- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” — “Casablanca”, 1942 — Humphrey Bogart to Claude Rains
“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog” — attributed to Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the U.S.
It’s a common dilemma. A woman — or a man — moves to a new city, leaving her/his friends behind and is lost and alone. What’s a gal/guy to do? If you’re Rachel Bertsche, a New Yorker transplanted to Chicago, you start a blog, convince your boyfriend — and soon-to-be husband — that what you’re about to do isn’t stalking and end up writing a memoir: “MWF Seeking BFF” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 384 pages, $15.00).
Growing up in Westchester County, north of New York City, Bertsche had plenty of friends from school, including a private high school in the Bronx, as well as summer camp friends. When the Windy City friend-quest begins she’s 27, a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, next door to Chicago, so she knows the territory, like trendy, upscale Lincoln Park where Rachel and Matt, her soon-to-be husband, find an apartment. She has friends at work, where she’s a web designer, but she’s missing gal pals, people she can call at the last minute for girl-talk over brunch or a favorite TV show, playdates for adults, with no ulterior motives beyond the simple joy of friendship.
Only it’s not so simple, is it? Not in today’s world, as she finds out, but Bertsche is persistent and uses a variety of techniques to achieve her goal of 52 friend-dates — one a week for an entire year. The dates are all with women, except for one guy, the gay potential BFF every woman needs, she reasons. There’s a list of her friend-dates at the end of the book, along with notes on how Bertsche met them.
In her memoir, Bertsche combines the story of her girl-dates with the latest in social research to examine how difficult — and awkward — it is to make new friends as an adult. She asks why women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF. And she uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life, you’ve gotta have friends.
When I received an advance reader’s copy of the book, I wondered if I was the proper person to review this book. I even thought about telling publicist Ashley Gratz-Collier that I was the wrong guy to review it, but Ashley knows me better than I know myself when it comes to books! I thought it would best be reviewed by a woman, but I changed my mind as I read the book. Chicago was a familiar city to me, because after I graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1961 — yes, 50 years ago! — my first post-college job was in Chicago, the hometown of both my parents. I even lived in Lincoln Park. And I visit as often as I can.
I asked my sister Natasha Yuhas, who has lived in Chicago for many years, about Bertsche’s quest for friends. She responded in an email:
“I think Chicago is an easy place to make friends, although I guess I was lucky to
meet my two best girlfriends at Marshall Fields when we were all working there. We still
see each other often and plan on spending New Year’s Eve at the new Radisson Blu hotel in
the Aqua, it’s very glamourous. I have met other friends like Pat and Marion, my neighbors [in our condo] as well as the Library. Facebook has helped me reconnect with two old friends from Streator [IL] and Ottawa, [IL]…Mary who lives in Sarasota, FL and Victoria who lives in Irvine, CA. I also reconnected with a friend I made in Encino, CA. She lives in the hills and owns a medical supply store. I think having girlfriends keeps you sane. You have someone to compare problems with and often find out you don’t have it so bad after all.”
At first glance, Facebook would seem to be a way to find friends, but it’s actually a social network of people who are already friends, or at least acquaintances, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has stated in no uncertain terms, Bertsche notes. She found her girl dates at her favorite clothing store, at a restaurant where the waitress appealed to her friend-finding instincts, at a Second City improv class, of course at work and even on an airliner, where she gave her card to a likely seat mate. One of the more unusual ways of making friends Bertsche tried was at the friending equivalent of speed dating. The author grew up Jewish, but wasn’t observant. Despite this, she hooked up with Jewish groups and found some of her friend-dates that way.
At the end of the book (page 338) Bertsche describes how believes a year of friend-dates transformed her into a better Rachel:
“I’m still the same person. To a Callie or a Sara, I’d be perfectly recognizable. But I’m a happier, nicer version of myself. I talk to strangers instead of avoiding them. I do the work to bring people together, personally or professionally. When I’m invited somewhere, I say yes and show up. I try not to interrupt, especially with stories about myself, and I don’t point it out whenever I go out of my way for a friend. I get a kick out of new people instead of just acting awkward around them. I get phone numbers, and I use them. In short I’m a better person.”
This book will mostly appeal to women of all ages — she deals with her widowed mother and her friends — seeking BFFs, and it’s also an instruction manual — call it “Friendship: A User’s Guide” — revealing various ways to make friends. It will also appeal to those — women and, yes, guys — who already have maxed out on friends but enjoy a good read. And be sure and look at her website/blog (see below). It’s fun and will appeal to women and men.
About the Author
Rachel Bertsche is an author, journalist and editor in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women’s Health, New York, Huffington Post, CNN.com, and more. Prior to leaving the office life for the comforts of working from home (and in her pajamas), Bertsche was a producer for Oprah.com and an editor at O, The Oprah Magazine.
Her website: www.mwfseekingbff.com Publisher’s website: www.ballantineBooks.com