On Finding Friends

 In her book MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, Rachel Bertsche describes her experience moving to Chicago when she got married, leaving her best friends behind in New York, and her unexpected finding that making friends was not easy in a new city.  She identifies lots of reasons for that fact, including some that I also found when I was in a similar situation here, such as people being “from here” already having enough friends, difficulty finding people who had time for more friends, difficulty finding people who really fit well with her personality, and so on.

However, unlike me, Rachel went out and got a book deal to do a year long experiment to find a new best friend.  In the book, she documents the 52 “friend dates” (she noted that finding friends is a lot like dating, at least in some ways) she went on, the friends she found, and the research she did along the way.  I find experiments like this interesting.

Friendship is an interesting thing in itself, isn’t it?  According to psychologists there are four major types of friendships:

  • Acquaintances, who you’d chat with or meet up with casually and who give you a sense of belonging to a large group,
  • Casual friends, who you would grab lunch with or who are friends in a specific sense, like someone you work out with or who you can talk to about parenting but not necessarily about everything,
  • Close friends, who you trust and could say anything to, and who you could pick up where you left off with quickly,
  • Lifers, who are deep friends like family.

Apparently to be happy a woman needs 10-100 acquaintances, 10-50 casual friends, 5-12 close friends, and 3-5 lifers.  Studies show that having lower levels of connection affects a person’s longevity the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.  Wow.

Along the way, Bertsche learned a lot about herself, became more confident in doing things by herself in order to meet new people, and found out that most people are way more receptive to friendly overtures than you might think.  I also thought that her conclusions, while somewhat sad, had a hopeful twist.  She admits that no one in her new city will likely have known her from childhood, or know how she was in college, or from before she got married, and that friendships in adulthood are often different than those from childhood.  However,  the friends she makes now will be her long-time friends decades from now, and those friendships will deepen in different ways that are also valuable and lasting.

While I’m not going to go out and do a 52 friend date experiment after reading this book, I did gain some insight into making friends that I hope will be helpful.  If you’re interested in friendship, or are in a situation where you don’t have as many close friends as you’d like, you might also enjoy reading MWF Seeking BFF and find it useful.

Just out of curiosity, do you think the breakdown of how many of each type of friend you need statistic is accurate?  Do you have best friends where you live?  What has been most helpful to you in making friends in adulthood?


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12 thoughts on “On Finding Friends

  1. That’s sounds like a fascinating book and it’s a topic that hits close to home for many. I can relate a lot with moving to Seattle 2.5 years ago and starting completely over. It was especially hard because during my last couple years in Pittsburgh, the Lord had “finally” starting bringing similar age/phase of life women into my life where in years before, I either mentored younger women or was casually mentored by women maybe 10 years older than me. And my closer-in-age friends were all in different cities from me. Both of those other relationship types were extremely valuable and incredible blessings. I just felt lacking in peers though, so when they came, it was wonderful. Then we moved.

    Upon coming to Seattle, it was a huge advantage having a baby at the time as it’s a quick “in” with other women….but that connection can be very much on the surface and still leaves the same need and required time and effort to find real, close friends. Then you throw in the whole structured playdate thing and it’s hard to dig deep and really know other women. God has brought me two good friends here since we moved and one of those was just last year, and I have a couple other friends with whom I connect well but don’t see as much as I’d like (at least not compared to being single and having a lot of time and mental/emotional energy to pursue friends). What discourages me at times, and I’m not sure if she addresses this in her book, is being the new kid on the block, no one reaches out to you very often. You have to initiate almost all those friendships and really feed and water them. I have at least found that to be true and really desire that friends would seek me out to spend time with me, and am thankful that a couple friends do that. The new friends you make and REALLY like, you really want them to ask you to do stuff and reciprocate. They’re very willing and thrilled to come over, so maybe one just keeps doing that, perhaps being the more assertive an initiative-taking person and that’s just how it is. And you’re still greatly blessed and enriched in your life, even if you do more of the initiating.

    I find something else interesting, and I don’t know if she addressed this as well. The 5 people I consider friends or becoming-good-friends are ALL transplants to Seattle. I joked with my closest friend, who we’ve referred to each other as kindred spirits, that transplants understand each other and stick together. Everyone else is settled in their life having grown up here and really don’t “need” more friends, so they don’t seek more friends. It’s sad and don’t say that to be harsh or sound critical, but I believe it’s true. One of those facts of life? So, I guess it’s the friendless people who become friends haha.

    This is a great topic that many people feel keenly, and can even become very discouraged and depressed about, especially if a woman is on the shy side and finds it daunting to initiate friendships and get togethers. I think so many women crave these close friendships and it’s amazing how long it takes to lay the foundation of a strong, genuine, lasting friendship.

    And the forgotten group – the men. I think it’s even harder for them to find good friends, and while they don’t need to talk as much as women do, LOL, or perhaps not connect as deeply or as often, they still need close friendships.

    1. Alicia, the author talks a lot about having to put herself out there and pursue friendships – it’s hard because you do want that reciprocation but you’re dealing with people who have limited time and aren’t necessarily seeking friends out. One thing I took away from the book was to stop being so afraid of rejection in friendships – just because you’re always calling or inviting doesn’t mean the other person isn’t interested. She also writes about what happens with guys, because they do friendship differently, but her treatment of that is on a more limited scale.

      I agree that it’s very, very hard to be a new person when you’re an adult. I moved all the time as a kid and never had much trouble making friends because you naturally have a peer group when you’re a kid and you have more time. When I moved here, I felt like everyone else was “from here” and didn’t need new friends. That may just be the nature of things in the midwest where it seems more people stay put rather than moving around. I still feel like the friends I have here fall into the acquaintance or maybe the casual categories.

      1. That’s very true. I suppose if one can accept that you just need to take the reins more, knowing your friends will gladly come along, then it can work well. I just chatted with one of these newer friends today and she commented about she’s never the one to ask but loves doing stuff with her friends. I had been wanting to get coffee with her lately so I mentioned it, and we set a date for Wednesday. Something I realized is if the friends don’t care that much, then they’d likely come across as uncommitted and vague about getting together, but a friend who wants to see you will say something along the lines of, “sure, let’s do that! When?”

  2. I also shared a quote on Facebook, but I love this part as well:

    “She admits that no one in her new city will likely have known her from childhood, or know how she was in college, or from before she got married, and that friendships in adulthood are often different than those from childhood. However, the friends she makes now will be her long-time friends decades from now, and those friendships will deepen in different ways that are also valuable and lasting.”

    I just remarked to Paul that it will be 4 years since we left our home in Wisconsin to move “south” and live in Kentucky. Four VERY long years. I didn’t post more on Facebook because there are lots of acquaintances from church who would read it, but it has been incredibly difficult to make friends here. Not only are people spread out geographically, many of the young moms at our church homeschool and that takes up a very large (and important) part of their day. Many of them also have family here, so those are their “first friends” and it leaves little time for anyone else. I have had to branch out and really threw myself into my local MOPS group, where I have made several close friends, and also met other women at a library playgroup (many of whom don’t go to church but are very fun to hang out with).

    I actually just thought the other day how none of the people here knew me in high school or college, and what that meant for our friendship. Friendships now are based a lot more on having children of similar ages or belonging to a group (MOPS or volunteering at the soup kitchen, etc.). I definitely agree with the author, as I, too, am learning a lot about myself; I have had to break out of my shell a lot more and let my guard down when trying to form friendships. I also have to learn to be willing to call people and suggest something (let’s go to the pumpkin patch! let’s go pick strawberries!), instead of waiting for the phone to ring. Let’s face it: some of those moms might be waiting for their phone to ring, too. 😉

    1. I think the problem of people not knowing us in the most formative years of our lives is problematic for friendships. The author concludes that sometimes those stories and understanding of motivations can come out organically over time with newer friends, and that may be true. I feel like in my case, very few people here really understand me because they didn’t know me before I was married and living in Indiana, and so things I do and say seem out of nowhere sometimes, or they think I’m different than I actually am. Case in point: in the recent weeks a couple of people have commented that I’m “so reserved” and a few people noticed Hannah being silly and ebullient and remarked that it’s strange she’s like that since I’m not! That sort of shocked me because I don’t think anyone in college would have described me as reserved and I can be quite silly and fun in the right circumstances. I have found it difficult to navigate the mommy definition because I don’t have much to talk about at playgroups or whatnot and I never know if people are really interested in topics other than potty training or parenting. I mean, I like to talk about parenting, but it’s not exactly my only interest.

      Anyway, you are absolutely right about having to just call people up and make the effort. This book reminded me that I need to do more of that, even if I am busy.

      1. I thought that was a good quote too and it makes me a little sad. And it also makes me appreciate the friends who do know those years of mine and it encourages me to keep contact with them, however infrequent. I also have this sense of “this is your current season of life and you have years ahead of you with your new friends to make new memories.” Kinda cool while mixed with nostalgia.

        A side topic but one that applies well is a book I’m reading for the ladies group at church, Becoming A Woman of Influence by Carol Kent. The thrust of the book is becoming a mentor, but in the chapter on asking questions, she listed many good questions that I found appropriate to ask friends (in the right setting) to know them better. Some require a level of trust and unspoken understanding that we can lovingly inquire into each others lives. Some of them are:

        What are the five most important things in your life?
        What stress point are you experiencing that you would like to eliminate?
        What one thing would you like to change about your body?
        What one thing would you like to see change in your spiritual life?
        What were your expectations when you got married?
        What were your expectations when you had your first baby?
        What were your growing up years like?
        What is your favorite old movie?
        How did your family celebrate Christmas?
        What kind of music do you like?

  3. It is really interesting to me to read that people had trouble making friends when they moved because of people being “from there.” I have felt this way constantly since our move to Beaver Falls. Many people from our church, for instance, are from this area. And, of course, attending Geneva as a student and then sticking around into adulthood (as several people seem to do) makes you “from here” in another way, with some of those key college relationships still in place. When people are “from here” I think that they tend to already have key relationships, even if it is with family nearby. Maybe *especially* with family nearby. When you move to a new place, you have a double whammy–away from friends, but also away from those “given” family relationships. I think it is also hard (for me) to put in the work of forming friendships as a working mom–when I’m not “at work” I want to be fully “at home” with my son. And, of course, there is always something to do, so I can find it hard to justify a playdate or going to get a cup of coffee when I think that I ought to be running errands or grading essays or cleaning house. I can long for deeper friendships, but be lax about really pursuing people. Alicia’s comments are encouraging to me here; hearing about other women who have to intentionally pursue relationships after a big move makes me realize that this is just a fact of life, not a commentary on how likable I am. (Isn’t it easy to always imagine that people are off having fun together without you?)

    1. Meg, I have been in the same situation about working and letting playdates go. But when I think about it, I don’t find playdates very conducive to forming friendships. They are kind of a lot of chasing after kids and getting scraps of conversation that stay superficial. I think a better investment is having coffee or breakfast or something like that. You’re still making an investment of time, but it’s more conducive to real conversation, at least in my view.

      1. I agree with your line of thought Catherine, about playdates. I will say that is how I met my current friends, but the playgroup time is too disjointed to get any quality conversation in. I tend to avoid any other playgroup or scheduled meetups. Similar to what Meg said, I have plenty to do at home and when I go out, I’m doing errands. I enjoy being AT home and feel no need to be a social butterfly, meeting a gazillion moms and my kids having bunches of friends.

        Oh and to you original question, I think her numbers are high with regard to the numbers of types of friends. Way too many for my life. I’m happy with 2-3 close friends, a few more casual friends and many acquaintances.

  4. I may have to get this book! I’ve lived in four different states or countries in the last seven years and am getting ready to move again. I hope with all my heart to live in this next place & house for at least ten years.

    I only made one casual/close friend in my current location of five years, and it is all her fault for taking so much initiative. 🙂 I’m introverted and we are a one-car family, so it is an uphill battle. But does anyone have as many friends as she suggests??? I’ve never been anywhere near that. Zero lifer friends, and maybe one or two close friends, ever. Maybe I’m just used to being lonely? My husband and I are best friends, so probably we fulfill a lot of that need for each other.

    Now looking at our impending move to Kansas, I’m slightly depressed. It’s my husband’s hometown and he has a vast network of family and friends. I’m glad to have my foot in the door that way, but it is extremely important to me to make new friends that are ours, not just me tagging along as the newbie & outsider. So in addition to the one car & introverted thing, now there’s the time demands of his existing network to compete with. I think I’m a little out of my league on this one! But I’m determined to find a way because I really want to be happy in my husband’s hometown for his and our kids’ sakes. 🙂

    I’ve started keeping a list of ways/places I could try to meet people. But mostly I know it will be a matter of whether I try hard enough, long enough. Friendships take time.

    1. I was in the same situation when we moved here – my husband grew up here and went to college in this state and I had already lived in 18 places in my life. I wish I had read this book then, when I had more time (though I didn’t think I did!). I think to some extent your husband can be your best friend, but it’s important to have best girl friends too, because men don’t tend to communicate the same ways we do, and it can really be a burden if we are putting all of our friendship needs on our husband. The author talks about that quite a bit in the book.

      I hope the move goes smoothly for you and that you settle in quickly.

  5. I really need to read this book I think. I moved a fair amount as a child (not as much as you, but more than anyone else I knew who wasn’t a military family) and usually found it easy to make new friends.

    Moving to Indiana was tough. It seemed like everyone I met grew up here and had plenty of friends. My husband has some really good friends here, and so I’ve become friendly with their wives, but it’s barely at the casual friendship level. They’re all very nice, but we have very little in common. It’s actually better since I had children because at least now I can talk to them about parenting a bit.

    When I was working I had friends at work, but since I left to stay home with the kids I’ve only kept in touch with one person. We’re still really good friends but that’s about it.

    I would really like to make some more close friends but it does seem so much more difficult as an adult.

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