I saw an old friend over the holidays while I was back in the States. She moved to a new town a few years back and has slowly sunk roots there, buying a house... putting her kids in school... joining a synagogue. You know, the usual.
When I asked her if she'd made any close friends in her new town, she answered matter-of-factly: "I click about 85 percent with four or five women I've met. And I think that's pretty good."
She went on: "And I've finally realized what I look for in a friend: 'Negativity.'"
I laughed out loud. But I knew exactly what she meant, both about the "85 percent" figure and about the negativity.
The fact is, it's really hard to find people you connect with. I once wrote a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about the elusive search for female friends in adulthood. The thrust of the piece was to illustrate -- by example -- what a nightmare it is to have to "date" for friends once you grow up and have kids. So if you're batting at 75 percent or over, like my friend is, I'd say that's a pretty good average.
I can also relate to the negativity point. Despite my penchant for dark films about family dysfunction and self-destructive behavior, I don't actually look for negativity in fellow friends. But I do look for some combination of intelligence coupled with a sense of humor, preferably on the self-deprecating side (which is actually what I think my friend meant by "negativity.")
The problem is -- even if you know what you're looking for in a friend -- how do you find those friends when you're starting from scratch? And even if they're out there... will you take the time and effort out of your busy life to "date" them?
In the hyper-connected world which we all inhabit these days, it's easy to fall back on virtual friends. Women, in particular, are drawn to online networking and community-building. I have made loads of friends online in the past two years, of all different shapes and sizes.
But you can't have coffee with a computer (trust me, I've tried). And the Internet can't yield the sort of benefits that derive from close, real-life, female friendships.
In case you're wondering whether this entire discussion is academic, it isn't. I had to dip my toe back into the friendship-dating waters recently.
For months, I'd been trying to have coffee with the close friend of one of my cousins, who had recently moved to London from New Jersey. My cousin spoke very highly of this guy, but between his schedule and mine, there just wasn't a ton of overlap, despite the fact that we live about 10 minutes from one another.
And let's face it. I knew that the probability that we'd hit it off was close to zero. So while I was happy to get together with this guy, I figured that this would be more of a "getting him oriented" in London kind of coffee, not the start of something beautiful.
Well, needless to say I loved him. Absolutely adored him. He was cool and funny and smart. And we had tons of stuff in common. Not just the surface demographic-y type stuff, but a deeper appreciation for the same jokes, the same cultural references, the same reactions to British education. He was, in short, 'my people'.
I was lucky that I happened upon my new BFF through my cousin. But close friends can just as easily sneak up on you at a book club, or that school function you dreaded going to, or that wine tasting that was so much better than you expected.
The point is to get out there. And experiment.
You might just find your soul mate.