Something about Jane caught my eye. With her curly brown hair, plain gray American Apparel t-shirt and vintage-looking leather purse, there was nothing necessarily distinctive about her, but she had a vibe like she'd been places. Urban places. Whatever it was, my friend-dar approved and willed me to follow her inside.
We were at a barbeque on a Sunday afternoon in mid-October, and having just moved with my boyfriend from Chicago to Durham, North Carolina, a place where I knew no one, I was on the friend prowl.
After following Jane inside, I tried to act all casual, and, while dishing out some chili, I struck up a conversation. Five minutes and one discovery that we lived a few blocks from each other later, I had her email address in my purse. My urban friend-dar had been correct: she had just moved to Durham from Brooklyn. In terms of my quest for FRIEND, a recently relocated city girl was jackpot.
Jane's wasn't the only email address I would get that day. The other belonged to a woman named Julie, an elementary school teacher. But it wasn't Julie I was after. It was her friend, Eliza, who had a cool punk haircut and over-sized hot pink earrings. Although it was subconscious at the time, I had definite superficial visions of FRIEND.
The following Sunday, having slyly obtained Eliza's email through Julie, my dance card was full: brunch with Jane and dinner with Eliza. It was on. Paris Hilton's reality show "My New BFF" had nothing on me.
My brunch with Jane felt eerily similar to an awkward first date. Our interactions were too polite and self-conscious, and in the middle of peppering her scrambled eggs, Jane realized she felt sick to her stomach and needed to use the bathroom. During the ten minutes that she was gone, I began to wonder if she had snuck out of the bathroom window.
The dinner several hours later with Eliza felt less awkward. The conversation flowed easily, and I felt comfortable sitting across from her. She ordered a burger with bacon on it. Total FRIEND potential.
For the next couple of months, Eliza, who seemed to know everyone under the age of 45 in Durham, would email me about this or that event. And I ran into Jane once or twice in the neighborhood -- literally once almost running her over with my car as she came barreling down the block on her daily run.
The three of us met up for a beer one night. Eliza and Jane had met at the barbeque, too, but, despite a myriad of things and people in common, had yet to hang out. We talked about starting a craft group and a "Wire" viewing party. Typical, white, yuppy, female empty promises. But I was still a believer.
After the holidays, the texting and emailing with Eliza slowed down, and we'd go months without being in touch. I'd bump into her occasionally, and although we were friendly, we stopped saying that we should get together. I decided that she just wasn't that into me, and that after a promising start, our relationship had fizzled.
I continued to see Jane, although each time I saw her, we didn't seem to be any more comfortable with each other than the last time. We were stuck in awkward not-quite-FRIEND zone.
As it turned out, Jane made plans to move to D.C. the following summer, and Eliza made plans to move to Seattle. 0 for 2.
So, I turned on my friend-dar at my new job. "Hi nice to meet you we should have lunch sometime," became how I introduced myself to any youngish looking woman who had any version of a smile on her face. For a couple of months, work began to interfere with my social lunch calendar.
There'd be the first date lunch -- getting the basic information out of the way. And then there would be follow up lunch dates, involving varying degrees of effort to come up with things to talk about. Around lunch date two or three, I'd realize that my friend-dar was off. One date turned out to be Debbie Downer, another super-super-into-her-work girl. Another lunch date came with a warning of caution from a fellow co-worker: "Be careful what you tell her," she said. "She'll use whatever you say against you."
Then there'd be the random stranger on the street. I'd like one woman's sneakers, another's tattoos. "Will you be my friend?" I had half a mind to ask.
Before I turned completely crazy, another possible FRIEND turned up. I had seen Maria in my dance class for several months, but we had never said anything to each other. I had assumed that she was a college student, and she had probably assumed the same about me. But when she wound up sitting behind me at the local documentary film fest, we introduced ourselves, asked each other which movies we had seen, and the following dance class, exchanged emails. She was a Boston transplant. One who had a nice smile and liked dance and film. Could this possibly be FRIEND?
In my musical montage, Maria and I met each other for wine-filled, leaning-into-the-table dinners on Friday nights, went on bike rides, combed through local thrift shops, bitched equally about our bosses. It was perfect.
Our actual lunch was on a Friday. And it was fine. Totally fine. But just fine. We found things to talk about. She was plenty nice. But I left feeling disappointed.
What was my problem? What had I been expecting? Fireworks? True, I had felt them a couple of times when I had first met a friend, although I knew it was not the norm. The problem, I feared, was me: in my rush to build a new life in the South, I was sure that with the right amount of effort, I could will an instant and exciting new friendship based on superficial criteria and first impression chemistry.
Of course I knew that's not how it worked. That you can't force it or prescribe it, that it has to be organic, that good friends are rare and often don't live in your city, et cetera, et cetera. What was worse, my quest for FRIEND was making me feel like judgmental Goldilocks: this was one was too all-about-composting, that one was too borderline conservative. With my narrow-minded vision and sky-high expectations, I started to wonder how I had ever managed to make a friend ever.
Besides, I realized, even if there was a spark, a chemistry, a shared love of disturbed pets, where would it go post-lunch date? I was usually asleep in front of my space heater by 8:00 on a Friday night anyway. At this age (okay, well, always), I was hardly exciting FRIEND material.
Turned off by my creepy, friend-dating ways and beginning to question the limits of new-found adult friendship, I turned down my friend-dar.
And then she showed up at a new session of dance class. She had reddish brown hair and freckles and looked like she had some life experience under her belt. We smiled at each other and introduced ourselves. Her name was Stephanie, and she was a local, born and raised.
After class, we walked to our cars together and figured out that we lived within five minutes of each other.
That was all I knew about her. But it was enough. It was back on.
I had found FRIEND.