52 Friend Dates in 52 Weeks: A Conversation with Author Rachel Bertsche
If you’ve ever moved to a new city, you’d know that one of the biggest challenges is making new friends. But for some, even that doesn’t cut it. After relocating from New York to Chicago after college, Rachel Bertsche wasn’t content in just finding a few people to hang out with. She was looking for a best friend. In her memoir, MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel writes about her year-long search for that one-of-a-kind bestie. I was lucky enough to catch up with her right before her the launch of her second book.
Rachel Sales: Your story of moving to Chicago a few years after college and realizing you’d have to proactively seek out friends for the first time in your life was so relatable! This is something that long-term women travelers also often face abroad. What are some of your best practices for making friends in a new environment?
Rachel Bertsche: If nothing else, the best thing you can do is join something. Anything. A book club, a running group, a cooking club. Any group that meets regularly and has other people with similar interests will make a huge impact on your social life. The consistency of regular meetings takes some of the pressure of asking potential new friends out. Abroad, there are lots of ex-pats groups where you could meet potential new friends. And if you don’t know where to start, try meetup.com. There are groups for everything!
RS: Your year of making friends also corresponded with your first year of marriage. Luckily, your husband seemed very supportive of your very busy friend-making schedule! What advice can you give women who have relocated to a new city with a partner and want to branch out on their own?
RB: Remind your partner that a happy wife is a happy life! Your partner should want you to be happy in your new home, and no matter how wonderful your relationship is, a woman needs more than one other person in her life. Friends fill a need that romantic partners don’t, necessarily, so your best bet is to fill you life with lots of wonderful people.
RS: Friend-making seemed like an expensive side job. How do you recommend that people on a budget cut costs?
RB: It’s true, going out to dinner and drinking wine can become a very pricey activity. But there are plenty of free options out there — especially in the summer time! Going for a walk, checking out a free concert in the park, having a picnic, exploring a new neighborhood — there are tons of adventures you can go on with a new friend that don’t cost a thing.
RS: Over the course of your story, you traveled with your husband on a belated honeymoon to Croatia. Though it was a great trip overall, you did have a spat at one point. This is typical not just for couples, but for travel buddies in general. How do you recommend dealing with travel buddy tiffs?
RB: It’s so hard! Traveling with anyone involves a LOT of together time. Sometimes you just need a breather. When you fight with a travel buddy–be it a romantic partner or a friend–the best thing you can do is just take a break from each other for a bit. Clear your head, take a deep breath, get some space. You’ll both be much happier after a few hours of alone time–or a good night’s sleep.
RS: In your memoir, you are extremely honest about yourself, the people you meet, your relationships with your friends and family members, and everything in general. Did you face any challenges in opening up for a public audience? Why did you decide to tell your story as a memoir and not as fiction. Tell us more.
RB: I like writing in the first person. I like giving a public voice to the things I think many women think but are perhaps to embarrassed to say out loud. Certainly, offending people is an occupational hazard of writing memoir, but I try hard not to make jokes at anyone’s expense but my own.
RS: You mentioned that your year of friend-making made you feel like a much more independent person. Why was it specifically that which brought you out of your shell–and not simply moving away from your hometown?
RB: In order to meet new friends you have to go out and do things. Friends don’t show up at your doorstep. So I had to do a lot of stuff solo–I took an improv class, I showed up at meetup groups, I went to a writer’s workshop. If you’re trying to make new friends you have to be willing to go out and make the effort to do these things, alone. I used to hear about cool activities and think “if only I had a friend to do that with.” But by the end of the year I’d think, “I should go! I could make a great friend there.”
RS: What are some challenges that women face while making friends in a new city that men might not face? What are some benefits of being a woman on the prowl (for friends)?
RB: Psychologists say that women have face to face friendships and men have side to side friendships — which is to say that men like to do activities together, women want to bond over conversation. I feel like in a new city men can often go to, say, a bar and watch the game and suddenly they are talking to the guy sitting next to them. Watching sports side to side is how they make friends! Women like a bit more talk and interaction, so it can be a bit harder to get that started. But it’s worth it!