When Rachel Bertsche finally moved to Chicago to live with her boyfriend, soon to be husband, she realized that despite the romantic bliss her life was missing something significant -- girlfriends.
After bemoaning her status for more than two years, Rachel set out on a search for a "best friend forever" or BFF, pledging to go on at least one friend date a week until she found her ideal: a person she could call on a whim for brunch, hang out with in front of the television, or share coffee and long talks.
"Sometimes you just want to think something through and talk it all out, and men's patience for that kind of thing is limited. I love my husband, he's very supportive and wonderful, but it's different," she said in a telephone interview.
"I think women really need that kind of face-to-face interplay, that one-on-one. Men seem perfectly content to sit side by side on the couch and watch a game together, or play golf, or do some kind of activity."
Her adventures end up paralleling the search for a mate, from the blind friend dates arranged by other friends to placing a personal ad, and many, many meetings over sushi and wine, or coffee -- all chronicled in her book "MWF seeking BFF - My Yearlong Search for a new Best Friend."
Making the moves to start searching initially took some courage, she recalled, even though she soon realized that in modern, mobile society, her dilemma was far from rare.
"I spent two and a half years without friends because I was too nervous to go out of my comfort zone and 'ask girls out.' I was nervous and I thought people would think I was a lunatic," she said.
"Once I jumped that hurdle, it was easier and easier. I think socializing is a lot like exercising -- the more you do it, the better you are."
As the year wore on, through coffee dates and meals both painful and fun, Bertsche came up with several principles for making friends: always say yes to invitations, ask friends for recommendations of people they know in your area, and join clubs or take part in activities.
"I read somewhere that if you join a group that meets once a month, it has the same effect on your happiness as doubling your income," she said.
Things to be avoided include both excessive shyness and making too much of why you actually need new friends, with careful phrasing needed for any emails or personal ads.
"When I started I would email and say I'm new in town and I don't really have any friends, I'd set myself up as this sad sack who was really desperate," she said. "I felt like I was trying to handicap myself but I think it just made it worse because going into it people felt sorry for me."
Once positive contact is made, follow it up quickly. Bertsche recounts several initial "dates" that went well, only to have prospects for a relationship fizzle when she waited too long to set up another.
In the end, did her search succeed? Definitely, she said -- although not quite in the way she'd planned.
"I didn't meet this girl and suddenly say she's the winner, but I did have a whole group of friends and people to call for brunch," she said. "I had a huge network of girls, a bouquet of friends."