Rachel Bertsche is a 20-something freelance writer and editor who, after following her husband to Chicago, found herself in need of a new best friend. Or several of them. So she did the 21st-century thing and started a blog, MWF Seeking BFF, setting herself the task of going on 52 “friend-dates” in a year. One year later, mirabile dictu, she’s found new friends, strengthened her marriage and landed a book contract. We should all be so lucky (or energetic).
Apart from documenting her “year of friendship,” Rachel’s memoir (I feel like we’re on a first-name basis) is also a charming exposition of the latest research on social connections. Anthropological research suggests that humans are capable of maintaining 150 social relationships, so Rachel figures out that she’s got openings for 20 new friends. Although she’s happy in her marriage, and close with her family, these good things are no substitute for real female friendship.
Female friendship, we learn, is characterized by a face-to-face dynamic: Imagine two women sitting across from one another at brunch, chatting. Male friendship is more typically characterized as a side-by-side dynamic: two men sitting on the sofa watching the game. Gender stereotypes aside, this is one explanation for why women happily married to men may still feel lonely; there’s a conversational dynamic potentially missing from their primary relationship. Indeed, recent research shows that married people are as likely as single people to feel socially isolated: A spouse may be a best friend, but we need more than one best friend to feel connected to the world around us.
MWF Seeking BFF reads like an extended personal essay in O: The Oprah Magazine, where Berstche was an editor. It combines personal narrative and social research in an upbeat and approachable manner, and has clearly hit a nerve with female readers in the 25-40 age group, who keenly feel the loss of youthful friendship in the years devoted to building a career and/or a family. If this describes you, I’d recommend reading it at the gym, so you can pass your copy on to the woman at the next elliptical machine. It may be the start of a beautiful friendship.