If you thought the school playground was savage, have you ever attempted to befriend someone new as an adult? We challenged three writers to step out of their comfort zones and get chummy with a stranger.
Alley Pascoe moves to a new city and goes on a friendship blind date
I heard of Annie long before I met her. She was a friend of a friend, and we were both short-listed for the Northern Territory Literary Awards last year. Annie was a lover of words, like me. She came from an interesting family, like me. And she lived in the NT, like me.
When I moved from Alice Springs to Darwin this year, I desperately wanted to put a face to Annie’s name. We had so much in common and because I’d heard so much about her I felt like I already knew her. I had visions of us meeting and becoming fast friends. I made a mental note to ask my friend for Annie’s number once I settled in, and then I promptly misplaced the mental note in the ever-growing to-do list of my mind.
As it usually does, life got in the way. I became bogged down in work deadlines, a busy dating schedule and finding my feet in a new city, so my friendship aspirations took a backseat. At least that’s the excuse I gave myself. In reality, I think I was a bit nervous to make the first move. Besides, what would I say to our mutual friend? “Your mate sounds really cool. Can you hook us up on a friendship date?”
I haven’t had any trouble asking my mates to set me up on romantic blind dates with single blokes they know, but asking to be introduced to their other friends makes me feel more vulnerable. I guess I care less about the opinions of random men than about those of a well-educated, incredibly talented woman who my friend holds in high esteem. Go figure.
“What if they don’t like me? What if I say something embarrassing? Or worse, what if I run out of things to say and there’s an awkward silence?” Those were the thoughts running through my mind when my friend came to town for the NT Writer’s Festival and casually mentioned that Annie would be at the launch party we were on our way to. Had she told me before we left the house, I might have had a shot of tequila for some Dutch courage.
You know that feeling when you meet someone and you can tell straight away they’re on the same level as you? The feeling that they are cut from the same cloth? That’s exactly how I felt when Annie sat down on the seat between me and our mutual friend. We clicked—just like I knew we would. Annie was warm, self-deprecating and down-to-earth. She immediately put me at ease and I felt silly for being so anxious.
Afterwards we went for drinks that turned into dinner. There, we bonded over how terrifying and exhilarating we found the memoir-
writing process, the shitty men we’d dated and Darwin’s small bar scene. I hadn’t been to her favourite spot: Dom’s Bar & Lounge. Annie knew the owner, because of course she did.
When we called it a night and hugged goodbye, Annie reminded me that I’d bought her a cider at the bar and she hadn’t had the chance to return the favour. We both looked at each other and in unison said, “Dom’s!” It was a date.
Harriet Sim logs onto a friendship app and gets swiping
I take a swig of liquid courage and glance anxiously at the entrance to the bar. The door swings open and my stomach fizzes and then dissipates as a group of loud corporate types pool into the dimly-lit watering hole in Sydney’s CBD. False alarm. I sink back into the leather booth.
When my features editor first floated the idea of casting my social net wide and finding a friend online, I’d smugly accepted. Making friends has never been something I’ve struggled with, but now, as I wait nervously in the crowded underground bar, I start to have doubts. It’s been three weeks since I first began my friendship quest on the lesser-known “BFF” branch of the popular dating app Bumble. “Looking for mates,” I had typed confidently into my new profile, not wanting any potential pals to think I’m overly eager with a lengthy life story.
I picked three of my best photos and began my search. As I sifted through possible matches, I made note of some of my friendship red flags: only posting group photos (this isn’t Where’s Wally? I shouldn’t have to figure out which one you are) and profiles that say “looking for a friend who’s up for a crazy time” (are you talking about cocktails and hitting the dancefloor or organised crime? I need specifics). As for anyone who lists “toxic energy” or “drama queen” as a personality trait—enough said.
After swiping past a couple of matches who admittedly weren’t my usual crowd, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt for the purpose of this challenge and made the first move. “How are you going?” I prompted, keeping it simple, figuring this wasn’t the place for silly pickup lines. I waited for a response. Nothing. Maybe I needed to give it a few hours. My new friends are probably uber busy and I don’t want a clingy friend anyway, I reassured myself. I logged back onto the app the next morning but still nothing. I’d been ghosted. After this rather humbling experience, I decided to take a two-week break from finding friendship before returning to the app.
Second time around, I stepped off my high horse. Within minutes I’d found my first friend: Riley. She seemed cool, kind, smart and a critical thinker – my kind of girl, or at least her profile is. I took the bold first step and asked her out for coffee. She replied instantly: “How about a wine after work?” We’re on.
When Riley walks into the bar, I immediately know it’s her. She turns and squints in my direction. I wave and she saunters over. “Sorry, I didn’t recognise you,” she says. Shit. I’m a catfish! But she quickly clarifies that she’s long-sighted and I joke that my photos were taken pre-working-from-home in my track pants for the past two years. I tell myself I’ll give the date an hour before excusing myself to head off to fake dinner plans.
Three hours later, I’m still here. I learn about her life and she asks about mine. We talk about politics, dating and where to find the best vintage thrifts in the area. I feel like I can tell her anything, free from judgement and the ramifications that come with having mutual friends and a complicated history. It was like therapy, except there were drinks involved, no-one was crying and I was actually having a good time.
At the end of the night, I walk Riley to the station, we hug goodbye and exchange the usual “get home safe” line like any good female friends do. As I make my own way home, I think to myself that although I may never see Riley again, I’m grateful for the evening we shared. She just gave me a no-strings-attached friendship experience, where I could reinvent myself without the history of someone knowing who you were in high school or the dumb mistakes you’ve made. By the time I’ve walked through my front door, I have a message. “Thank you for a fab night. Keen to do it again if you are? Riley.”
“Me too,” I respond instantly.
Bree Player starts a new job and attempts to make an office BFF
A few weeks into my job as features editor at marie claire, my personal life imploded. Everyone on staff was so kind, reaching out to offer support, helping pick up my workload and encouraging me to take necessary time away from the office. That’s why I was totally shocked when I admitted to my mum through gasping sobs that I missed my old job.
I knew deep down, though, I didn’t – my previous job was so hectically busy I scarcely had time to wash my hair, let alone have a social life. But then I realised there was one part of it I truly did miss: my work BFF Nicholas. At a time when I felt really sad, it was the familiarity and the comfort of a colleague who really knew me that I was missing.
But once upon a time (three years ago, to be exact), Nicholas was just a friendly face in the office cubicle next to mine. I knew the moment we met that we would be good friends, but you can’t just announce that to someone or they’ll think the new girl is weird. Like any new friend, an office bestie doesn’t happen overnight. It’s months of shared eyerolls in meetings, texts pointing out to each other that the meeting you’re suffering through could have been an email, popping out for mid-morning coffees, and discovering you both can’t stand that person in accounts. Then someone takes the brave move of shifting conversation from work to personal life and at that moment you know you’re on your way to having an IRL friend.
While the tasks of the other contributors to this article, Harriet and Alley, may seem more of a challenge given they had to approach total strangers, I would argue that trying to fast-track a bona-fide friend in the workplace is far riskier – what if it doesn’t work out? Alley and Harriet never have to see their new friend again, but I have to see mine every week.
With that in mind, I surveyed the marie claire staff list and narrowed it down to four possible future friends. I eliminated two on the advice of my sister (“don’t choose one of your bosses, that could go bad in so many ways”). That left fashion director Naomi and features writer Harriet. I pondered going for both – two friends are better than one, after all. But Naomi was heading off to Europe for a few weeks, which didn’t leave much in the way of face-to-face time.
Harriet was actually the perfect choice: we work closely together and were already getting along great. But, for the most part, conversation has remained strictly business. It’s fun and playful—there’s been plenty of shared eyerolls and we’ve giggled as we exchanged some particularly scandalous workplace goss, but I couldn’t yet tell you if she has a boyfriend or siblings or whether she spends her weekends hiking or clubbing. In fact, I was yet to exchange a single text with her outside work hours.
So, with the mission of fast-tracking this friendship front of mind, I caught myself before I fired off a text on a Sunday afternoon to Nicholas and realised I should road test it on my potential new work BFF instead. I’ve sent a few risky texts in my time, and while “OK, is Miles Teller hot, or is TikTok just making me think he is hot?” isn’t exactly nail-biting stuff, I still took a deep breath as I pressed send. I mean, imagine being left on read. I’d have to resign, effective immediately.
One minute later Harriet replied, “Hmmm, great question. Not really my type … looks like he’d be a dick but it’s a confusing time because TikTok is definitely convincing me he is.” And just like that we were off and running. The conversation flowed for about half an hour and the next evening I followed her on TikTok and she followed me back.
Plenty of pics of Miles Teller have since been exchanged and we’ve both realised he is, indeed, extremely hot. Last Wednesday we went out to lunch, just the two of us, and on Thursday we had a couple of drinks after work at the local bar where we talked boyfriends, siblings, long-term plans and everything in between. By the time we’d finished the bottle of wine, we’d gone from friendly colleagues to friends who get to work together. All it took was one not-so-risky text.
This story originally appeared in the September issue of maire claire.