Best Friend: Person or Tier?

I can’t stop thinking about this amazing line from The Mindy Project last week. Mindy mentions that her best friend from college, Maggie,  is coming to a party with her, and Danny says he thought Gwen was her best friend from college.

And then this:

“Best friend isn’t a person, Danny. It’s a tier.”

Yes! Oh Mindy, you so get me.

Actually the whole episode was like one 30-minute MWF  blog post—titled “Harry & Sally,” it investigated the “girl and boy as BFF” question—but this was the line that really stuck. And I know it wasn’t just me, because two days after I emailed myself the direct quote so I wouldn’t forget it, my BFF Callie emailed me the very same line. Because it’s true: We are best friends, but I also have my best friends from college, and my best friends from camp, my best friends from work, etc. And so does she.

Men have trouble understanding this. “How many best friends do you have?” is a question I’ve been asked more than once. But the truth is there are a number of irreplaceable people in my life who have all been there for me in my toughest times, or helped me celebrate the happy ones. They are a tier.

I think even I forgot this for a moment when I moved to Chicago. In MWF Seeking BFFI set out on a BFF search because I wanted to find The One. Perhaps I should have instead looked for The Tier. That ‘s what ended up happening, anyway. And I’m better off for it.

So what do you think? Is Mindy right? Is best friend a single person,or a tier? And do you agree that Mindy Kaling should just get out of our heads already? It’s freaky!

Great read alert: Founder and CEO of (and leader of my speedfriending adventure) Shasta Nelson’s new book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends, is out tomorrow. If you’re looking to make new friends as an adult, this is the book for you. Check it out!


Filed under The Search

31 responses to “Best Friend: Person or Tier?

  1. I think it’s much simpler if you just pick one of your best friends and tell the person that she is your “bestest best friend”. 🙂

  2. I don’t think there is a limit to have best friends. For me, I don’t think it’s something that’s planned.. relationships just happen, and they form, they build, and they change over time. In my case, my best friends are the ones I’ve known the longest, the one I want to spend the most time with, and the ones I feel most comfortable confiding in. It’s an ever evolving term, but what’s really important is the relationship behind the name, and it doesn’t need a title (or a “best” in front of it).

  3. Britt W

    I think it depends on a person and their relationships. Some people call more than one person “best” and therefore have a tier. But there are others who truly have just one best friend.

    I will add that I don’t always like using the term “best friend” because even as adults it can cause hurt. I knew a girl who would say to my face and in cards she would write me that I was the best friend she had ever hoped for but presented to the world that another woman was her “bestie”. I should be more mature than this, but that stung!

  4. I set out on my own mission for a new BFF and am slowly discovering a tier as well. Mindy Kaling just gets me. 🙂

  5. I’ve had a hard time explaining this to people here in Europe; I have my BFF (since childhood), my college BF, my post-college BF and am currently searching my European Adventure BF. The problem seems to be that Western Europeans don’t move much, so their social circles don’t change much, so they don’t see the need to christen a new BF every time their lives change (since they don’t).

    Plus, I suspect there’s something more than a little American about saying one person is Best and Above All Others. Most people I know here just have “a close circle of friends” which works for them.

    • THIS makes sense. I grew up in Germany and you are definitely right. Our circle of friends rarely change or grow. I just moved to the United States and don’t really know anyone so it’s been a tough couple of weeks but I am slowly putting myself out there. People definitely seem to open up more to “outsiders.”

  6. I absolutely loved when Mindy said that! I never thought about it that way before, but it made SO much sense to me. It can feel disingenuous to refer to more than one person as my best friend, but also feels weird not to give someone so important in my life that added label beyond just friend.

  7. Don’t know about Mindy, hope to find out soon now! But in my experience one Best Friend doesn’t cut it. Maybe I’m too demanding, but I need a group f friends to tend to all my friendship needs, haha. I have my best friend to watch a movies with, my best friend to talk about relationships, my best mum friend, best cousin friend, best friend at work.. they are more than I thought originally!.. No way just one person could do the job!
    Love your blog every time, thanks!

  8. I kinda think “besties” is for kids younger than, say, 14. Maybe 16, tops. After that, one hopes one would develop concentric circles of relationships around oneself, with some people closer and others farther away. Saying someone is “my *best* friend” implies all kinds of expectations about performance, exclusivity and permanence that really don’t happen outside of marriage (if then). Having only one best friend to whom one is not married is probably not a good long-term strategy. And obviously, I much prefer the term “circle” to the term “tier,” which is more clearly hierarchical. People move toward and away from us all through our lives, depending on all kinds of factors (similarity of life circumstances, location, time and money, personal compatibility, etc.), and the ones in the outer circles are not necessarily better or worse than those closer to. Over the course of a lifetime, every single person we know could well occupy every circle at one time or another.

    The really close friends I have now are the different from the ones I had five years ago and probably from the ones I’ll have five years from now. It’s all good. Welcoming new people as the arrive, appreciating them fully while they are present, and releasing them with grace when they leave is the way to go, I think. Whether they’re “best” or not, each deserves our attention and kindness.

  9. I’m old now, and don’t find myself introducing my friends to other friends much and after reading this blog post I’m sort of glad. My feeling when I hear women talk about who is best or who is closest to them is one of discomfort. To me tagging people as “my best friend” whereever they stand in relationship to me, would come off as sounding possessive and immature. I would introduce someone as “my good friend”.

  10. Suzannah

    Best Friend has become a really loaded title in the last few years. I totally agree there is level of intimacy that is reached to deserve the title of best friend, but a second defination also applies but we sometimes feel immature addressing it. The ladies who currently know everything about you, they are daily/weekly face to face interactions and they are aware of even the most insignificant aspects of our lives. In our own community we know ladies that would be considered best friends, when we think that we mean attached at the hip. Otherwise we would consider ladies ‘close friends’ that has a completely different understanding. We all know the differences between that kind of relationship, verus the college roommate we catch up with a couple of times a year, being a relationship that is mostly sustained through internet connections. So best friends are like your clothes, you love alot of them for different reasons, and wear them a different amount of time.

  11. Totally. I so agree! It is definitely a tier because I have many tiers (childhood, college, sorority, different places I have lived, etc). Great way to put it!

    BTW, I am reading your book and am in LOVE with it! It’s helping me on my own journey to find friends in my new spot! 🙂

    Classy with a Kick

  12. GoAskMitra

    I am currently “BFFs” with two women who have been “best friends” since childhood (we are now in our 40s). One of them insists on pointing out that the other woman is her “best friend” on a regular basis – and I’m talking REGULAR basis. This has made me feel rejected more times than I can count. I love the “tier” concept because I always refer to my close friends as just that and I don’t have one that is particularly my “best friend”. This woman acts as though once someone is her best friend she can never have anyone else be as close as that. She keeps all other friends at Tier 2 status. This post has helped me because it has opened my eyes to the possibility that this woman is just very insecure and possessive about friends and perhaps it is silly of me to feel rejected by this behavior.

  13. Amy

    This concept is what started me on studying friendship, reading your book, and regularly reading your blog. I have long been a “connector” – I know lots of people, what they do, where they live. When I hear someone needs someone else, I can hook them up! None of these people are true friends, but acquaintances. I didn’t keep hardly any friendships from my past, never had a close circle of girlfriends. But I look like I know everyone in town and have a lot of friends. I had longed for a true Bestie. When I found her, I was thrilled. I could not, and still can’t, keep my excitement to myself. She has become my bestest Bestie, close like a sister. She feels the same about me, but she approaches friendship, and life, so differently. She hates labels and doesn’t understand why she would want to tell the world I exist. She doesn’t think anyone cares if age has a best friend or not, and just refers to me by my name. No distinction, no disclosure if how close we really are. This was hard for me to get used to but along the way ive learner to

    • Amy

      Bah. Along the way I’ve learned to adjust to her approach and even (sorta) accept it. It fascinates me to see how others approach it. It sounds like I’m in the minority! I don’t want to offend any of my other friends but I am also allowing myself to celebrate what I have with her. I’ve also learned that she can’t fulfilled all my friendship needs and I can’t expect her to. I’m much more social than she is and she doesn’t have kids or love photography. So I continue to reach out for new friendships but I still have one Bestie and I just can’t hide it!

  14. Susan Gehring

    I love the idea of the “circle of friends”, but I absolutely have two bffs that I am unable to see any other way! One of them lives on the other side of the country and I only see her every year or two, but we have been friends since we were girls and we became the women we are together before she left. The other lives the next town over and she just gets me and puts up with my bs on a regular basis and I do the same for her. These women know me. I mean KNOW me, maybe better than my husband because he simply doesn’t have the patience to deal with my neurosis. They roll with it and I do the same for them. I have a circle of friends, but we float in and out of each others lives as it’s convenient. I would drop everything for my besties because I may be the only person in the world who would, and they have done it for me when I needed them. Having a group of friends is nice, but I am grateful for the sense of family that these two women have given me with their friendship. I just don’t have that with anyone else, so I think that earns them the title 🙂

  15. I feel weird introducing my two best friends from high school to new people. Saying friend isn’t enough, but they aren’t the people I spend a lot of my free time with now. I do have someone new I consider my best friend now, but it sounds weird to me to be calling someone new my best friend. I think I will get used to it.

  16. GoAskMitra

    I think it is okay to have one friend who really gets you the best. If you have one person like that and the rest don’t compare at all then it makes sense that they are your “best” friend. I think the tier idea is just that many of us have a category of people who fit the bill for “best” (although there may be a little difference in closeness among that group.) If you make it clear to others that your one “best” is the only one who will ever be that close, you are closing yourself off from the possibility that as your life evolves, other “bests” can enter your life and can become just as close. I just think it is limiting to label. I usually refer to my bests as “one of my very closest friends” or “one of my oldest friends” depending.

  17. I don’t feel comfortable ranking friends, but there are definitely friends that just sorta hit the “soulmate” category. Funnily enough, I do think of that as a friendship category, rather than a life-partner type of thing. Of course there can be overlap, but in my case, marrying my “soulmate” would probably be a disaster. What was the question? 🙂

  18. coleydi

    I am completely guilty of using the word “best” friend to describe at least 5 people in my life. I recently posted about this over on My besties have jokingly named themselves my Committee and it’s so true. For me, it really does take a village.

  19. I completely agree with that. Haha. I guess I should watch The Mindy Project.

  20. I openly discuss my 8 “best friends”, and love the idea of a tier. I’m adopting this language ASAP!

  21. Meg

    It does seem a bit childish to have ‘best friends’. It’s exclusive and serves to keep others out – even when you have lots of them. Why does one person have to be better than the other? And why do we have to tell everyone else – that is essentially what you’re doing.

    It’s a lot to live up to, especially as we grow and change. I think ‘close friend’ is a more helpful term.

  22. You’re blog looks amazing!

    We are best friends and have been for 13 years…we just started a blog and are interested in what you think:

    Greetings from Europe,

    Birdy and Bambi

  23. Michi

    I also am on the same hunt !!! I live in Chicago as well , as of 4 months ago. BFF searching is not easy out here!! Maybe we can hang! =)

  24. Rachel,
    Just finished reading your book and wanted to tell you I really enjoyed it. I actually left my BFF to go live with my boyfriend in another city, then came back home because I missed her too much. It was torture to leave my boyfriend though. It took 12 years for that same boyfriend and I to get back together (he moved to my town!) and now we’re married. So now I have my man AND my BFF. Lucky girl!
    p.s. I saw you mentioned Ms. Snipes in your acknowledgements. I was at her house for my friend Annic’s shower in Atlanta. Cool coincidence!
    Annie XO

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