MWF Seeking BFF
Very, apparently. What I learned, too quickly, is that friend-making is not the natural process it was back when we made friends in the sandbox, or even the dorm room. As it turns out, I've completely forgotten how to do it. I'm too shy to approach a potential BFF at Barnes & Noble just because she too is caressing The Things They Carried. The ladies at yoga class already know each other and, for a discipline all about nonjudgment, seem oddly unapproachable. I'm not a mommy, and won't be for years, so I can count out the Mommy & Me classes that are so obviously more for the "mommy" than the "me."
It's not for lack of trying. Take yoga. One day, after a grueling session of chaturangas, the girl on the mat next to me introduced herself. "I'm Zoe. What's your name again?" (The teacher had inexplicably called me Carrie). Someone was trying to pick me up! I got ready to woo her in return.
"Are you Jewish?" My name and my curls usually give this away.
"Cool. Me too. Shalom!"
Did she really delve into religion before we'd even exchanged last names? If that was her pickup line, Zoe's even worse at this than I am. I crossed her off the mental list of potential BFFs. I haven't created an inventory of things my best friend forever would never do, but if I did, I'm pretty sure delivering religious greetings upon first meeting would be up there.
What is a best friend?
I'd say a best friend is your weekend goes-without-saying lunch date, someone with whom it is implied you will spend the day or at least an hour. And while, sure, that's implied with my husband, men don't need to gab over drinks, analyzing every conversation, potential purchase and awkward run-in they had that week. They're happy to silently watch sports over a beer. Psychologists call these side-to-side relationships, versus female's face-to-face ones. Women like to engage in conversation; men like to bond over an activity. It's not that novel a discovery. Anyone who's seen men sit and watch the game while the women gab in the kitchen knows it to be true.
But getting to that place where I feel comfortable enough to call a potential friend and say, "What are you up to?" is tricky. It's essentially dating. At what point after meeting someone new is it acceptable to call "just to say hi"? When is it not overly aggressive to text, "Pedicure in a half hour?"
Most of us lump best-friendship in with love, one of those you-know-it-when-you-feel-it intangibles. It turns out that while we may think best friends are people with that ineffable something we can't put our finger on, researchers have pretty accurately defined the traits that propel someone from acquaintance to friend to BFF. In order for her to move from girl-date to friend, we need intimacy. Not intimacy in the turn-the-lights-down-low sense. Friendship intimacy starts with self-disclosure—sharing personal information you wouldn't tell just anyone—and reciprocity, meaning if I tell her my secret, she better tell me hers. But it's not just about disclosure. The rules of intimacy call for whoever is on the receiving end to be supportive and expressive, yet not too opinionated. So if I'm enraged that my husband canceled our Friday night plans...again...she better huff and puff and agree it was obnoxious, but she would never say: "He's such a jerk. I've never liked him." Such are the unwritten laws of friendship.
In order to move from regular friend to a best one, I will need über-intimacy but also what researchers call social identity support. That is to say, my BFF is someone who will reaffirm my social role in society—as a wife, a writer, a pop-culturist—and thereby boost my self-esteem. Sounds a bit self-indulgent, sure, but it's scientifically proven.
Can your husband be your best friend?
So why don't our mothers and grandmothers and Meg Ryan warn us? Why don't they just say, "A husband is a life partner and an intellectual equal and co-parent and the man you will grow old with, but he is not—nor is he supposed to be—your best friend"? I would have appreciated the caveat.
Maybe they're trying to idealize their own marriages. Or maybe it's like childbirth. I once grilled my mom about giving birth—Do you actually have to get stitches afterward? Down there?—and she didn't want to give me straight answers. "If I tell you," she said, "you'll never want to do it."
Why women need friends
I've been in Chicago for two and a half years. Obviously, sitting around waiting for friends to emerge naturally isn't working. It's time to turn this mission up a notch. I'm looking for a Kate to my Allie. Thelma to my Louise. Oprah to my Gayle. No one's knocking down my door. If I want a new best friend, I'm going to have to go get one.
I could take out a want ad. Craigslist perhaps. "MWF Seeking BFF: Must live in Chicago. Must not bring her dog to lunch dates. Fluency in Entertainment Weekly preferred but not required." I know all about that Craigslist killer, so maybe I'll start smaller scale. I'll actually call or email the women I've met with whom I've exchanged the requisite "We should get together!" I'll approach the girl at Barnes & Noble or yoga. Who cares if she thinks I'm hitting on her? I'll wear my wedding ring—that'll clear up any confusion.
It's time to get out there. Play the field. Dive into the world of serial friend-dating. Let's just hope I emerge in one piece.
Rachel Bertsche is the author of MWF Seeking BFF. Follow along on her search at MWFSeekingBFF.com