The other night, I met a fellow writer at a dinner party. I’d read her work and followed her online but had no idea what she was really like. I think I assumed because she’s 10 years younger than me and, in my mind, part of the “cool” crowd, that we wouldn’t get along, but we did and were soon chatting away about mutual friends and work and gossip and pop culture.
We took the train back to our neighborhood, and she asked if I wanted to get a drink. I realized in that moment that even though it was freezing cold out, I did want to keep talking. The truth is, though, if one of my other friends had suggested getting a drink at 10:30, I probably would’ve begged off with the excuse that I had overdue work waiting for me. That wouldn’t have been a lie—as a freelancer, I always have something hanging over my head—but it could wait an hour or two. In the same way that I might skip a weekly comedy show because I can always go another time but would get tickets to a special one-night-only event, it seemed like I should take advantage of this opportunity because it was something special.
For the next two hours, we talked in that rushed, rambling, intimate way the women I know seem much more adept at than the men of my acquaintance. She introduced me to a place a few blocks from my apartment that I’d never heard of but was just what I like in a bar: spacious, mellow, with cool decorations and a relaxed vibe, the kind of place where if a stranger were to talk to me I might actually want to chat with them rather than run screaming. We talked about boys, babies, careers, family, and I felt like I could talk to her all night.
In some ways, it was like a very good first date; I had fun and wanted to know more about her relationship, her family, her career, and wasn’t looking at my watch wondering when it would be over. Unlike dating, though, with a new friend there isn’t the uncertainty of will they call/won’t they, or the awkwardness of having nothing to talk about. Rachel Bertsche has a new memoir out called MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, in which each week she goes on a friend date in her new city of Chicago to hunt for a replacement BFF. When I first read that premise, I thought, That’s ridiculous. Best friends are people you cultivate over time, not ones you can force into your life, and besides, isn’t by its nature a best friend one who you’ve had in your life for a long time, not someone new?
But hanging out with my new pal made me realize that sometimes there can be an ease with a new friend that you don’t have with your oldest friends. Sure, I have friends who I have plenty of inside jokes with; we finish each other’s sentences and often laugh ridiculously over things that nobody else would find funny. But they also know so much of my drama and baggage and might ask me about things I don’t want to talk about. This doesn’t mean they’re not good friends—the opposite, in fact, because I think a good friend sometimes has to get all tough love on you and force you to confront yourself—but it does mean that sometimes I want to just be in-the-moment-me, not me-with-baggage. When I click with a new friend, I get to hear their perspective on life in a totally fresh way. I have no preconceived notions about them, and vice versa.
At the same time, my friend K. was just in town from England. We met in 1998, via a Sleater Kinney mailing list, and have since visited each other a handful of times. I have a comfort with her that goes very deep, and we’ve seen each other through all kinds of relationships. There’s definitely something wonderful about friends who’ve seen you at your best and worst, who know how your past informs your present. I don’t want to sound like I’m throwing my old friends under the bus for younger, cooler versions. It’s not about age or “cool” per se, but perspective. Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of how I see myself, and that comes across with old friends.
Lately I’ve been so busy working that I’ve barely had time to see my closest friends, and sometimes I feel guilty about that, and like I shouldn’t be hanging out with new friends when I haven’t even hung out with my old ones. But I don’t think it’s a competition; true, there’s limited time and we may not get to see everyone we want to, but different friendships provide different sources of support. There are friends I mostly see movies with, friends I gossip with, friends I can tell my deepest, darkest secrets to without worrying about them judging me. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but together they form a network that, collectively, props me up.
I do think there’s an element of “new relationship energy” to a new friendship, because you are getting their version of their life story all at once. The other details can emerge later. It’s exciting, and can make you find out things about yourself, too. I was surprised that one of my closest friends didn’t know I’m terrified of being in cars, even though we’ve been in cars together. Whereas she loves the idea of road trips, I’ll take a plane or subway or even a bus over a car any day. I like that we can still find out nuggets of information about each other even though we see each other pretty often.