MWF Seeking BFF: Making Friends In New Places

Make New Friends, Keep The Old

When Rachel Bertsche left New York for Chicago, she did so to follow her future husband – but she left an amazing job at Oprah and all of her New York friends behind. She didn’t know many people in Chicago and at first that was fine – lots of one-on-one time with her fiancé, plenty of time with all his friends and enjoyable colleagues. But after a while, she craved a more robust rolodex of girlfriends for that odd after work drink or weekend brunch. Rachel wanted friends she could call upon when her fiancé just wasn’t in the mood for a pedicure. Despite her social competence, these friends were not appearing organically.

To solve this problem, the strategic and systematic Rachel architectured a friend-procurement challenge. Starting at the beginning of the new year, she set out to go on 52 friend dates in 52 weeks. It’s not that she needed 52 friends (that would be greedy), but she figured that the more people she met, the higher her friendship conversion rate.

Rachel approached friend-making from almost every imaginable angle. Starting with good old-fashioned techniques such as friend-of-friend recommendations and joining a book club, she moved up to more sophisticated and bold methods like a blog advertisement, speed-friending events and professional, platonic matchmaking services. She even tried a rent-a-friend program on for size. Though it turned out to be not quite the right fit, there was no harm done.

Over the course of the year, through research and trial and error, Rachel was becoming a bit of an expert on early-friendship development. She was absorbing learning curves such as “Don’t come on too strong, too quickly” and, as expected, “Renting a friend is indeed awkward.” Rachel’s network of friends was growing and her social skills sharpening. Where once she would have felt shy about friend-chatting-up that girl next her after yoga, soon the conversation was flowing like vinyasa.

Rachel wrote about her friend-finding escapades in MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, published earlier this year. Emboldened after reading the book, I recently reached out to hear more. Even though I consider myself a pretty high-capacity friend-maker, having moved seven times in the last decade since college graduation, the feeling of being a newbie and starting to build a social network from scratch is one I’m well acquainted with. As Rachel hits on, finding friends is a funny one. No one likes to admit they wish they had more friends or that they struggle to make them. Friendships are supposed to just happen. So what do you do when they don’t?

In our conversation, Rachel told me that many experts consider 25-40 ‘the danger years’ for women as we build families and careers. With plates piled so high, friendships can easily tumble off. So I asked Rachel for her top tips for adding friendships to those plates, and then keeping them there. Here’s what she said:

Rachel’s top tips:

  • Say yes! When you’re in the market for friends accept all reasonable invitations. “You never know what’s going to come out of it or who you’re going to meet,” Rachel advises. “When you’re sitting at home on your coach watching Grey’s Anatomy, you’re not going to be meeting people.”
  • Open for business. Let your extended network know you’re looking to make new friends. “People may figure you have your own friend group already,” Rachel noticed. But once you tell them that you are looking, friends in far flung locations may come out of the woodwork with “an amazing cousin who lives right around the corner from you” who they totally forgot about until you asked.
  • Sign up for groups and classes. Rachel took cooking and improv classes, respectively, and found the most success with classes that met regularly rather than one-offs. Although it can be relatively easy to physically meet new people, Rachel found it’s all about the follow up. “This is the hardest part these days, everyone is so busy.” With recurring classes the awkward second date is done for you – the weekly captive audience of potential friends is all yours.

When I asked Rachel how she felt about the possibility of somebody rejecting her friendly advances, she admitted it happened a lot less than she expected. She found that most women are open to friendship and are flattered when you take interest in them. Wouldn’t you be?

Check out Rachel’s new book for yourself and get to friending!

Have you ever moved to a new city and had to start from scratch in the friend department? What are your top tips?

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