You Gotta Have Friends: Memoir Chronicles The Hilarious Process Of Making Friends As An Adult

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 10, 2012 4:00PM

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Rachel Bertsche (Photo credit © Jennifer Troyer Photography)
When twenty-something Rachel Bertsche first moved to Chicago she was thrilled to finally be sharing a zip code with her boyfriend, but shortly after tying the knot Bertsche—a journalist and former editor for O: The Oprah magazine—realized that life in her newly adopted hometown was missing one important thing—friends.

“People get nervous, and they have a hard time saying to others, ‘I like you and want to hang out with you,’ says Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. “You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself— it speeds up the whole friend-making process,” explains Bertsche with the genuine laugh of someone who has been there and done that.

During a phone call from Boston—curled up in the apartment of lifelong BFF Callie in the afterglow of her successful first book reading—Bertsche chats about her memoir (52 girl-dates in one year) and a why a husband can never be a BFF (Sorry, guys.)

Chicagoist: You had doubts about publishing a booking which exposed your quest to find new best friends because you found the whole endeavor, at least at first, a little embarrassing. What changed your mind?

Rachel Bertsche: Just talking to people, to other girls in Chicago about it. I’d say to someone, “God, girl-dating is so tough!” and more and more people would respond “Yes, totally, ugh!” As a writer, I’ve learned that when you are writing someone that truly means something to you, you’ve got to learn to suck it up. So, I put my pride aside and I just did it. But, yes, initially, I was like, I can’t do this—people are going to think I’m a social leper, and that I can’t find anyone to play with at recess!

Chicagoist: Talk a little about the Rent-a-Friend experience. What was that like?

Rachel Bertsche: That is the most out-there thing I did! The girl I went out with was a normal, wonderful person, but at the end of the date, I found myself standing on Michigan Avenue handing over 20 dollar bills to this person, which is a very strange feeling, because friendship is supposed to be reciprocal.

Chicagoist: Sometimes making friends just comes down to dumb luck. Explain.

Rachel Bertsche: I think sometimes you are simply at the right place at the right time— you are on the right plane, sitting next to the right girl, and you strike up a conversation. But there is also an element of paying attention to who or what is around you and making the first move. And, yes, it’s work. Everyone wants to be pursued, but not everyone is going to do that. Women, especially, seem to wait for people to pursue them. That’s what we do in dating, so we’re used to that. But someone has to do the work, and usually that person is you.

I write about one incident where I was out with some friends from New York who were visiting, and I really liked our server. I said to my husband, “She is so cute!” and he said, well, leave her a note. So I did. I wrote something like “I’m new in town and I live around the corner with my husband. You seem really cool and like we could be friends. Would you be interested in having lunch sometime? Hope to hear from you.” She e-mailed me that night at around 2:40 a.m. so it must have been right after her shift, which was really awesome.

Chicagoist: One reviewer has claimed that the audience for this book is “probably limited,” and cited your use of the character “Regina George,” without an explanation of who she is, as an example of the book’s target reader.

Rachel Bertsche: It was interesting comment. At first I thought that too. I thought the book would strike a cord with women in their 20s and 30s, but I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. The book seems to resonate with people from 18 to 80—no exaggeration.

Chicagoist: In fact, MWF Seeking BFF has been optioned for television. What details can you share at this point?

2012_1_10_MWF_BFF.jpg Rachel Bertsche: Not very much. That’s all I am at liberty to say. I wish I could say more! But there are some really exciting things in the works.

Chicagoist: Can you recommend any specific bars, restaurants, coffee houses, or events in Chicago that you consider good places to meet a new BFF?

Rachel Bertsche: I think the improv classes at Second City are a great way to make friends because there is consistency there, meaning you know that you will see your classmates each week for a couple of hours, so you don’t have to wait and see who is going to call who first. By the way, improv is so not me, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there. The classes at The Chopping Block or running groups, or any kind of activity where you meet other people on a consistent basis is a good way to meet people. I also really like One Brick, which is a great no-commitment volunteer opportunity that also encourages the social aspect of volunteering. I signed up to do weeding in a city garden and we all went for drinks after that which was a lot of fun.

Chicagoist: You changed the names and identifying characteristics of the individuals you met during your search. Even so, your writing is so detailed, I’m wondering if anyone has approached you, hands-on-hips, and said, “Hey, I think you were writing about me!”

Rachel Bertsche: No. For the most part, the people I met knew the book was coming out. I kept a blog about my experiences and I linked to it from Facebook, so people knew it was out there. I wasn’t making fun of anyone—I was only making fun of myself and my journey.

Chicagoist: You’ve said that your husband (or boyfriend or partner) can’t be your BFF. Why?

Rachel Bertsche: If you husband is your BFF, who are you going to vent to about your husband? A friend of mine once said of her significant other: “He can’t be my girlfriend, he’s my boyfriend.” One person can’t be everything—you need to spread the love.

Chicagoist: From reading your blog, it sounds like you’ve really become this kind of guru for making new friends. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by that role?

Rachel Bertsche: No, I love it! I’m still kind of shocked by it, actually. I never set out to be a friendship expert in any way, but I am happy to share my experiences with other people. People who read my blog will say things like “My husband left me, but because of your blog I am in a better place,” and I was like, um, you and your friends deserve the credit—not me.

Chicagoist: One of your New Year’s resolutions is to talk on the phone more—I know that’s a tough one for many people.

Rachel Bertsche: It’s true. I need to make more calls because I’m worried that I’m using Twitter as my telephone lately. In the book, I mention an essay by Ann Patchett where she writes that best friends aren’t necessarily the ladies you share deep, dark secrets with, but they’re actually the ones you can call to ask “Why do I have four jars of pickles in my fridge?” Today, if I found four jars of pickles in my refrigerator, I’d probably just tweet it. Technology is great, it helps us connect, but it’s important to remember to engage in face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact.

Chicagoist: How did your quest change you, Rachel?

Rachel Bertsche: I’ve become friendlier. Now, I’m the girl who will talk to anyone—and that wasn’t always the case.

Rachel Bertsche reads from MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend at the following times and locations in the Chicago area:

Thursday, Jan. 12
7 p.m.
The Book Cellar
4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL, 60625

Wednesday, Jan. 18
7 p.m.
Highland Park Public Library
494 Laurel Ave.
Highland Park, IL, 60035