a special connection, a connection of the heart.
There were also differences in what “anything” meant, in the phrase “We can talk about anything.” Paradoxically, it could be either very important, very personal topics, or insignificant details. A woman said of a friend, “We’re not that close; we wouldn’t talk about problems in our kids’ lives,” but, of another, “We’re not that close; we wouldn’t talk about what we’re having for dinner.”
“Like family” can mean dropping in and making plans without planning: You might call up and say, “I just made lasagna. Why don’t you come over for dinner?” Or you can invite yourself: “I’m feeling kind of low. Can I come over for dinner?”
Many grown children continue to wish that their parents or siblings could see them for who they really are, not who they wish them to be. This goal can be realized in friendship. “She gets me,” a woman said of a friend. “When I’m with her I can be myself.”
It would be easy to idealize family-like friendship as all satisfaction and cheer. And maybe for some lucky people it is. But friends can also resemble family by driving you crazy in similar ways. Why does she insist on washing dishes by hand when dishwashers do a better job of killing germs? Why does he always come exactly five minutes late?
Just as with literal families, friends who are like family can bring not only happiness but also pain, because the comfort of a close bond can sometimes morph into the restraints of bondage. The closer the bond, the greater the power to hurt – by disappointing, letting you down or, the ultimate betrayal, by dying. When a friend dies, a part of you dies, too, as you lose forever the experiences, the jokes, the references that you shared. A woman in her 70s who was mourning her lifelong best friend said the worst part was not being able to call her up and tell her how terrible she felt about her dying.
Sometimes we come to see friends as family because members of the family we grew up with live far away or feel too different, or are just too difficult to deal with. A woman who ended all contact with a sister explained that the option of cutting off a family member who brings you grief is a modern liberation, like the freedom to choose a spouse or divorce one. Holes left by rejected (or rejecting) relatives — or left by relatives lost to distance, death or circumstance — can be filled by friends who are like family. But family-like friends don’t have to be filling holes at all. Like my friend Karl, they can simply add richness, joy and, yes, at times, aggravation, that a literal family – in my case, two sisters I’m very close to — also provides.
Deborah Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of “You Just Don’t Understand!” and “You’re Wearing THAT?”.
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