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Bookmark: Book explores need for female 'BFF' relationships

January 12, 2012|By Julia Keller, The Chicago Tribune

During an appearance in late December on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight," Jane Fonda was asked which man from her past she would choose to accompany her to a desert island.

Would she select a famous ex-spouse like Ted Turner or Tom Hayden? Or would this be the moment when Fonda spilled the beans about some long-ago liaison with a heretofore unknown beau for whom she still pines?

To Morgan's obvious disappointment, Fonda chose: none of the above.

"My girlfriends," she replied.

Rachel Bertsche can relate.

The 29-year-old writer discovered just how important female friendships are to her life when she moved to Chicago in 2007. She and her husband, Matt, knew a few people when they relocated for his job with a law firm — she'd been an editor with Oprah Winfrey's magazine in New York; he'd finished law school in Philadelphia — but not enough to fill the dance card of an acceptable social life.

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So Bertsche took to the streets. She hunted down girlfriends using newfangled social media as well as that 21st century version of a quilting bee: yoga class. Each week for a year, she made a date with a potential best pal, keeping her fingers crossed that she'd made a connection.

And she records her experiences in a funny, spirited new book, "MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend" (Ballantine).

"Friendship is such an important aspect of our lives," Bertsche said in a recent interview. "But we tend to think of friendship as a luxury — something we fit into our lives if we have time after career and family."

Rarely is it discussed with much seriousness or intellectual rigor, Bertsche noted. For one thing, the need for friends often goes unacknowledged because nobody wants to come across as a shunned loser. Moreover, the world, like CNN's Morgan, is preoccupied with romantic love; the fact that Bertsche had that part covered — the husband with whom she shares her Lincoln Park home is "my most intimate companion and the love of my life," she writes — means that people expected her to be satisfied. Friends — so the world believes — are the parsley, not the entree.

And yet Bertsche's intriguing book reminds us of an unpleasant reality: Female friendships don't count. They're cute and funny and wacky and winsome — but in the arts, they're not often portrayed with the gravitas routinely afforded male friendships. Men are shown bonding while getting shot at in war; women, while getting their nails done.

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