The Young and the Friendless: The Second City Factor

It's in the second city after college where you find yourself trying to recall the skills you initially picked up in the sandbox. Friendships don't fall in our laps like they did during college.
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I am a Married White Female searching for a Best Friend Forever.

It's not that I don't have best friends, mind you. It's that I moved to Chicago three years ago to be with my now-husband, and my closest friends live in New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco and St. Louis. Everywhere but here.

I'm looking for someone to invite over to watch The Biggest Loser or to text "pedicure in half an hour?" on a Saturday morning. To me, that's what BFFs are. Not just people who know your innermost secrets, but the ones up for grabbing a bite on a whim because they love being with you just that much, and getting together feels easy and natural rather than a chore you need to pencil in.

When I tell people, specifically women, about my quest, they usually say one of two things: "That's the story of my life!" or "That's so funny!" The distinguishing trait between these two groups is what I've come to call the Second City Factor.

It's in the second city after college where you find yourself trying to recall the skills you initially picked up in the sandbox. Friendships don't fall in our laps like they did during summer camp or college. In the post-graduate world, making friends is as tricky a dance as dating: am I coming on too strong? When can I call her again? Did she like me, or did she like like me?

When early 20-somethings first leave school for the big city, they're surrounded by other real-world freshman in the same boat. Everyone's a novice in the workforce, looking for buddies to drink, gossip and go to the movies with. They're all relatively new in town (even if you're back home, there's a good chance you've been away the last four years). A bunch of first-timers in the full-time workforce, unfettered by college classes or midterm papers, in that doe-eyed conquer-the-world mindset. Making friends is easy--everyone's more or less looking for the same thing.

The decision to move to the second post-college city, however, is usually made independent of friends. No matter if you do it for love, career, family, or school, the second move is on your own terms. And given that you've probably got a few post-grad years under your belt, you're not guaranteed a sea of new-in-town friend prospects this time. The buddies you're looking for often have BFF saturation. There are no openings for new applicants. (The Philosophy of Friendship author Mark Vernon told the BBC the number of true close friends a person can have is between six and 12. This doesn't always leave room for the new kids). So my friends who've found themselves in towns where they'd never imagined setting up shop tell me my story rings true. Suddenly, they're floundering in the search for that certain someone, despite having been surrounded by plenty of perfect someones all their lives.

And those friends and I are in good company. The latest census data is not available yet, but according to the 2000 census, over one-third of all movers between 1995 and 2000 were young adults (defined as those between the ages of 25 and 39). About 75 percent of young, single, college-educated adults reported moving in that time period, while 72.3 percent of young, college-educated married adults did. That is to say, there are a lot of second-city dwellers out there. And a good majority of my friends who haven't moved might be consulting this column in the next decade

If my theory holds true--if most of those blessed with Second City Syndrome are on some sort of BFF quest (granted, perhaps not as explicitly as I)--there are probably a lot of women wandering around their neighborhoods, eyeing prospective ladies for Sunday brunch or Saturday evening cocktails.

And then there are those who graduated college, headed for New York or DC or what have you, and never left. When I tell them my plan to actively seek out a BFF using whatever means necessary--I'll pick her up at a book store! Approach her at yoga!--they say "That's hilarious," with a tone that's two parts pity, one part "atta boy!" and one part "you're kind of a loser." They don't know the awkward pain of leaving a friend-date unsure if you're supposed to hug or handshake (hug!), the frustration of having no one to drag along to a wedding dress fitting at the very last minute, or just how not-the-same it is to talk on the phone once a week to the best friend with whom you used to grab a bite twice a week.

They judge, for now.

They'll change their tune when they find themselves unpacking the linens in their second city, strategizing how soon is to soon to ask the stylish neighbor to drinks. (Hint: Give it a week.)

You can follow Rachel's awkward and hilarious escapades in her search for a new best friend on her blog, MWF Seeking BFF

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