Save the last of the romantics, few expect to find love without dating. But though friends have as much—and sometimes more—to offer us than our romantic partners, we expect to just stumble upon them "naturally." And we often do, in structured settings such as school, where it's easy to get to know people gradually. But what if you're past your school years and find yourself in a new location or circumstance, without any friends close by to lean on?
Rachel Bertsche, a web producer, journalist, and blogger, recently spent a year going on 52 dates—with potential friends.
Having just moved to Chicago with her fiancé (now husband), Rachel missed her many close friends from the East Coast and decided to be proactive—very proactive—about filling the void. She also published an entertaining memoir about the experience, MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend.
I interviewed Rachel about her friend-dating binge, which yielded genuine bonds with some great women, some interesting experiences with others, and some unexpected personal gains:
Looking back, would you recommend formal friend dating? (Rachel asked friends to "set her up" with potential friends and sought out other prospects herself.)
I think it's really effective way to meet friends! It forced me to meet people, and to follow-up with those I met and liked but would likely never see again. You don't need to go on 52 dates the way I did, but I think doing so once a month, if you're looking for friends, is a great idea. I have found that people really like being courted for friendship. I feared they would find it weird, but they were happy to be asked.
Could you predict fairly well how a friend date would go?
Well, it really depends. There were some people where, going into it, I thought to myself, "This is going to be a long date." And then it would end up being really fun. And vice-versa—sometimes I expected to click with someone and just didn't.
We know that friends are often similar to one another. Did you have better dates with women who were a lot like you?
At first, when my friends were setting me up on these dates, a lot of the women were similar to me. They were raised the way I was raised, and they were Jewish like me. But in the end, one of the greatest friends I made in this process was a woman who is Christian, from the South, and one of eight kids! We are very close. On paper we are different, but I would say we have similar values.
So which is more difficult, friend dating or romantic dating?
It's hard for me to know because I met my husband when I was really young. But it's funny. Everyone who is married says friend dating is harder and everyone who is single says romantic dating is harder. I guess the grass is always greener.
It felt similar to romantic dating sometimes, in that I would get butterflies when things were going well, and I would spend a lot of time deciding what to wear.
One difference that occurs to me is that with friends, you can date a lot of people at once and it's not cheating. When I would make a friend and she fell to the wayside, I wasn't as disappointed as I would have been if a guy I were dating suddenly stopped calling, and I think it's because of the other "prospects" I had going at the same time.
How many true friends did you end up with after 52 dates?
22. Now it's another year later, and I've learned that quantity is important, because people move so frequently these days A few of those 22 moved away. A few other friendships have "faded out," so I would say I have 15 friends. That's a lot! I'm focusing on maintaining those, not finding new ones.
I have a full life. Loneliness is not an issue now. And I really take pleasure in the fact that some of my new friends befriended each other, after I introduced them.
You mentioned that many readers of your blog have thanked you for bringing the issue of friendlessness, and ways to counter it, to light. Why do you think it's struck a chord?
There is a stigma attached to loneliness. If you say you don't have friends, people might wonder what is wrong with you. I was afraid to tell people I was looking for friends, because I didn't want to look like a loser. But actually, a lot of people can relate.
Did the confidence you summoned to find and ask out all of these potential friends help you in other areas of your life?
So much. Before, I was not someone who did things outside of my comfort zone. So a lot of things I did during my year of finding friends, such as signing up for a book club, a cooking class, and an improve comedy class helped me branch out. Before I would never have signed up for a class unless I was taking it with someone I already knew. The improv class was not only a satisfying challenge, it was also helpful in connecting with people because those first conversations involve some improvisation. I talk to everyone in my path now. I've built up that social muscle.