Monday, September 2, 2013

MWF SEEKING BFF


Review of MWF SEEKING BFF: MY YEARLONG SEARCH FOR A NEW BEST FRIEND by RACHEL BERTSCHE
(review based on an advance reading copy)

The premise of Bertsche’s memoir immediately appealed to me. After marrying and moving, she found herself short on friends and struggling to make new ones. It struck her how much our society generally emphasizes romance over friendship, but she wanted more close relationships than that with her husband. I, too, have noticed, commented on, and debated this prioritizing of relationships, so I snatched up this memoir, eager to hear another woman’s take on the subject. 

Indeed, MWF SEEKING BFF branches off into numerous other discussions, each of which could fill entire books of their own. Bertsche resolves to go on a new “friend-date” once a week for a year. That right there already touches on some debate topics, such as whether Bertsche’s efforts are proactive and admirable or defy what many people view as the organic art of friend-making. Also, the term “friend-date” ties in with Bertsche’s point that we have an entire dating vocabulary, but few similar words for making friends. She often talks about “picking up” or “hitting on” a new friend and otherwise uses terminology that we might associate more with a search for a romantic partner, which proves both amusing and thought-provoking.

I don’t read very many memoirs and always feel a little odd about reviewing them. Since I mostly read fiction, I’m usually dissecting a made-up character. True, your criticism of a character could offend the author, but it’s still not the same as criticizing a narrator who is a living, breathing person. (Don’t worry; I’m certainly not about to say I found Rachel Bertsche “unbelievable.”) I go for honesty in my reviews, so even though I feel a little mean writing it, near the start of the book I did keep thinking, “Well, I see why she’s having trouble making friends.” For starters, her loneliness has reached a desperation peak that probably shows in her behavior as much as she tries acting casual. For the first round of friend-dates, she seems somewhat clingy. She overanalyzes both her own and her date’s every word and action and from the moment she first meets someone new she’s asking herself, “Could this be my new best friend?” I’m convinced that kind of fixation and intense attention to detail pops up in subtle ways that can unnerve the other person. Also, for all that she talks about how badly she wants new friends, she’s quick to dismiss women based on shallow factors who (at least from the information provided) seemed perfectly lovely to me. Usually the deal-breaker is some difference between them that I consider only as divisive as you make it.

I also had trouble getting into the book at first, because Bertsche makes a lot of generalized observations about how men, women, and relationships (whether romantic ones or friendships) work that I disagree with, and yet she states these opinions like obvious fact. Most of them are minor enough not to be worth mentioning, but the point is that every time the memoir sucked me in one of these petty statements would rub me the wrong way and throw me back out. As just one example, she talks about how every straight woman needs a gay best friend, which subscribes to a “minorities are collectibles” subtext that always bugs me.

Before you brush off this book, though, hear me out. In a novel the protagonist needs to grow and change and become a slightly (or very) different person by the end than they were at the beginning. I think the same is true of a memoir. Who wants to read something along the lines of “I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone to become a better person, but then realized I had been perfect all along and should never try something different again”? Bertsche definitely grows and learns from this experience. She picks up on a lot of things that I might have pointed out to her had we been friends (like how she’s passing over some great people for silly reasons). She also becomes increasingly outgoing, friendly, and “experimental” in her methods for meeting new people.

Earlier criticisms aside, I must emphasize how incredibly brave I think Bertsche is for putting herself out there like this. As she is first to point out, admitting you’re having trouble making friends is kind of a big social no no. In many eyes, it’s admitting you’re a pathetic loser. One of her unusual methods for meeting people is writing an article about her situation (recently moved and no current friend connections in the area to lead to more friends) and the amount of feedback she gets takes her by surprise. She receives numerous responses along the lines of “Me, too!” and “I thought I was the only one!” However, she admits that for every positive response, she received a negative one as well, which is exactly the risk with showing vulnerability and sharing with strangers as well as exactly why so few people do it. Her book challenges this status quo, urging people to be more open and honest when they’re in “friend lows” and more proactive about finding new ones.

I loved the premise of this memoir. I felt a little apathetic around the beginning when I thought Bertsche too fast turning away potential friends, but once she starts opening up and taking more chances I enjoyed the book more and more with each page. Also, as Bertsche becomes more outgoing, the memoir in turn becomes funnier - because she’s doing things she wouldn’t normally do and meeting people she wouldn’t normally meet. Some of them certainly might not be good potential friends for her…but they make an excellent story to tell a future friend! By the end, this memoir developed into a very inspiring and uplifting tale with more than one important lesson tucked between the laughs.

1 comment:

  1. Another Note: I've come to realize that this book's title might be harming its sales. MWF Seeking BFF is a play on romantic wanted ads and stands for Married White Female Seeking Best Friend Forever. Unfortunately, few potential readers think on the title enough to realize that and at first glance assume this is, whether self-help or memoir, a book about romantic relationships. I've even seen it misshelved in numerous bookstores. Shame!

    ReplyDelete