I'm not an unfriendly person. I don't scowl at everyone who glances my way or talk the ear off anyone within a 10-foot radius. I don't bite. I don't smell (as far as I know).
But when I first moved to Chicago from my hometown of New York, I might as well have been a crabby chatterbox with werewolf musk, because it seemed I just couldn't make friends.
Or maybe it wasn't that I couldn't make friends so much as that I didn't know how
to. I'd been out of the game for years. The last time I'd consciously thought about proactively forging friendships was on the eve of my freshman year of college, and back then everyone was in the same boat. We were a bunch of wide-eyed newbies looking for a friendly face with whom to share a six-pack and some Ramen. The dorm was a BFF breeding ground.
By the time I moved to Chicago the game had changed. I was three years out of college, relocating to the Midwest to live with my boyfriend and leaving my best friends in the Big Apple. There was no clipboard-bearing RA to welcome me to my new home and escort me to a common room to play get-to-know-you games. What's more, I was in-between jobs, which meant no co-workers whose lunch ranks I could infiltrate.
It's a problem that a lot of 20-somethings face when they move to new places: In the grown-up world, making friends is hard. Like, really, really hard.
You know how some women are boyfriend people? They've always got a man in the picture? I'm a BFF girl. I like having that one special friend -- or even a handful of them -- who I can call at the last minute for a brunch date or "Friday Night Lights" marathon. The friends who you can veg out with -- no need to be "on" -- are a rare breed. I left about seven behind in Manhattan. Is it too much to ask for just one in Chicago?
I thought not. But I didn't know how to go about finding said BFFs. So I waited. They would emerge naturally, I thought. A smile at the gym might eventually become a hello, which would in turn become a witty quip about the run-down locker room. There'd be a phone number exchange, some happy hour drinks and voila! Best friends. Piece of cake.
Sound like dating? Feels like it, too. Especially the part where as perfectly as you plan it in your head, the reality veers from the script. The smile never turns into a hello. The jokes about the locker room are muttered under your breath and you sort of sound like a crazy muttering cat woman. You go to happy hour with your now-husband, no BFF in tow.
If you really think about it, looking for friends and searching for a romantic mate aren't all that different. In both cases you're trying to find someone you connect with on a deeper level, but also one with whom you can laugh and be silly. The big difference? No sex. And no promises to stay together as long as you both shall live. Though you might want to.
So, my new BFF didn't drop from the sky like I figured she would. And after two-and-a-half years, I gave up on waiting for Ms. Right. I took matters in my own hands. I decided to friend-date.
When seeking out new BFFs, the first order of business is simple: Speak up. Tell your friends you're in the market. Once I told my buddies -- the ones in Manhattan and Boston and San Francisco and D.C. -- that I was looking to meet new friends, they jumped to set me up. When I asked one of those friends why she hadn't introduced me to her Chi-Town-bound college roommate earlier, she said, "I figured you already had a gang there." Lesson learned.
Once I'd gotten through the setups? Come on, it's 2010. I tried online girl-dating, obviously. Websites like Girlfriend Circles
and Girlfriend Social
aim to introduce women who are all looking for the same thing: friendship. They're a work in progress, but worth checking out.
Finally, I implemented the easiest step: following up. I'd met plenty of women during my time in Chicago, meetings that often ended in "We should get together! Email me!" I would run home, brag to my husband that I met my new BFF, and wait for a note to pop up in my inbox. I was too shy -- or was it too lazy? -- to initiate the contact myself. But not anymore.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to BFFdom: Once I took the first, and sometimes even second, step, potential friends were thrilled to hear from me. Life gets busy, people get distracted. It wasn't that they purposely hadn't reached out, but when schedules are so hectic that it's hard to see old friends, initiating contact with new ones can seem impossible. But once I did the initial legwork, almost all of these potential pals were thrilled to hear from me.
So, now that I've taken up girl-dating as a second job, I've made some friends. No BFFs just yet, but definitely a few girls I'm comfortable texting on a Sunday morning, 30 minutes before I need a pedicure companion.
And considering I met my two bestest friends when I was 10 and 14, I probably shouldn't rush the forever part. That's another tip I took from that other kind of dating.
Rachel Bertsche is a writer in Chicago who's still looking for The One. You can follow her girl-dating escapades on her blog MWF Seeking BFF.