Finding the Dream Team: A Letter to my Younger Self

Hi K,
I know you’ve always dreamed of a best friend. The kind with whom you can talk for hours, support and lean on, find your paths together. You’d choose each other first, be each other’s go-to for anything and everything. I know you thought you found her, found a him too.
I know you’ve lost them.
It’s not like anyone told us it would last forever. Quite the contrary: they said it wouldn’t. But the reasons why, how to handle it? A blank. Especially that it’s less our own fault than that of time. That self-criticism isn’t self-correction; it only let insecurities and hurt grow in the shadows.
But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain.
We found our first best friend in fifth grade. It’s not like we didn’t have family friends and other close friends we loved; it’s that we could talk to her about anything and everything without thought. I suppose that was the main quality that made her our best friend. With us, it was natural. I was the wholesome one, she the sharp-witted. We were more similar than different apart from that.
There was no big fight, no disagreement, not even ghosting. It was just high school and work and learning about oneself. We stayed close in ninth grade, but in tenth grade we somehow seemed to grow apart.
K, I know what you thought at first. Why doesn’t she confide in you? Maybe it was that we had fewer classes together. Maybe it was that she started doing debate and made other friends too. Maybe you weren’t making safe conversation spaces for her to confide in you? Maybe you just weren’t being a good enough friend?
Whatever it was, it didn’t feel like she loved you as much as you loved her.
And that hurt. So you tried to talk to her about it—at least the part about whether you were being there for and if she felt comfortable talking to you. She sort of brushed it off. She was perfectly kind, but she said she didn’t think anything was wrong. You were satisfied by the conversation. But the thoughts came back, getting more convoluted.
Was she getting closer to that other friend? Maybe you’re actually just not fun? Maybe it was that you began struggling in math—and that somehow made her uncomfortable because she was so good at it? Or even from the small voice: maybe you weren’t “smart enough” to be best friends with her.
See? Self-criticism sparks pain and insecurities.
While you were sorting through all of this, you actually met your next best friend. He was the opposite of what you’d dreamed as your best friend. You didn’t spend much time in person but texted constantly. He’d never admit he cares but rather showed through listening, supporting, even challenging, but always being there. But the clock was ticking. You were counting the days until he’d leave in the back of your mind, but you had hoped. He wasn’t reliable for more than texting, but after a year or so,  even that trickled away.
By then you felt you’d lost both of your best friends and not from wanting to try. But how did we manage to take off the pain-tinted glasses?
Well first, K, I want you to know that you heal. You find the most wonderful friends you could ever have. But here are some things you’ll learn along the way.
1. You need to invest in your friendships; equally, you can and should expect your friends to take the initiative to see you;
I know you cared about your best friends, and you told them that, showed by listening and asking about their needs. But you had so much to balance, you didn’t realize you needed to carve out time for them beyond meeting at school and clubs. They didn’t realize it either, of course. So know you can expect to feel loved, to make time for you.
2. It’s not silly: learn your friends’ love languages
You may have thought you showed your friends how much you care. But do you know how they best receive love?
3. Embrace the unexpected (and work towards not even expecting!)
A best friend doesn’t look like anything. They don’t have to be just like you, have similar experiences to you. Don’t miss out on the potential best friends right in front of you just because you didn’t imagine it.
4. Different friends for different things
We started off saying a best friend is someone you can talk to about anything. But that doesn’t happen instantly, and it’s a lot to put on one person. You can’t have one person for everything; you need different friends for different things.
And you’ve been thinking about this lately, right? Our imaginations have been slowly shifting from best friends to dream teams. Like Team Avatar or the Heroes of Olympus or Raisa and Han’s allies or the whole gang in Ranger’s Apprentice—you get my meaning.
5. Maturity explains a lot of it, so don’t be hard on yourself for not having figured it out
Most of all, we learn and grow. Even after I found my dream team, long after our cynicism about friendships subsided, I realized I was still holding on to something. I didn’t rely on those old best friends anymore. I had who I needed. It happened when I was talking with those new best friends actually about them seeing their old high school friends in the summer. As the old disappointment came over me, I realized I was still holding on—to resentment. So after mulling it over a few days, I consciously let go. I reached out to those old friends just to catch up, and I learned one final lesson:
6. Best friends come, and you cherish your time with them. But when they go, take the time to acknowledge that your friendship has changed.
It took a few weeks and one final serious conversation with my second best friend, who had realized something was odd and wanted to know what happened. And now, I don’t mind that they come and go from time to time. We’ve healed.