Everybody has acquaintances, from a coworker to a cashier at the supermarket to your cousin’s neighbor’s mother twice removed. Some of these acquaintances are just fleeting memories, and others have a time and a place where they make sense to stay in your life. They can be positive or negative, but acquaintances usually lack deep emotional connections that you’d find in a good friend. They don’t provide you with that sense of brotherhood and loyalty that we crave.  When we want a night out on the town or a relaxing movie night at home, we want someone by our side who’s up for anything and understands what we’re feeling. We want a best friend.

Whether you’ve never had a best friend, lost one as life pushed you apart, or want to take an existing friendship to the next level, know that you can and will find what you’re looking for with some determination and courage.

We’ve all seen best friends in pop culture who show glimmering examples of unconditional friendship: Will and Grace, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Bert and Ernie even. These friends live together, work together, get into shenanigans together, fight together, and share wonderful experiences together. One important thing to recognize here is that they aren’t perfect all the time. They all get into fights and have to find a way to make up. The point is they want to make up because they count on each other’s friendship and compassion.

To achieve this level of friendship with a person, first acknowledge that you’re not “perfect” and that it’s okay. Much like a romantic significant other, a best friend is a person who will, at some point, see through your public exterior. They’ll end up getting a view into the skeletons in your closet, the insecurities at the core of your fears, and the goofy idiosyncrasies that let you express your true self in private. Maybe you have a secret passion for baking cupcakes or collecting action figures, and these traits don’t really have an appropriate balance in your public persona. What if one of your acquaintances has a similar passion and you could spend an entire weekend together baking strawberry buttercream cupcakes while setting up an action figure fortress to defend the confectionary concoctions? You’ll never know unless you accept yourself and take a chance that somebody else might find you really friggin’ fun! So love yourself and prepare to share some more of your inner self.

Let’s say you get your confidence up and are ready to go find that best friend. Now what? Start with what you know. Do you have a friend already in your life who you’d like to see more of? Call them up! Get something on the calendar. Try something new with them that you’ve never given yourself a chance to do. Only ever see them with other friends in tow? Make a friend date to just see them. Grab a drink, have a coffee, invite them over to watch an event with you. Find opportunities to have more one-on-one time and start chipping away at each other’s exteriors. It’s totally okay to be vulnerable and tell them you enjoy their company. You don’t have to give up all your secrets and emotional states there on the spot (in fact, that would probably would be too overwhelming for both of you). Try asking them about what they are really like – what are their favorite memories, who do they admire, what are they aspiring to achieve? Look for opportunities to connect on topics that are more meaningful, whether you’re relating immediately or learning something new. Share some of your own stories about what moves you and see if they can connect. In sharing these more revealing tidbits about yourself, you’re going to get progressively more vulnerable, but you’re also going to be building trust. Plan to hang out with them again and learn about their dependability. If they meet your expectations, great. If not, talk to them about it and tell them what you’re looking for. Tell them you want somebody to count on and have really enjoyed sharing more time them. See if they share the desire for your company and are willing to continue building that trust in each other. It’s okay if they are not on the same page – give yourself all the credit in the world for taking a chance on them. On to the next opportunity!

Let’s say you don’t yet have a person in mind. The world is your oyster. In the modern world, human connections are not easily available in spite of the interconnectivity provided by global internet and social media. Most people walk the streets with their heads down in a phone, so it’s your job to make them look up. There’s of course the usual places people meet new friends – bars, the frozen food aisle at the grocery store, waiting in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. But you’re not just looking for an acquaintance – you want to find a new, deep connection. Look for opportunities to join events or groups who participate in appealing activities. Look in the classifieds or MeetUp.com to find groups who are holding a potluck dinner or going for a hike or playing board games or learning to cook or any manner of other activities that may sound good to you. The point is put yourself out there. Remember that you’re somebody who deserves attention, has unique and interesting qualities, and you’re somebody you’d like to hang out with. Find ways to be in those social gatherings, and then get into it! Introduce yourself to strangers (scary, I know). Ask questions, encourage cooperation, have fun. Let others see you enjoying yourself because they’re likely feeling just as vulnerable as you! Commit yourself to participating frequently and create the lasting connections you want to experience. See who reciprocates and continue building from there. If you connect with a person on a couple of occasions and you realize you want to continue hanging out with them because they make you feel better, then congratulations – you have a friend! At this point, go back to the previous section and see if you can connect with this person in a more personal environment where you develop a one-on-one friendship.

Finding a new best friend is scary and difficult and hard work. It’s emotionally tolling, and it requires you to put in a lot of effort upfront. The beauty of it is that once you’ve found a friend who shares a connection, they’re going to start helping you be happy. You’re going to be doing it for them, too, and before you know it, you have a good-time buddy and support system and partner-in-crime all built in one. Be yourself, have fun, hold each other accountable, don’t be afraid to challenge them when it’s necessary, and most of all, find somebody who cares about you as your well-being as much as you care about theirs.

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