Writer Robyn Wilder on overcoming her Best Friend Problem...
Hello, my name is Robyn and I’m in Best Friend Rehab. You see, I used to have a Best Friend Problem. As galling as it is to admit, I have left in my wake more ex-best friends than ex-boyfriends. And some of these friendships have been shorter lived (and ended more explosively) than many of my romantic affairs. There have been incidents involving storming out of restaurants, tersely handwritten notes, tears in car parks and messages delivered awkwardly between intermediaries. And not because I’m some giant, needy woman-baby who’s hooked on melodrama, but because I’ve always chased, perhaps too enthusiastically, the notion of the Single Best Friend: that one person who knows you inside out, and with whom you share and do everything.
Growing up, my friends were mostly male. I was a tomboy as a child, went to a bitchy all-girls’ school and had a horrific time of it. So, for a short period, I was one of those tedious ‘I don’t trust other women’ women, preferring to hang out in the pub with boys, avoiding all the “drama”. Boys were easier than girls, I thought (in my limited experience). There was less jostling for position and fear of constant attack, and more beer-based chat about comedy and indie bands, which I preferred. I still longed for a female friend of my own, though. So, as soon as I met someone I clicked with, I’d try to rush towards some sort of deeper connection. It always failed. You can’t go from zero to sleepovers, face masks and the sharing of deeply held secrets, but still I tried, over and over, brainwashed by the lessons I’d learned from Cher and Dionne (Clueless), Blossom and Six (Blossom), half of Friends and all of Sex And The City. Were you even a woman, I thought, if you didn’t have someone to talk to for two hours every night while winding the phone cord around your finger?
And then I met my best friend Ellie at work 13 years ago, and she wasn’t what I thought she’d be. We were doing the same admin job, but where I was haphazard and stressed, she was good-natured and organised. Although I wanted to hate her, she was annoyingly warm, funny and inclusive. Finally, when it transpired we were both fans of obscure comedy movies, a lifelong friendship of dumb private jokes was on the cards. But Ellie already had a healthy network of best friends, and understandably had no desire to enter into a little two-person cult like the one I’d been touting around. So, instead we just… meshed. My friends became her friends, her friends became mine; it was all very casual, and good times have always been our priority. Rather than be sour about not being Ellie’s ‘The One’, I adopted her own, more relaxed attitude to best friendhood, and amassed a selection of pals from all areas of my life – work, study, play, and now motherhood.
Three years ago I moved out of London and started a family. I didn’t know anyone in the area and, when I tried to befriend people at mother and baby groups, it became clear that I needed to re-evaluate what I wanted in a friend. Deep connections and interests in common are less desirable than finding someone who you don’t want to murder after an hour of soft play.
These days, Ellie and I lead very different lives. I seem to be constantly chasing invoices while covered in baby vomit, whereas her life appears to be a long list of luxury holidays, of which I’m not jealous at all. We now conduct our friendship over WhatsApp, then fit in all the in-person stuff on long weekends in between me changing nappies and conking out on her at 8pm after a single glass of wine, but somehow it works. We’re as close as we’ve ever been. What’s more, she has taught me how to be a friend, and how to have friends.