I'm on the hunt for a new best friend. Not that I'm replacing my old ones, mind you. BFFs aren't like cell phones, traded in for an upgrade every two years. Best Friends Forever are, well, forever. They send you flowers for your professional successes. They spend $160 on a dress they may not even like (but, of course, say they love) so they can perfectly match the flowers as you walk down the aisle. They drive uptown at 1 a.m. to bring you a clean T-shirt when your father is dying and you've spent 48 hours in the same tank top you were wearing when you learned you had to fly home from vacation to say goodbye.
But one of the best things about best friends is that they aren't romantic partners. I don't have to pick only one for as long as we both shall live. So now that I've moved 800 miles away from my be-there-whenever-I-need-them friends—which makes it a lot harder for them to physically be here whenever I need them—I'm in the market for a new addition to the list. A new old friend.
So how do I do that? What does it mean to not dive but rather cannonball into a sea of best friend prospects? In the few months I've been on the prowl, I've learned it means doing exactly what I would do to find a husband or a job. It's about putting myself out there. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But if it were simple, I'd be out drinking coffee with my very own Monica and Phoebe instead of watching them in reruns from my couch.
My first foray into the girl-dating market starts with the woman behind the counter at a boutique downtown. I met her six months ago, and she was the perfect mix of friendly and sarcastic (we shared great banter about the tragedy of Chicago weather making it hard for girls to dress up as candy-stripers and Superwoman on Halloween). My husband tried to convince me to ask for her number, just to see if she wanted to have lunch sometime. I was too shy at first, but now I'm in my I'll-find-a-best-friend-or-die-trying phase. I've returned to her store five times, and she's never again been behind the register. I guess she's the one that got away.
5 tips for making friends
Now I've got my eye on another sales clerk. She works at the shop around the corner, my pop-in store when I need a wardrobe fix. After two years of dispensing fashion advice, she knows just the type of sweater I like. Definitely promising. But every time I build up the nerve to actually say some variation of "I need a best friend. You seem nice and might be able to get me a discount. Want to get a drink sometime?" there's another salesgirl with her, and I'm just not ready to deliver my first pickup line in front of an audience.
Approaching an unsuspecting salesclerk might be advanced friend-dating anyway, and I'm still in Friendship 101. But in just the first couple months of my quest, I've developed some hard-and-fast rules.
1. Facebook is your friend. The funny thing about social networks is that people you've met only once, people whose last names you may not even know, will request your friendship or accept your request. If you took a look at my list of "friends" in Chicago, you wouldn't believe I ever spent a moment alone. I'm Facebook friends with the friend of a friend of a friend I met at a birthday party last year, and the woman who sold me my wedding dress, and the girl I randomly made paella with in a cooking class nine months ago. In each case, we liked each other enough to become virtual friends, but had yet to take our relationship offline. My rule of thumb, which I offer to you, is this: If we can be Facebook friends, we can be face-to-face friends. To that end, the "Facebook message" system is a good one. If you hardly know this person, messaging via Facebook is less intrusive or—I'll just say it—less stalker-ish. When you've established a bit of banter, then you can start emailing directly. But to start, let whatever network connected you—be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, what have you—be the medium through which you establish communication.
2. Make the first move. Here's where finding a best friend isn't like dating. I know it's the 21st century and plenty of women are asking men out, but let's be honest, most of us are waiting for him to call. Men know this and usually take the initiative. But when two potential female BFFs are hoping to connect, then what? Who makes the first move? The answer: You. If you think she's the one, just call. Or email. Or Facebook message. Whatever. Just do something. Because we're all busy, and we all say "we should get together!" and we all forget to reach out, however much we really, truly, intended to. So stop sitting around waiting for her invitation. Shoot her an email. Five bucks says her response starts with "So good to hear from you!"
How to put yourself out there
3. Tell your friends that you're in the market for new ones. People love playing matchmaker, but romantic setups can often blow up in your face. He didn't call, she thought they hit it off, they're both calling to see what happened and blame you for what went wrong. Setting up two potential friends, however, is much less of a minefield. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, there's generally no harm done. The setter-upper feels much less pressure, and if her two buddies can be friends themselves, even better! But here's the catch—you need to tell people you're on the hunt. When I announced to my entire world that I was looking to make some new friends, suddenly my mother-in-law's mother-in-law's neighbor's daughter knew someone I just had to meet. When I finally said to an old friend, "I've lived here for two and a half years, why am I just hearing about these girls now?" She said, "I figured you already had your own group." Lesson learned. Your friendship search might be one of the central focuses of your life, but it's not really something anyone else thinks about. People are busy focusing on their own lives, their own friendship quests or romance quests or peace-and-quiet quests. That doesn't mean they don't want to help you—it just means you need to ask.
4. Make the second move too. Two months into my hunt, I've been on my fair share of friend-dates. They go swimmingly, and then we say goodbye and "We should do it again!" and go on our merry ways. And then a few weeks or a month passes and I think, "Whatever happened to Sarah? Or Jane? Or Hillary?" Because one fun dinner does not a BFF make. So I've accepted that not only do I have to set up the first outing, but quite often the second one too. Maybe even the third. At that point, if she's still not reaching out, it's time to reevaluate the situation. But until then, swallow your pride and push the issue. Yes, the rules of friendship call for reciprocation—both parties should equally reach out to the other—but until you've established a true relationship, rules don't apply.
5. Join, join, join. A book club, a quilting group, a poker game, a dance class. Figure out what you're interested in, then sign up for whatever recurring event is offered. It's not just that organized gatherings are surefire places to meet new people, it's also that Cardio Hip-Hop is held every Thursday night, so the woman who looks like BFF material will be there next week and the week after that. Consistent face time is key to building relationships, and if that comes with a side of booty blasting, all the better.