When Rachel Bertsche moved to Chicago from New York in 2007, she was thrilled to at last be living in the same city as her then-boyfriend (now-husband). But as she settled into life in the Windy City, she noticed something missing: a strong network of nearby friends. “After three years here, I had some friends, but no one I could text and say, ‘Let’s go get brunch,’ ” explains Bertsche, now 36, a writer and mother of two young kids. “I guess I thought that friendships would just happen, [that] you don’t have to go out looking for them like you do romance. I thought, ‘What — do I just pick someone up at yoga?’ ”
Intent on finding her some local BFFs, Bertsche hatched a plan to go on a blind friend-date (BFD) every week for a year, chronicling them in the book MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. Her blind friend-date adventure definitely hit a cultural nerve: It became a national best seller, with women leaving comments on her blog thanking her for naming the phenomenon with which they, too, had been struggling. As one reader, Lilzbear, put it: “It’s so hard to make friends as an adult.”
Ultimately, some of those BFDs did lead to true girlfriend love, like the one arranged by a mutual buddy that found them quickly lost in convo about their favorite books. Some were “total cricket situations where I considered running to the bathroom to call a friend and have her” call and bail Bertsche out.
But BFDs do work. In fact, they’re how I met Lauren, one of my dearest friends. She recently moved in across the street from me, always has a cold La Croix ready for me, and — after countless subsequent friend-dates — knows all of my deepest, darkest secrets. Now a makeup artist and mom of two, she was a single writer like me back in the early 2000s when an editor who knew us both told us we had to get together when Lauren was moving to Chicago from the South. By the end of BFD No. 1 (afternoon sushi), we both knew it was a hit. Now we’re basically sister wives.
Here are some of Bertsche’s best tips for nailing the BFD:
Have a trusted mutual friend play matchmaker. Setups are the easiest way to instigate a BFD, Bertsche says — they’re low-key and low-commitment, and the shared friend has essentially already done some vetting for you. “It’s also a lot less awkward than saying to the person next to you on an airplane, ‘Hey, it was nice talking to you … want to get coffee sometime?’ ” Setups also come with a built-in conversation starter: “Talk about the person who set you up,” she suggests.
Join a group. Slay at baking? Try a local cooking class. Funny gal? Sign up for an improv troupe. You’re virtually guaranteed to meet like-minded buddies, and the friendship can happen organically over the course of a few weeks or months. Other pickup strategies: Reach out to someone who looks fun on social media. (This is how my friend Eryn and I met.) Or just flat out pick her up. You know that joke Bertsche made about just hitting on someone at yoga? I’ve totally done that, with great success. My friend Kristen and I met at the gym, when we both were obsessed with the StepMill and constantly ran into each other on it. Gym friends are easy breezy because you needn’t wrangle busy schedules to carve out a time to meet … you can have your first BFD side by side on the treadmill or in boot camp class.
It’s OK to acknowledge any tension. Make a lighthearted joke — “This is kind of awkward; it almost feels like a blind date date.” That’ll help break the tension and put you both at ease. In fact, I remember Kristen telling me that she had told her husband about me, and he had jokingly called me “the Amway Girl,” as if I was only cozying up to her to try to sell her supplements or cookware. That made me laugh, and when we graduated to our first couple blind date, he hugged me and said, “Hey, it’s the Amway Girl!”
Make the next move. “The first date isn’t that hard — it’s getting the second one,” notes Bertsche. If you like the person, text them the next day. If you and your blind date had a funny exchange about the absurdity of rompers and the next day your millennial coworker shows up for work in one, text your BFD and tell her. Those sorts of little shared inside jokes are one of the building blocks of lasting friendship.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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