In grade school, long before "best friend forever" was a three-letter acronym, I made a new best friend, Cathy Mitchell. We both shared a love of swings and cafeteria burritos, and that was enough to spark a deep friendship which continues to this day. Kids make friends effortlessly, but as we get older, making friends gets harder.
One of my friends moved from Oregon to Pennsylvania a few months ago. Recently, she told me that, while she is happy with the new job that took her there, she was sad about her lack of friends. She missed having girlfriends to meet for a cup of coffee and some conversation. Coincidentally, I had just borrowed "MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a new Best Friend," by Rachel Bertsche, from the Ashland library. I promised my friend that in a week I'd be full of suggestions.
The book chronicles Bertsche's experiment in meeting potential friends after moving to another state, and thus away from her close friends, to marry her boyfriend. Bertsche went on 52 different "girl dates," trying everything from book clubs to cooking classes to friend rental websites (yes, you can rent friends). Along the way, she makes some new friends, scares off some potential friends and learns a thing or two about herself.
I love the whole idea of someone seeking out friends with methodical gusto, and I admire Bertsche's willingness to put herself out there and risk seeming silly or desperate. It's a difficult and ambitious thing to decide to make friends. She does get rejected, but she also meets a lot of nice and interesting women, some of whom do become her friends.
I also liked Bertsche's candor and self-awareness. She frets about what to wear, and worries that she seems pitiful or pushy, but finds that some potential pals had the same worries about themselves. After several dates, she realizes that she's not a very good listener. She has a habit of following a friend's story with a similar one of her own. Though she means well, and is trying to show that she can relate, it sometimes sounds like one-upmanship. Bertsche realizes after several awkward conversations that what the other person needs isn't a comparison, but a sympathetic listener.
While I enjoyed parts of the book, I had a hard time relating to Bertsche, who is in her late 20s, comes from a privileged background, and has no kids. Her childhood friends had summer homes and went to fancy camps. She also has a lot of time for sushi lunches, yoga classes, and far too much television. The book is overloaded with references to various TV characters and the wisecracking friendships she envies in shows such as "Sex in the City," "Will & Grace," "Dawson's Creek," and some I may be too old to have heard of.
A few of Bertsche's unsuccessful encounters are truly funny. For example, she meets an athletic young woman with well-sculpted arms and can't stop looking at them. Finally, the potential friend embarrassingly points out that Bertsche has failed to make eye contact with anything but her arms.
Even when the friendships don't pan out, no one she meets is ever mean or unpleasant. They just realize that, for various reasons, the friendship isn't going to work. These "failures" are lessons in themselves and reminders that it is OK to ask someone to be a friend. The worst case scenario is that it doesn't work out. As Bertsche writes, "Everyone likes friends. Not everyone is willing — or motivated — to make them, but they're not put off by your desire to hang out, they're flattered." Reading this, I made a mental note to tell my friend in Pennsylvania to just go for it, ask someone out for coffee or flat-out tell her you are looking to make a friend. At worst, she'll say no, but it is more likely she'll say yes, and that's a good start.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at email@example.com.