Q&A with Rachel Bertsche, author of, MWF Seeking BFF

I recently read and reviewed  Rachel Bertsche’s memoir, “MWF Seeking BFF“. If you didn’t get the opportunity to check out that post, here is a description of the book from the publishers website:

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking, uproarious memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (whom she meets everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites) with the latest social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. In a time when women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF, Bertsche uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life is, you’ve gotta have friends.

The lovely Rachel agreed to answer a couple of my questions about her memoir. If you have yet to check out her blog, be sure to add it to your google reader and I highly recommend that you all follow her on Twitter. Her tweets are always great updates about friendship and the occasional tweet about a television show (*love)

1. How has your definition of friendship developed through your experience?
When I started my quest, I was definitely on the hunt for that one friend I figured every girl has. A BFF like in the movies or TV shows (think Blair and Serena, Blossom and Six, Thelma and Louise), or like I had when I was in grade school. After a year of searching, I’ve realized that adult friendships aren’t usually like that. Sure, Oprah and Gayle have it made, but most of us are too busy and have too many responsibilities to spend every day hanging out with our bestie. I still long for that kind of relationship sometimes, but I’ve learned that the new friendships I’ve made–ones that require work and planning, and are more likely to be once-or-twice-a-month friendships than once a week, are totally valid and beneficial too. They are certainly a lot better than having almost no local friendships! Also, those one-on-one best friendships, if they do happen, take more time to establish. It’s not like when we were young and would see someone everyday at school and by day five it’s like “let’s share friendship necklaces!” Everything takes a lot longer, so making new close friends definitely requires some serious patience. (Something I’m short on!)

2. Before you started the “year of the friend”, was your schedule in NYC as packed with social activites like it was in Chicago?
No! Not at all. When I lived in New York City, I wasn’t nearly as busy as I became once I started doing my serious Chicago friending. Often my routine went something like “wake up, gym, work, home, TV, bed.” But, I lived with one of my closest friends. My two life-long best friends lived within 15 blocks of me. So even though I didn’t see them every night, just knowing they were close by kept me from being lonely (that and Law & Order: SVU marathons with my roommate). I guess the reality was that while I didn’t hang out with my BFFs nightly, I knew that I could do that. The possibility was there. Because my closest friends from high school and college lived in New York City when I was there, I didn’t feel the need to pack my days with friend-finding activities like improv classes and MeetUp groups.

3. Your memoir is about you finding new BFF’s, but on each page, the reader sees you start to step out of your comfort zone and gain a newfound sense of independence. Do you think that this experieince helped you to grow into a new person?
Absolutely. I’m definitely more outgoing now. I talk to people everywhere I go because I’ve realized that–cheesy as it sounds–you really never know who might be a new friend. I’ll chat it up with waiters, people online at the store or in the airport. I think my husband actually finds it a bit annoying, but it’s a much more pleasant way to go through life–engaging with the people you encounter. I’m also much more willing to go out there and try new things by myself. Before, I’d be hesitant to do something like a flash mob without a friend to keep me company. Now I figure if I go, I might meet a friend.

4. You refer to many self help titles throughout the memoir, how much research did you do in your preperation for you year long quest? Did you find their words and guidance helpful in your BFF search?
I did a lot of research over the course of the year. I read some self-help but probably more sociological research books, like Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, or Click: The Magic of Instant Connections by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. But instead of reading it all in preparation for the year, I read it throughout the year. This was definitely helpful during the times where I got tired or was less motivated to go out and meet yet another potential pal. The studies regarding the importance of friendship to a person’s well-being–it affects everything from our stress levels to our weight to our sleep habits to our odds of long-term survival–are really unbelievable. You can’t learn all that and not be driven to socialize and meet new people. On a more tangible level, some of the self-help gave me tips on how to connect with people and how to pick them up. Finally, I think all the research made me more capable of identifying why some friend-dates worked and others didn’t, why I clicked with some women and not with others. It wasn’t because anyone I met was a bad person or totally unfriendable, but because not all the optimal factors for friendship were present. The research definitely helped me know what to look for in a potential BFF.

All that said, if someone wanted to embark on a BFF search, she wouldn’t have to do the research to make it successful. We all know, internally, when we have that spark with a new friend.

5. Do you actively continue to pursue friend dates today?
I do, but less so. I recently met a girl at the gym and we totally clicked. We stood in the lobby talking for 30 minutes after class. I was actually running late to an appointment but couldn’t tear myself away from this girl! I’ve met enough women at this point to know that a connection like that doesn’t happen often. So I will probably email her to see if she wants to grab a bite sometime. (In my previous life, I definitely would have been too shy to reach out.) But after my friending year, I have lots of new women in my life. Maintaining those friendships takes time and work, so I don’t feel as much of a need to constantly seek out new people. If I meet someone awesome, like the girl at the gym, then great. And that happens more often now because I’m more open to talking to everyone. But I don’t sign up for activities and scope out the airport gate for my next friend-date, if that makes sense.

~My thanks to Rachel Bertsche for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to pick up a copy of this book (and one for your best friends as well).

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