How Can Everyone Be Dating Their Best Friend?

When Selena Gomez shared details about her relationship with The Weeknd in the September issue of InStyle, I found myself unexpectedly hung up on the following sentence: “I’m lucky because he’s more of a best friend than anything else.”

Though it had never occurred to me prior to this moment, the following question activated every contrarian cell in my body: What’s with everyone claiming their romantic partner is also their best friend these days????

I blame pop culture for proliferating this relationship expectation to the point of ubiquity. Blake Lively described Ryan Reynolds as her “best, best friend” in Marie Claire. In Cosmopolitan, Kim Kardashian called then-fiancé Kanye West her “best friend who understands me and helps me through all my tough experiences.” In his acceptance speech at the iHeart Radio Awards, Justin Timberlake said, “I want to thank my best friend, my favorite collaborator, my wife, Jessica.” Speaking to People about Portia de Rossi, Ellen DeGeneres said: “I’m so grateful for the love in my life, because not everybody finds that. Not everybody finds that best friend.”

I’m still unpacking my feelings about all of this, but I think Ellen’s quote specifically hones in on what’s irking me about this claim heard ‘round the world: It suggests there’s something wrong with your relationship if your significant other is NOT your best friend.

That suggestion is perplexing to me because I’ve been dating the same person on and off for 11 years, and while I would probably consider him my favorite human on the planet (the only serious competition being my mom), as well as one of my closest friends on said planet, I’m not sure I would call him a best friend, based on the strict definition of the term.

I define a best friend as someone who can empathize (i.e. personally share the same feelings) with most my vulnerable experiences as a person living in this world, and for that I’ve found my girlfriends to be much better qualified, at least as of now. However, I’ve never considered that a count against my romantic relationship. I firmly believe that one person doesn’t have to be your “everything,” and that you can get different things out of different kinds of relationships, and that that’s perfectly healthy.

I realize my perspective is limited, though, so I asked some fellow non-celebs in the midst of varying romantic stages to weigh in.

My friend Anthony has been dating his boyfriend for a little over a year and a half and unequivocally calls him his best friend. “He’s the only person who can make fun of me without making me mad,” he said. “Also because I survived a week and a half in a foreign country with him in a hotel room the size of my cubicle.”

When I pressed him about whether or not he can actually tell his boyfriend everything though, he said, “Pretty much everything, but if I’m talking ABOUT him, it’s to my other friends.”

My friend Finley, who is engaged to be married next year, admitted she and her fiancé didn’t always consider each other to be best friends:

“For the first six months we were together, he would always say he thought it was dumb when people claimed to be dating their best friend. He insisted his college friend was his best friend because they had so many common interests and thought alike, while he and I were so different. I was super annoyed he wouldn’t call me his best friend, but he made the point that he still wouldn’t tell me everything…like, I don’t know, gross bowel movement stuff. I couldn’t argue with that [laughs].”

She said that changed when they started talking about getting engaged, however:

“Now we both call each other ‘best friend,’ but I also think I define best friend differently now, having gone through that transition in our relationship. I used to think my best friends were girlfriends who I could call at anytime and tell all my secrets, but now it’s him because not only can I tell him my secrets, but he’s also bound to me — or will be in a matter of months — and there’s a deeper level of comfort and trust that comes with that, when you’re being vulnerable with someone. I think getting engaged pushes you to get to that point with someone, because you’re like, Oh, shit we’re really doing this!

I asked another friend, Lina, who’s in a much newer relationship, how she felt the “dating my best friend” trope, and she made an interesting distinction about dating your best friend versus marrying your best friend:

“When people claim to be dating their best friend but they’ve only been dating for a few months, it ends up sounding cheap because it’s like…okay…we’ll see! On the other hand, my idea of a good marriage would be to someone you absolutely consider your best friend (i.e. tell everything to, know better than anyone, prefer over everyone, have the most fun with), but I totally get that not everyone feels that way. Take Carrie Bradshaw for example. Do you think she’d call Big her best friend, even after they were married? No way. Her best friend is obviously still Miranda.”

Miranda forever!!!!!

Okay, back to the original question I sought out to answer: “What’s with literally everyone claiming their romantic partner is also their best friend these days” has landed me in murky territory. I think the issue is complicated by a number of factors that vary from person to person, the most important of which are: 1. your personal definition of “best friend” and 2. the seriousness of your relationship.

I also think there’s a pop culture-induced trickle-down effect in which celebrities manufacture a certain persona for themselves and their relationships in magazine interviews and say things that sound nice, i.e. “I’m dating my best friend,” which has become synonymous with “this person makes me really happy and I love spending time with him/her.”

What do you think, though? Is it important for your romantic partner to also be your best friend? Has this trope sufficiently muddied the definition of “best friendship?” Should I stop overanalyzing love stuff? Let me know in the comments.

*Names have been changed.

Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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