How to Make Friends—at Any Age

A new city and a new job left one writer wallowing in social solitude, until she embarked on a month of platonic speed dating

by Meredith Maran
friendship image
Photograph: Greg Clarke

Equipped with an impressive list of prospects and an apt aphorism (“Beggars can’t be . . .”), I set myself the task of meeting every candidate to whom I’d been virtually introduced. For the next month, I engaged in a blitz of friend speed dating, meeting a different stranger at a different bar or coffee shop or hiking trail three or four days or nights each week. Before we’d even met, I knew things—important things—about them; I learned to read the signs. The married women with kids could only meet for lunch during the workweek—no nights, no weekends. The divorced women with kids were eager to meet at night, on weekends, anytime during the lonely stretches when their joint-custodial husbands had their kids. The women on diets wanted to meet for coffee, not dinner; the women who’d had problems with alcohol wanted to meet for dinner, not drinks.

The more dates I had, the better I got at quickly determining whether the new face sitting across the table from me was one I wanted to see more of. Great sense of humor? Yes. Willing to share and be shared with? Double yes. Interesting and interested? Engaged in the events of La-La Land and the turnings of the real world? Living or working within a 30-minutes-with-traffic radius? Woo-hoo.

As was true during my last bout of romantic blind dating 16 years ago, I suffered through some endless happy hours that were anything but, and I was glad to be too breathless to talk on a few awkwardly silent hikes. The good news was, unlike real dating, mine was not a search for the Right One but a hunting expedition for a small, select coterie of Right Ones.

And I found them. Three months after arriving in a city famous for its shallow, starved and surgically altered women, I have a dozen-plus new friends who invite me to their parties and with whom I cohost dinners and commiserate about gas prices and gasbag politicians and other social injustices. I also have four new intelligent, truly beautiful close friends—the kind whose couches I can comfortably cuddle up on and who can comfortably cuddle up on mine.

Lucky me: I’ve been adopted by a modern-day Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, a couple whose 30 happy years together have given them an abundance of love to share with others and who have made it their project to give me a positive experience with the landmarks of Los Angeles. Their best friend, Paula Marie, booked front-row box seats for the four of us to see Ziggy Marley at the Hollywood Bowl, where they poured bubbly into sparkling glass flutes and fed me a delicious Mediterranean meal. I was prepared to mope alone through my first L.A. Fourth of July, but they invited me, along with a dozen other people, to their barbecue, where I ate my body weight in baby back ribs. As soon as I furnished my casita, they were my first dinner guests.

A Facebook connection with a fan of my last book led me into the coveted inner circle of a socialite philanthropist named Patsy Sue, who had me to lunch at her Beverly Hills mansion. Over mango chicken salad and perfect petits fours served by her live-in housekeeper, Patsy confided that at age 70 she’d packed up her life and relocated to L.A. “I haven’t regretted it once,” she told me. When she reassured me, “And you’re young, with your whole life ahead of you,” I wanted to kiss her custom-shod feet.

At the end of my first carbs-and-confession brunch with Susan, a writer my age, we agreed that we felt we’d known each other all our lives. Since then, Susan has introduced me to the hiking trails of Santa Monica, the bookstores and cafés of downtown L.A., the wonders of her chicken Marsala and her circle of novelist friends.

When 40-year-old Alice and I discovered shared passions for affordable bars, unaffordable couture and unrepeatable disclosures, our friendship leapt over our 20-year age difference, just as Patsy and I bonded despite the decade between us. By night, Alice and I explore the diviest watering holes of Melrose and West Hollywood; by day, we e-mail each other biting commentary, verging-on-corny inspirational quotes and pictures of good-enough-to-eat baby boys (her sons; my grandson).

First published in the June 2013 issue

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