My copy of a newly released memoir, MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, arrived on Friday, and I tore into it immediately, instantly feeling a connection to the author, Rachel Bertsche. In her late 20s, she found herself in a new city with her new husband – without the safety net of her best girl friends from her years in New York City. For any expat reading this blog, this uneasy loneliness might be a bit too familiar.
A researcher Bertsche references in her introduction has studied the world of female friendships and confirms that women should aim for a small number of lifelong friends (3-5) and a handful of close friends (5-12). The rest, casual friends and acquaintances, might range anywhere from 20 to over 100. (*)
To make matters more complicated, our 30s are the time when most friendships are tested as we juggle career advancement, serious relationships, and new families. So, even if you had high numbers of all of those groups in your early 20s, it’s likely that the numbers are far fewer now. I can say that this contraction started happening in my late 20s when I relocated to be with David and then again when taking the plunge to move abroad. A look back:
College: I was blessed to become friends with smart, driven, funny, beautiful, and independent women during my four years in college. We oozed confidence and a passion for life – throwing ourselves into everything with full commitment. These gals graduated from difficult disciplines with flying colors and still managed to have one hell of a good time while doing it. Given how independent a group, I shouldn’t be surprised how far we dispersed after school, spanning from NYC to California and few international posts in between. In our first years out of school, we planned reunions and then had weddings to look forward to, but as those days fade, the chances to reconnect are fewer and far between.
Mid-Twenties: A few significant friendships developed in the 7 years I spent in North Carolina after college. These relationships blossomed as we experienced a lot of the same challenges along side each other: finding our footing in our careers, working through adult relationship challenges, and generally trying to act like we had it all figured out. Even though the quantity of my close friendships begin to decrease in my mid-twenties, the relationships that cemented during these years remain my closest.
“After the boy”: The truth of the matter is that once part of a twosome – specifically a married one – girl friendships change. When David and I got serious in 2007, the number of my casual friends mushroomed as I instantly inherited all of David’s friends and began spending lots of time with the girlfriends/wives of his close friends. Throw a geographical move in the mix, and I was left with a mixed bag of new friends. I didn’t get to spend as long as I would have like nurturing these relationships because 18 months later, we decided to move abroad.
Expatdom: And here I am in London at 32 years old – sometimes feeling like I’m starting all over. This transition has been the hardest of all; I am seeking new friends at the same time that my existing relationships are inevitably changing. It’s a double whammy. My friends back home are going through their own life changes now – new jobs, new relationships, new cities, new babies – and the speed of our lives moving forward is often too fast to run alongside. Finding friends abroad has its own challenges and has taken me some time to navigate. Unlike the author of the book above, I haven’t been on a diligent campaign to find a new BFF, partly because these past two years have been about me and David. But I’m thankful for a few dear work colleagues and some lovely expat bloggers; I just recognize that BFFs don’t grow on trees.
While I am always a bit sad when I think about some of the girlfriends that I no longer keep in touch with, I’m still so grateful for having had them in my life for whatever period I did. It’s incredibly difficult to nurture friendships during life transitions, and I understand that some friends are in your life for only a short time – that doesn’t make them less meaningful in the story of my life. When I look through old photo albums my heart swells with gratitude, and even if some of those friendships have passed their day in the sun, I enjoyed every minute of them.
* You can read a really good summary of all this research in this Self magazine article.