THE BLOG
06/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Spontaneous Friend

About three years ago, writer Rachel Bertsche moved from New York to Chicago with her husband-to-be, leaving behind her friends, her job and a city she knew and loved. Apropos of the move, she faced one challenge she didn't quite expect.

She writes: "...I'm on the hunt for Miss Right. A person who can fill the one void in the otherwise pretty great life I've set up in the Windy City." Her blog-to-be-a-book, MWF Seeking BFF chronicles her pursuit of the perfect friend. When she wrote to me, I couldn't help but add my two cents because it got me thinking about a gap in my own friendship portfolio!

Before posting Rachel's letter, I did a quick poll on my blog and found that more than 63% of my respondents didn't have a spontaneous friend and wished they had one. So Rachel and I aren't alone! Here is her letter and my response:

QUESTION

Dear Friendship Doctor,

My whole life I've had plenty of friends, and I've always had a BFF or two who I could go to, anytime, for anything. In fact, I still have those friends and they are irreplaceable. However, none of them live within 800 miles of me, so the "going to them anytime for anything" part is a lot tougher these days.

My BFFs live all over the country, but not here. I want someone local to have playdates with.... someone with whom I can call on at the last minute because I just feel like doing something fun, someone who will invite me for a walk spontaneously because the sun is (finally!) out, someone with whom I'll share fits of laughter over absolutely nothing. You know, like Thelma and Louise. Lucy and Ethel. Oprah and Gayle!

I've taken the first steps. I've gone on lots of first "dates" and I've put myself out there. It feels like I'm dating again. And it's working, maybe. I have definitely made some potential friends. It's early, after all, and making friends takes time... right? Right? But then, I hear whispers of people saying, "You can't search for friends. They have to emerge naturally. They only show up when you're not looking." Is that true? I waited plenty of time to have something happen naturally, and I'm still here looking for Rhoda, after all.

Do you think I'm asking too much? Is the one (or two) BFF-fits-all model outdated once we've grown up? The idea that I might be too old for BFFs is so sad... but maybe that's my inner Peter Pan talking. Do you believe in best friends forever?

ANSWER

Dear Rachel,

You've posed a number of good questions, many of which keeping popping up in different forms from readers of my blog. I couldn't possibly answer all of them at one sitting; that would take a book (or two)! ☺ But I will address one issue you raised that really resonated with me: How do you make a spontaneous friend?

Having a spontaneous friend is a rare and precious gift. She's the kind of friend whom you can ask to come over right away to help you decide what to wear tonight---or the friend who'll be sitting with you as you wait for your repeat mammography that was only scheduled this morning. She's the person you can call on a Saturday afternoon to go for a walk in the park because the foliage is at its peak---or the one who will run over to TJ Maxx with you within a half hour of closing just to see what's there. Plans aren't needed because you're always there for each other, even at the last minute, because your lives are so closely intertwined.

Friendships like this aren't easy to come by because a number of things have to coalesce at once. These are some of the criteria a spontaneous friend has to meet:

PROXIMITY
She lives close enough to you that getting together isn't a hassle

INTIMACY
She feels as close to you emotionally as you do to her

ACCESSIBILITY
She is likely to be at a similar place in her life as you and share some of the same interests

FLEXIBILITY
She has a malleable schedule or one that seems to effortlessly mesh with yours.

Women's friendships have become more complicated; we are more mobile, are more likely to be multi-tasking, and are juggling homes, careers, and family. Like you, I have close friends that are far-flung across the map whose career paths have veered from mine. I have busy friends on my block with whom I have to schedule lunch dates weeks in advance. Both are frustrating!

Any significant change in a woman's life (such as graduations, births, marriages, moves, men, career changes) can topple a spontaneous friendship. I moved 250 miles away from my spontaneous mommy-friend, next-door neighbor, confidant Judy, who modeled much of what I know about parenting because her son was just a couple of years older than mine. My spontaneous work-friend, soulmate Linda, once shared an office with me and we lunched together whenever we wanted to until she moved away from me and changed jobs.

To be honest, I'm experiencing a drought like you. Finding a spontaneous friend doesn't happen spontaneously. It's a little bit like finding your Prince. As long as you have the energy to do so, you need to continue to put yourself out there to find your other half (or perhaps more than one) although you shouldn't make it a full-time preoccupation. You need to pursue your own life and interests, make time for your friendships, and if you're very lucky---you'll eventually find someone else whose circumstances, personality and desires are close enough to yours that you click, just like Thelma and Louise, Lucy and Ethel, or Oprah and Gayle.

Hope this helps answer one of your questions!

Best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

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