Remember the coolest girl in your elementary school? You know, the one with the best scrunchie-and-leggings ensembles who everybody wanted to sit with? If you could only be more like her, your life would be perfect. For me, that was a girl named Rachel Bertsche. She was two years ahead of me in school but our older siblings were in the same grade and our town was tiny so we kind of knew each other, which is to say, she kind of knew me, whereas I could have described every single detail of her life as the coolest effing fifth grader ever to strut the halls of Hillside Elementary.
Flash forward to late 2011. I’m browsing in a bookstore when a rainbow-polka-dotted book cover catches my eye. MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. By none other than Rachel Bertsche. A quick glance at the back cover told me this book was a memoir of Rachel’s experience moving to a new city and attempting to make new friends. Not just to meet acquaintances – she had plenty of those – but to find true best friends “to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch, or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine”. One year and 52 (yep) friend dates later, Rachel tells her story.
How could I not buy this book and devour it cover to cover over a matter of days? I did just that, literally parceling myself out pages so I wouldn’t get through it too quickly. Yes, it’s that funny and smart, and the fact that Rachel was someone I had been DYING to become friends with oh, 20 years ago, was the icing on the cake. In between laughing out loud and forcing my boyfriend to let me read particularly amusing or interesting passages to him, I kept wishing that I could somehow communicate with my elementary school self and tell her, “One day, Rachel Bertsche will have trouble making a new best friend. If you can find a time machine and use it to travel to Chicago circa 2011, disguise yourself as a 27 year old and find her, you have a good chance at hanging out with her at least once.”
Look, my borderline-creepy obsession with the author aside, everyone should read this book. Making new friends later in life is hard. So hard that it’s already been written about on HelloGiggles. Without the built-in network of summer camp or high school or college, new best friends aren’t just handed to you. Finding them requires actual effort, planning, and commitment. Or so I learned from poring over Rachel’s hilarious memoir. Here are the things I love best about her book:
She’s friggin’ FUNNY! Rachel has the unique ability to laugh at herself and her project, even while committing to her search with admirable intensity and seriousness. Inevitably, she starts comparing the search for a new BFF to a single gal’s search for a boyfriend, but because BFF-hunting doesn’t have longstanding societal rules and traditions to work with, Rachel has to figure them out for herself. How soon is too soon to ask for a second friend-date? Can you be pissed if your new friend brings along her BFF and turns your one-on-one time into a threesome? How can you tell if someone would be okay with, you know, a goodnight hug?
She’s also SMART! What separates this book from fluffy-girly-silly territory is the fact that Rachel brings in tons of research and statistics that corroborate and complicate her discoveries. Turns out, there are a lot of academic and scientific books out there on the topic of friendship, and Rachel seems to have read every single one of them. For example, Rachel noticed that people often assumed she was lonely when she told them about her search, which led her to explore the stigma attached to loneliness in our society and the declining percentages of Americans who feel they have close confidants. I feel like I learned a ton about relationships and how physically and psychically important they are, way beyond what I already knew intuitively.
She gives us every detail. Like a long brunch with a friend who’s just coming off a super melodramatic situation with the guy she’s been hooking up with, Rachel provides an extremely and enjoyably precise account of her experiences friend-dating. It’s the attention to detail that brings this story to life: the fact that she shared hash browns with one girl or awkwardly interrupted another, what everybody wore and what that said about them, the confusion when it wasn’t clear whether one woman wanted to meet for a drink or dinner, why exactly one girl’s refusal to use contractions made her seem, well, creepy, and so on. By the end, I really felt like I had experienced each of these fifty-two experiences right there alongside Rachel.
She’s brutally honest. One of the most enjoyable parts of reading this book was how much I felt like I was getting to know Rachel (and I promise, you will enjoy getting to know her even if you have no weird preexisting relationship to her). In giving us her honest assessments of the girls she’s meeting over the course of the year, she also reveals much about her own insecurities and hang-ups. Her nervousness over the hug vs. handshake vs. wave, for instance, or stress over saying no to something that might be an opportunity to make new friends when she just wants to stay in and watch TV, or how it really feels when someone she felt she connected with never writes back to her request for a second “date”. And of course, it’s also awesome to see how much the search for a BFF changes Rachel (spoiler alert: by the end of the book, she may or may not turn into somebody who chats up strangers at Starbucks. In the totally adorable, non-threatening way, of course).
She will invade your brain. While I was reading this book, I obviously thought about my own friendships and my own approach to making friends quite a bit. But even after I was finished reading, Rachel’s experience and her resulting theories and analyses totally stuck with me. I’ve found myself mentally categorizing my friends according to her system. Is this someone I would call out of the blue? Would I hang out with this friend alone or only in a group setting? Do I want to make the time to get closer to this person, or am I fine just seeing them occasionally? Because Rachel’s approach to making friends is so methodical, reading her book made me turn off my friendship auto-pilot and actually think about what’s important to me when it comes to how I spend my time and with whom.
So whether you’re looking to make new friends or think you’re totally set in your ways, MWF Seeking BFF is highly enjoyable, smart edutainment. Rachel’s writing has that effortless balance of funny-clever-cool, not very unlike the fifth grader I worshiped oh so many years ago.
Image via randomhouse.com