“In your late twenties, friend-making is not the natural process it once was. In fact, as it turns out, I’ve completely forgotten how to do it.”
Rachel Bertsche is from New York, and her new husband, Matt, is from Boston. Neither wants to live in the other’s hometown, so they compromise on Chicago, since they met at Northwestern University. Two years after moving to Chicago, Bertsche finds herself still missing her New York friends, and unsatisfied with her Chicago social life. She has friendly co-workers, and lots of local family, but no one to compare to her New York best friends, Sara and Callie. Armed with piles of research showing that people with friends are happier and healthier than those who are lonely and socially unconnected, she vows to go on one friend-date a week for a year in order to expand her social circle, and hopefully find a local best friend.
It takes guts to admit you’re lonely and that you want more friends. While it is socially acceptable to be openly seeking a romantic partner, actively looking for friends is just pathetic, right? If your first instinct is to judge Bertsche for her honesty, this may not be the book for you. She is upfront about her feelings, and willing to share her insecurities, along with a good dose of humour. As a relative new-comer to the city I currently live in, I’ve been having many of these experiences first-hand, and I’m kind of sad to see how many reviews of this book cynically claim that Bertsche probably did this just to get a book deal. If you don’t like the blog-turned-memoir genre, take a pass.
While most of Bertche’s efforts are the typical ways one might try to make friends, like taking a yoga class, and asking out friends of friends, she also tries to keep an open mind. Some of the funniest stories come from trying out more unconventional ways of meeting people, from a Friend match maker, to Speed Friending (like speed dating but for gal pals), to Meetup.com and GirlfriendCircles.com, right up to actually paying to hang out with a friend through RentaFriend.com. These alternative methods have mixed results, and by the end of the year, most of her new pals are friends of friends, or people she met by publishing a personal essay about her friend search, but I appreciated Bertsche’s willingness to try out these services in the name of journalism.
The year of friend-making is not without insights both about herself and about the process of making friends as an adult. Bertsche has plenty of tips for those looking to make more friends, from “Say Yes” to invitations whenever possible, to “Make the First Move” and ask a potential friend out rather than waiting for them to do it. Equally important is “Follow Up,” and make the second move, too, if you want to see a new friend again. Obviously it can’t be a one-way street forever, but don’t be afraid to put in the initial effort. Signing up for classes and activities, or asking for friend set-ups definitely help, but they won’t do much good if you aren’t willing to put in the effort to turn new acquaintances into friends. As for herself, Bertsche recognizes, and breaks, some of her bad friend habits, such as interrupting, and revises her idea of what she wants from an adult best friend. By the end of the year, she writes, “I wanted a best friend like I had when I was 6 or10 or 15. Twelve months later, I realize how naïve that was. I don’t know that I believe in the idea of the attached-at-the-hip BFF anymore.”
This blog-turned-memoir is written in the first person, present tense, so while it is now in book form, it is almost like reading a long on Bertsche’s blog through the original journey. The downside of this choice is that it’s hard to separate Bertsche’s feelings at the time of each event from any retrospective thoughts she may have added while writing the book. The book concludes with Bertsche and her husband ringing in the New Year, only days after her last friend date. I was a little disappointed that there was no update about how she was doing, say, one year after the project ended, since, as Bertsche herself realizes, best friends are made in a year, but her blog archives continue on past the last date. Nevertheless, anyone who has ever found themselves in Bertsche’s situation will be able to relate to this funny and genuine memoir.