You might call Rachel Bertsche a serial dater. But that doesn't quite capture her unique adventure. After relocating to Chicago, bereft of the strong network of friends, colleagues and familial supports she had in New York, the author spent 52 weeks prospecting for girlfriends in her search for a bestie.
She's written a highly praised book, MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend (Ballantine Trade Paperback, 2011) distilling her experience into practical lessons for women hoping to make new friends. This must-read memoir couples humor, honesty, and humility with the latest research on friendship.
I was pleased to be able to interview my friend, colleague, and fellow HuffPost blogger and ask her about her new book:
What do you find was the most difficult aspect of prospecting for friends?
The hardest part, for me, was really breaking out of my comfort zone to "ask girls out." It can feel awkward to invite someone you hardly know for coffee and I was sure that the women I approached would think I seemed desperate or pathetic. But almost always, women were thrilled to hear from me -- everyone likes being told they seem like a fun person. And picking up new friends got easier the more I did it. I figured out what to say ("It was so great to meet you and I'd love to get together for a drink!" as opposed to "I still don't have many friends so was wondering if you might be willing to have a drink") and the more I did it, the more natural it became.
What did you learn about "technique" in terms of starting a conversation with a new friend?
You're a lot more likely to hit it off with a potential friend if you share stories about yourself rather than trade questions as if the meeting is an interview. You will get to know each other better through narratives than you will with a "Where are you from? What do you do? What did you major in?" type of inquisition.
Which date was the most challenging? Why?
The most challenging dates for me were probably the ones in which my potential friend and I didn't click. They were tough because it wasn't as if there was anything wrong with either of us. All the women I met were perfectly good people who deserved plenty of friends. But sometimes people just don't mesh, and those dates felt tough -- so much time spent wondering what to say next and sitting though awkward silences.
There was also my rentafriend.com date -- I literally rented a friend for a day. That was challenging for my wallet!
Which date(s) were the most successful? Why?
There were so many successful dates it's hard to pick just one or two. But I would say that one common factor of all the successful dates was laughter. If she and I were laughing pretty early in the meeting, I knew it would be a good match. Laughing with someone is a great connection -- and if you share a sense of humor, you're probably a good fit!
What lessons did you learn about how to let down people who are more interested in befriending you than you are in befriending them?
I was pretty lucky in that I didn't encounter this very much. Usually if a date didn't go especially well, we both knew it. However, there were a couple of times when I thought a date went well and suddenly the friend in question would disappear or not respond to emails. I've learned that, at least in one case, that was due to a family emergency. In other cases, perhaps she just wasn't that into me. The good thing, though, is that friending isn't dating. You don't have to be with one person exclusively. So in the cases when potential friends seemed to vanish, I just turned my attention to my other budding relationships.
Why do women have to constantly replenish their friendships? Don't friendships last forever?
For me, the need to replenish friendships came because I moved. I have some wonderful friendships that I hope and believe will last forever. But those friends live in New York, while I'm in Chicago. I wanted a pal to go to Sunday brunch with, or to share a glass of wine with on a Friday night. Having local friends is really important, because face-to- face contact is something women really crave in relationships. But it's not only moving to a new city. I heard from so many women on their own BFF searches because friends had moved, or their pals got married and had kids and suddenly had less free time, or because they wanted to settle down and their besties were still looking to party all the time. Some very special friendships last forever, but plenty of them run their course. Which is fine. As life changes, our friendship needs change, too.
What did you learn about yourself over the course of your research?
Oh gosh, so much! One big thing I learned about myself was regarding my own friendship flaws. When you go on enough outings with new friends, and spend so much time thinking about what makes a great friend, you can't help but notice your own standing in the friendship category. For example, I realized that on friend dates, I have a tendency to interrupt. Often times, I interrupt with stories about myself! That's not a good thing at all. So I'm working on that. I also noticed that often if I do something nice for a friend, if I consider it "going out of my way," I often make sure to point it out. Friendship is about going out of your way for friends just because, not because you are looking for a thank you or a medal. So I'm really trying to work on not just making more friends, but being a better friend myself.
If someone gave you $1 million, would you spend the next year writing a sequel?
I'm not sure what the sequel would be! Maybe, how I maintained my new friendships. Once you've made new friends, nurturing those relationships takes work. Or maybe the sequel (one day) would be about how motherhood changes friendship. I don't have kids, but I would like to someday, and I've heard such divisive things from women regarding motherhood and friendship. Some say kids make friending so much easier. Others say it's harder. I have yet to find out!
"Friendship by the Book" is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship lessons.