MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (published 2011 by Ballantine Books)
I mentioned in my last post why I picked up this book: the cover was pretty. But the reason I enjoyed it so much, the reason I bought it for three of my close friends, the reason I dragged two of those friends along to meet the author, and the reason I recommend it to you is because this is an insightful, humorous, very genuine memoir of modern friendships.
Author Rachel Bertsche moved from New York to Chicago to live with her boyfriend, who later became her husband. After two and a half years there, she realized that she needed more. A husband is wonderful, but not enough on his own. (This is shocking news to my husband.) She’d left two best friends behind in New York and missed having that person you’re close enough and comfortable enough with to call at the last minute for a lunch date or errand buddy. Last night at the book signing, she explained it this way: she was looking for a best friend like she had when she was 16 – when you would spend all day with that person at school, go home and talk to her on the phone for three hours, and then wake up the next morning and do it all again.
So she decided to go on 52 girl dates to find a new, local BFF. She tried meeting friends every way you could imagine (and probably some ways you didn’t imagine). She was set up on dates, she joined book clubs and a cooking class, she took an improv class, she did speed-friending (like speed-dating), she hired a friend matchmaker, she even rented a friend. Who knew there were so many ways to meet people?
One of the stories I enjoyed the most is when she picked up a waitress. She’s out to dinner with her husband and their friends, and their waitress catches her eye as a potential BFF. But how to approach her? What words to use? She decides to have her friend write a note to leave for the waitress. (She didn’t want to write the note herself because, she said, her handwriting is bad. But she signed my book last night, so I have proof that her handwriting is just fine. It’s actually quite friendly.) So they leave the note and she wakes up the next morning worrying that it was a bad move. But there was an email from the waitress in her inbox, accepting her invitation to lunch and saying the waitress herself was also looking for friends and loved the advance. I don’t blame Rachel for being nervous – I’m pretty sure I would not have actually done it. But that’s one of Rachel’s best lessons from her year of friend-seeking: you never know who is also needing a friend.
So many of us are afraid to make the first move. I know I am. We use negative politeness strategies. We assume that we are a bother to others. If we must impose, we frame it in a way that allows the other person to reject us without feeling guilty. Rachel learned that that is no way to go about making friends.
She writes this about both professional and personal friendship-making:
“You have to believe that people will be open to your advances. We psych ourselves out of approaching a potential BFF or emailing a role model because it seems far-fetched that they’d want to be friends or network with us in return. But, as has always been the case this year, people are happy to make new connections. More often than not only good can come of it….” (p. 295)
It’s a good lesson to learn. One that I’m still learning.
Quick anecdote: I got a chance to put this into practice last night. My friend and I ran into Rachel Bertsche again (for the second time after the book signing), and my friend said, “You have to tell her about your blog. Come on. That’s the whole point of her book! You have to take a chance.” And I stood there sputtering and feeling very unprofessional and fearing that I was going to be inconveniencing Rachel. So my friend literally pushed me toward her and I told her about my blog, and – guess what – she was very receptive! Reading her words again today, I’m glad I got the second chance to talk to her, and I’m thankful my friend encouraged me. If I want to get better at this, there’s only one way. I guess that’s what friends are for.
Rachel carried out her search in 2010. She went out with a total of 59 people. Some of those dates went sour, and some were wonderful. In 2011, she spent time nurturing her new friendships. She now says that she is still close with about 15 of the women she met that year. She doesn’t necessarily have a new BFF, but the change in herself is perhaps even better:
“I’m still the same person. To a Callie or a Sara [her best friends in NY], I’d be perfectly recognizable. But I’m a happier, nicer version of myself. I talk to strangers instead of avoiding them. I do the work to bring people together, personally and professionally. When I’m invited somewhere, I say yes and show up. I try not to interrupt, especially with stories about myself, and I don’t point it out whenever I go out of my way for a friend. I get a kick out of new people instead of just acting awkward around them. I get phone numbers, and I use them. In short, I’m a better friend.” (p. 338)
Rachel said last night that she originally thought her audience would be young, married, professional women transplants with no children who were looking for friends. Me. But what she’s found, and what is perfectly evident when you read the book, is that the lessons she learned are applicable to so many more. Ultimately, it’s about being others-centered. And that’s something almost everyone can relate to.
As she wrote last night in my book,
Here’s to new friends!